Let’s face it – we’re not used to dealing with international affairs. Or, at least a large proportion of us are. For a typical Korean student who was born, raised, and educated in this country, “Foreign affairs” stays in its vaguely alien space where you’ve read that it’s a big problem, you’ve heard that it’s a big problem, but you’ve never actually met someone who’s really upset about that problem.
So for many students of our generation, the recent Hong Kong crisis may be the first time they actually see people around them calling friends, make gossip, and write posters because of an incident that has happened a thousand mile away. Two weeks ago, many Liberal Arts College students would remember the little commotion at Hakgwan. Our security guy shouting, Liberal Arts Office staff running down the hall, familiar faces arguing, crying – and as one of the students who were timidly peeking at the hallway, trying to figure out what on earth is this chaos about, it finally occurred to me that this piece of news from the international section could actually impact our daily lives. This is not just a story of our school, either. Numerous student unions all around the country have announced their solidarity towards the protesters, while cases of ripping posters, cyberbullying, and even physical clashes has been reported at Sungkyunkwan, Hanyang, Yonsei, Korea University and HUFS.
There seems to be multiple reasons behind why this has become such a huge issue in Korea. First, the recent Hong Kong crisis is deeply reminiscent of Korea’s own history of student protests against military dictatorship. This has been already pointed by several experts, and as a result of this history rallying-and-singing in protests has always been a huge part of Korean culture for decades.
But there’s one more fact we must take into account. It’s the country’s rapid increase of the international student population. According to the Ministry of Education(MOE), there were about 83,000 international students around 2010. This year, in 2019, the number has reached 160,000 students – and 44.4% of them are Chinese students. So Koreans’ sympathy isn’t the only reason this issue has become so big in Korea. It also owes to the fact that there’s just more students from mainland China and Hong Kong.
However, for the past few days it has become clear that our attitude towards this issue has much space for improvement. What has once been rational and mature discussion is now ending with racial slurs and stereotypes. We East Asians know so well about each country’s dark history that in times like this, we use it to attack each other, rather than creating peace and solidarity. What is most disturbing, and perhaps most worrying, is the lack of effort we put into actually investigating this issue.
This phenomenon is not new. Back in the days when the press was debating whether or not Trump was really going to be elected president, a royal reader of domestic press would not have had the faintest idea that he even had a chance. Not only did the Korean press only quote liberal newspapers, some broadcasting stations even edited video clips to make the crowd of Trump enthusiasts look smaller in size. If one wants to grasp the complexity of something that happened in a totally different environment, we need to put more effort than just blind-mindedly devouring domestic coverage. We need to double-check on our bias, our premises, and much more that is required to get a full view of an issue.
Korea was, and still is a very homogeneous society. However, in the last five years, this country has seen a great increase in international influx of ideas and people. Foreign affairs are no longer just pieces of news in the international section, whether or not we can deal with it in a mature, productive way will have a huge effect in our future.