Korea’s harmful double standardsThe Korean perspective on China is full of contradictions. Koreans have very different views on China as a country, on Chinese people and on Chinese society. Korean tourists, businessmen and politicians are not free from these contradictions.
There are four general perceptions on China as a country. It is considered the only nation to compete for world domination with the United States, a power with absolute influence over Korea’s economy and affairs, a country of culture and a millennia of history and a regional giant that could serve as a threat to the Korean Peninsula. All in all, Koreans recognize China’s importance.
But when Koreans discuss Chinese society and individuals, people have various negative ideas based on personal experiences. Koreans think the Chinese are unhygienic and lazy, do not follow public order and do not keep to contracts. They look down on other countries, use force and do not abide by social norms. In general, Koreans consider Chinese people “backwards.” Despite the rapid economic growth of the last three decades, China has become one of the G-2, but its national status is not quite advanced. The negative perception is not entirely unfair, as many Chinese people also agree.
The problem is that Koreans’ contradictory perspective on China leads to inconsistencies towards China and a lack of understanding, ultimately harming Korea’s national interests. It is the same for both individuals and the nation. Let us look at the MERS crisis. A Korean hid his illness and went on a business trip to China, a decision likely based on his negative perspective of Chinese society. If he were headed for the United States or Europe, would he have departed the country as planned?
We could have been able to save ourselves from shameful mistakes if the government or individuals had studied how China and Hong Kong suffered from the SARS breakout in 2003 and how they improved their public health and hygiene systems.
The Blue House called an emergency meeting 15 days after the MERS breakout, and the belated response is not unrelated to the national leadership’s contradictory views on China. China considers public safety as the foremost priority to govern 1.3 billion people. When a cruise ship capsized in the Yangtze River on June 1, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang immediately canceled all of his scheduled events and ran to the site.
If the Blue House had learned the basics of Chinese leadership, the meeting would have been called sooner. Forming a strategic cooperative partnership and signing a free trade agreement does not mean diplomacy with China is complete.
In fact, a Chinese professor specializing in the Korean Peninsula had a point. “Korean politicians say they value China very much. But no one has an answer when I ask why there is no China specialist in the core group of the Blue House and the foreign ministry.”
*The author is the Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 9, Page 30
by CHOI HYUNG-KYU