[FOUNTAIN]Korean businessmen need Chinese friendsWe often say Chinese people can be found whenever the ocean meets the shore and wherever you see smoke. Today, there are 87 million overseas Chinese in 168 countries and regions. American writer Sterling Seagrave called the overseas Chinese “a worldwide ethnic power that does not belong to any one nation” in his “Lords of the Rim: The Invisible Empire of the Overseas Chinese.”
The history of Chinese residents in Korea began in 1882, when some 40 Chinese merchants came to Korea with Qing Dynasty forces at the time of the Imo Military Revolt. They were engaged in the silk trade and restaurant business, and by 1923, the number of Chinese residents in Korea was over 6,000. Amid the political chaos that followed Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonization, the Chinese utilized their unique business network and were very successful. They managed 82 percent of Korea’s trade earnings in 1946, according to Jeong Seong-ho in his book, “Overseas Chinese.”
However, the heyday ended for the ethnic Chinese with the establishment of the government of the Republic of Korea in 1948. Regulations on warehouses and foreign exchange dealt them a hard blow. In addition, two monetary reforms virtually made cash, the preferred means of trade for ethnic Chinese, useless overnight. In 1961, a law prohibiting foreigners from owning land was passed, and in 1970, a law on land management by foreigners was passed. The price of Jajangmyeon, the most popular Chinese dish in Korea, was controlled, putting restaurateurs at an even bigger disadvantage. The ethnic Chinese population in Korea, which had peaked at 120,000 in the early 70s, dwindled to 20,000. Among China’s neighbors, Korea is the only one without a proper “Chinatown.”
The Chinese began returning to Korea when the government sought overseas capital after the financial crisis of 1997. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, an organization of ethnic Chinese businessmen with branches wherever Chinese are operating, finally opened in Korea last year.
On October 10, the 8th World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention will be held at COEX, Seoul, drawing more than 2,500 overseas Chinese businessmen to meet with some 300 of their Korean counterparts. Chairman Yuan Kuo-tung of the Korea Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry said he was hurt whenever people said, “I am afraid of going to Korea where Chinese people cannot establish themselves,” or “I don’t have any friends even if I want to invest in Korea.”
The success of the convention depends on whether Korean businessmen can make Chinese businessmen their friends.
by You Sang-chul
The writer is the Asia news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.