Stealing kimchi from Korea

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Stealing kimchi from Korea

The author is a Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Korea has partially won in the latest spat over fermented cabbage — known as kimchi and almost synonymous with spicy Korean food and culture. The controversy has bigger ramifications to contemplate on.

The latest row was triggered by a report by the Global Times, a pro-Chinese government propaganda apparatus due to its nationalistic slant. But it turned out to be more than a sensational piece by a tabloid. The report was carried by a state publication issued by the State Administration for market regulation a few days before.

The publication reported that the Korean media raised a hoopla after Beijing won the International Organization for Standardization for pao cai, a type of pickled cabbage consumed in China, dealing disgrace to the country’s kimchi dignity. The headline suggested South Koreans were outraged by losing kimchi standardization to the Chinese. The Global Times added more spice to the headline saying the Korean media was fuming about the shame on their kimchi industry. But since the controversy has started with a state agency, Korea’s reaction should better aim the Beijing government.

Chinese netizens got touchy. “Eating much kimchi should not make them the origin of the recipe,” one wrote, and called Koreans thieves. The slanderous comments may have come from a small part of the society. But still it shows China’s sense of cultural supremacy over its neighbors with the rise of its economic power.

When pao cai is searched for on Baidu, China’s most widely used portal site, it claims that Korean pao cai came from China and was applied with red chili since the 16th century.

The Chinese government stopped the dispute with a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying China and South Korea had a lot more areas in which to cooperate with one another. But still, the Seoul government’s response was lacking.

In a press conference, the Korean Embassy in Beijing said it was still watching the situation since it was first raised by a media outlet. Still, Seoul should have acted more aggressively toward a propagandist report in China.

Authorities should have publicly called for correction with the Global Times as well as the market supervisory agency. The Baidu description on kimchi also requires fixing.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry usually issues statements if foreign media reports misrepresent the Beijing government’s policy or stance. But with the kimchi controversy, the Korean Embassy in China posted something quite different on its page on Weibo. It was about an incubation program for Korean companies in China.
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