Where anti-China sentiment came from

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Where anti-China sentiment came from

Yeh Young-june
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Moon Jae-in, who had said he wanted to live the life of a forgotten man after he stepped down as president, posted a social network message recommending the book, “The Birth of Chanchaeism — China That Everyone Talks Rudely About, China That Nobody Talks About.” The preface of the book says it is intended to correct biases and misunderstandings about China, and discussed a way for the Korean people to utilize the country.

I also strongly worry about the spread of anti-Chinese sentiment. “It is never desirable that the national sentiment toward a particular country is extremely worsened. In addition to the deeply rooted anti-Japan sentiment and the anti-American sentiment promoted by the former student activists, we now have anti-China sentiment. The country relies heavily on trade and international cooperation, and yet we are isolating ourselves voluntarily,” I wrote in a previous column.

I read the book with a plan to press “like” for Moon’s posting, if it really helps find a solution to end the anti-China sentiment.

The author, Prof. Kim Hee-gyeo of Kwangwoon University, coined the term “Chanchaeism.” It is about the phenomenon of demonizing China by Korean conservative force — captivated by the neocolonial global order built by the United States — to help protect the U.S.-centered order from China’s rise. That is the phenomenon of dreaming of a world without China.

Professor Kim argues that the media is on the frontline of planning Chanchaeism by creating “bad China” frameworks based on fake news and distorted articles, and the public accepts them without criticism. According to the author, China, in the minds of Korean people, is an artificial construct that does not exist in reality.

Maybe it is easier to give an example rather than a long explanation. In October 2020, BTS said, “We must remember the history of hardships and sacrifices the two countries [the United States and Korea] had experienced together,” when it accepted the James A. Van Fleet Award for contributing to the improvement of Korea-U.S. relations. After those remarks, social media in China was flooded with comments that the boy band had disrespected China. Advertisements featuring BTS vanished overnight. Korean media reported the development with a critical view.

“The media exaggerated some Internet users’ comments as an overall problem of China,” the author wrote. “If the media is determined, it is always possible to start such a war.” He said it was a success of the Chanchaeism framework. But it was an arbitrary interpretation that failed to consider the time order of the events and reporting.

From Kim’s perspective, the Chinese Internet users had reacted reasonably and BTS should have rejected the award. The author went on to say that the Korean media exaggerated insignificant commotions, which even the Chinese government did not care about, in their reports to amplify Chanchaeism.

Such logic is used to condemn media reports critical of China’s Northeast Project, Moon’s policy of no additional deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system, no participation by Korea in the U.S.-led missile defense regime and no trilateral military alliance with Japan and the United States, China’s cruel suppression of the democracy movement in Hong Kong and Beijing’s retaliation for the Thaad deployment in Korea.

According to the author, the Northeast Project was a defensive plan to prepare for a possibility that the northeastern region’s stability is shaken in case of a contingency in North Korea. He argued that supporting democracy protests in Hong Kong helps fuel Hong Kong’s independence.

It does not matter that a scholar defines the current international order as a neocolonial one or criticizes the Korean media for maintaining “bad China” perspective, since Korean society guarantees academic freedom. But if foreign policy is based on an opinion that is distant from the majority of the people, it is destined to fail.

“It is a book that shows a diversified perspective on how we see China and which direction our foreign policy should be headed to,” wrote Moon about the book on Facebook.

The author’s comment makes me understand why Moon had praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for his “democratic leadership” during their summit in 2017. The book says Xi’s governance is not a dictatorship and that Xi created “consequential democracy.” Actually, such perceptions were the basis of Moon’s China policy for the past five years.

The Chanchaeism phenomenon in Korea is not that complex. China showed its true face when it retaliated against Korea for the Thaad deployment and that sowed the seed of anti-China sentiment here. The Moon administration’s policy heavily leaning toward China fueled the anti-China sentiment. When you reverse the diagnosis, a correct solution cannot be found.
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