Promoting eco-friendly diplomacyEvery year as Lunar New Year’s Day approaches, restaurants in Beijing struggle to find enough workers to keep their business running. Often, more than half of the employees need replaced during the holiday season. As urban smog is especially serious this year, employees from rural regions increasingly left the city for their hometown, aggravating the shortage of workers.
The owner of a restaurant I frequent says that he had a lot of trouble finding workers, because there are more jobs in provincial towns now, and people don’t want to work in Beijing because of the pollution. Once the weather warms up, smog will cover the entire city, and the yellow dust season approaches in the spring.
Low-income workers from rural regions will return to their hometowns once every three or four years for the holidays. But those who are making a comfortable living in cities are not willing to travel to their hometowns in the busy season. Still, they won’t want to stay in metropolitan cities besieged under a thick cloud of smog.
As the Chinese get as long as two weeks off during the Lunar New Year’s holiday, they often take a vacation abroad to Europe, the United States and Southeast Asia. Korea expected to receive 63,000 Chinese tourists. As Koreans leave the city to visit families in their hometowns, downtown Seoul’s shopping and tourist districts were filled with Chinese visitors during the holiday season.
Recently, my Chinese friends who visited Korea had a number of complaints. They said that they were shunned by Koreans because of the prejudice that the Chinese are loud and have substandard hygiene. They were embarrassed and frustrated as they were given inhospitable treatment. They argued that the socialist group culture and the belief that washing your hair often is not good for your health created a cultural clash.
The Chinese visitors taking a vacation in Korea are big spenders, so they left a materialistic impression in Korea. But they are actually opinion leaders in their local communities and workplaces. While the rapid economic growth greatly improved the income level, still only a small portion of the 1.3 billion Chinese people can afford to go abroad for a holiday.
As many Chinese want to take a break from the harmful smog and pollution, it may be a great opportunity to highlight Korea’s green environment and clean image. The Chinese visitors are constantly concerned of food safety in the country and are psychologically and physically exhausted from polluted air.
Now, the door of opportunity has opened to change the preconception. Living in Beijing with a family makes you believe that environment is not a brake on economic growth but an essential condition for sustainable growth. Quality urban life is a new commodity for the Chinese people. We need to use our clean industrial competitiveness, technology and management know-how in order to promote eco-industrial diplomacy in all areas dealing with China.
*The author is the Beijing correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Cheong Yong-hwan