Thursday, October 02, 2008

Korean Protests: Shedding a little candlelight on this matter . . .

Korean Candlelight Protest!
Against China's Melamine-Laced Food!
Just kidding. It's from the 'Mad Cow' Protests.
(Image from Wikipedia)

In an article rich in irony, Kim Seong-kon, professor of English at Seoul National University, poses a question in yesterday's Korea Herald, asking "Where have protesters gone?":
The recent China food scare caused by the toxic chemical melamine has been sweeping the nation like a whirlwind, devastating the Korean food industry. Melamine is used extensively by some Chinese dairy companies and can be found everywhere in our daily diets, such as in evaporated milk, snacks, custards, biscuits, cookies and even coffee cream. No one seems safe or immune from this poisonous substance. Ever since the melamine scare hit, Koreans have responded to the situation with mixed emotions of shock, dismay and fury.

Strangely, however, there have been no candlelight demonstrations -- not a single one -- condemning China for exporting such products that are hazardous to our health. Just a few months ago, the Korean people were roaring "Protect our children from American mad cow beef!" It is odd that Koreans are not now organizing demonstrations to protect our children from the deadly melamine toxin.
A lot of us expats also find this puzzling, for -- as Professor Kim points out -- "the melamine scare is a clear danger that threatens the health of . . . children, whereas the mad cow scare had been groundless with no scientific evidence." Months of mass protests daily against non-existent 'Mad Cow' American beef, but hardly a peep against melamine-poisoned products from China -- not to mention the public silence over murderous attacks by Chinese fishermen against the Korean coast guard for trying to prevent illegal fishing in Korean waters. Korea Beat notes that it all just doesn't add up:
Mad cow disease-caused deaths = 0

Mad cow disease protestors = Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands

Chinese fisherman-caused deaths = one at least two, plus hostage-taking and other incidents of assault

Korean kids who ate poison cookies from China = Unknown but non-zero

Koreans protesting China = Zero
I don't mix much with other expats, so I can't say that they're incessantly discussing this Korean inconsistency, but I did run into Professor John Frankl yesterday at Yonsei's Underwood International College, and the two of us talked about it. We both agreed that anti-Americanism plays a role, but John noted that Koreans don't especially like the Chinese, either. The difference, he suggested, is that Koreans worry about the consequences of offending China. He's probably right in part, for the Chinese play rough:
South Koreans' . . . garlic dispute with China, during which Seoul slapped a 315% tariff on Chinese garlic[, showed Koreans that the Chinese will respond with more forceful retribution]. Choi Byung-il, international trade professor at Ewha Women's University, explained that South Koreans learned "a very hard lesson" during the garlic war with China, when China barred Korean microchips, mobile phones and petrochemical products in retaliation. Collectively, these products were far more important to Korea than the garlic exports were to China, so Korea had little choice but to accede to greater garlic imports. Since that time, Choi said, South Korea has tried not to provoke China in trade matters. (Ting-I Tsai, "Korea swallows its pride in Chinese kimchi war," Asia Times, November 22, 2005)
Fear of China exacting revenge on Korea must therefore be taken into account in this analysis, but anti-Americanism shouldn't be underestimated -- especially since there's not merely the general anti-American sentiment that one finds everywhere but also the strong role of the radical Left, which is dogmatically anti-American and which played a role in organizing the 'Mad Cow' protests against American beef earlier this year. I mentioned this to John and compared it to the lack of protests by Western Europeans during the Bosnian crisis of the early 1990s. I was living in Europe and closer to the Left in those days, but I couldn't understand the Euro-Left's silence in the face of genocide. I once asked a woman why the Left was silent in the face of fascism. She told me, "If we protested and pushed for intervention, then NATO would have to do it, and we're against NATO." I was astonished. Anti-Americanism trumped the prevention of genocide.

And as we've seen in Korea this year, it also trumps rationality.

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At 6:43 AM, Blogger John B said...

Also, Korean's have a pretty low opinion of Chinese industry and sub-standard goods is meeting with their expectations. I think there's almost a 'you get what you pay for' fatalism. After all, the tainted products are often cheap, processed junk food.

Also, it could be that Koreans have not yet internalized the prospect of Chinese hegemony in Asia, at least not to the extent that they perceive the US dominance.

At 6:49 AM, Blogger John B said...

I could add that the support for the above is all anecdotal. I've heard a lot of Koreans make jokes about 'made in China' low-quality products. Also, the treatment Chinese international students in Korea have received, according to friends of mine, indicates that there is generally a low opinion of China.

I could also add the uncomfortable conversation where several Korean men gave me detailed descriptions of sex tourism in China.

At 7:34 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John, I think that I'd also find participating in that sort of conversation very uncomfortable.

As for Koreans' attitudes toward the Chinese, these are probably a mixture of fear and loathing -- based on what I've read and heard.

Koreans, therefore, expect less in Chinese quality and more in China's vengefulness. Just the opposite of Koreans' expectations concerning America.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, let's do hope the dirty rice cakes were Cajun in origin.


At 11:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'd like to think so, too, JK . . . except that they'd then also be American and thus protestable.

Jeffery Hodges

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