Cablegate: Impact of Olympics On Rok Views Toward China

DE RUEHUL #2016/01 2880859
O 140859Z OCT 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. STATE 105512

1. (SBU) Summary: Ref A requested an assessment of the
effect that China's hosting of the Olympic Games had on
Korean views of China. The Korean public avidly followed the
Korean Olympic team's historic success as it placed seventh
in the overall medal count and second among Asian countries.
There was in the press, nonetheless, a conspicuous storyline
on what the Games revealed about China and its relationships
with its neighbors. To Korea's consternation, China played
to the historic stereotype of a nationalistic, anti-Korean
Chinese public rooting for Korea's opponents. Koreans
acknowledged China's managerial skills hosting the Games, but
many seemed to conclude that China lacked the political and
civic maturity to be a leading global power. Despite
misgivings awakened by the Olympics, Korea has no choice but
to continue developing its already close ties to China, ties
that in the context of geography and centuries of history are
on a course practically impervious to the 2008 Olympics. End

--------------------------------------------- ---------
How closely did the public follow the Beijing Olympic Games?
--------------------------------------------- ---------

2. (SBU) According to a survey of thirty-seven countries
carried out by the Nielsen Company on September 18, South
Korea ranked first with 94.3 percent of the total population
tuning in to watch the Beijing Olympic Games between August
8-24. Korean interest in watching the Games was no doubt
fueled by Korea's best ever Olympic performance: Korea took
seventh place in the overall medal count and second place in
Asia, behind China and ahead of Japan. All four major
networks carried the games, often at the same time.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
How were China and the Games portrayed in the local media?
Mostly as a sporting competition, or did coverage touch on
changes in China, discussion of human rights, or China's
position in the world, or none of the above?
--------------------------------------------- ---------

3. (SBU) Koreans were genuinely interested in the Games as a
sporting competition--in no small part due to the success of
Korea's Olympic team--and the local media covered the games
as a sporting event. But China's position in the world,
particularly vis-a-vis Korea, was a conspicuous sub-plot that
Koreans anxiously followed.

4. (SBU) The 1988 Olympic Games, hosted by Korea during its
transformation from dictatorship to democracy, are widely
regarded as a turning point in terms of Korea's development
as a political democracy and economic powerhouse. Koreans,
therefore, were inclined to project a great deal of potential
significance onto China's role as host and wondered whether
the 2008 Games would mark a similar turning point for China
as it did for Korea in 1988.

5. (SBU) In the lead up to the 2008 Games, the South Korean
press focused on the upsurge in Chinese nationalism. In
particular, press reports focused on the government's role in
preparing for the Games, efforts to clean up Beijing, and
restrictions on travel to China. The Korean press generally
interpreted the Chinese preparations as a government
obsession stemming from a hope to use the Games to mark the
political, economic, and cultural revival of China as a
global power.

6. (SBU) Korean perceptions of the Games and China took a
negative turn, however, when, during the April 27 torch run,
thousands of Chinese students waving red communist flags
filled the streets of downtown Seoul. One government
official described the students as a "mob invading Korea."
Some of these students were engaged in acts of violence
directed at Korean police and human rights activists
demonstrating on behalf of Tibet.

7. (SBU) Newspaper editorials used harsh language to condemn
the behavior of the Chinese supporters. Moderate daily
JoongAng Ilbo said the Chinese protestors' "violent rallies"
"once again" portrayed the PRC as a country "not quite
developed" on the international stage. Center-left daily
Hankyoreh criticized the Chinese for "excessively excited"
behavior which caused "damage to China's dignity." Citing
Korean bloggers, the conservative daily Chosun Ilbo lambasted

SEOUL 00002016 002 OF 003

the Chinese people's "lawless, irrational, and beastlike"
"riotous behavior" and declared the PRC lacks the
"conscience" and "common sense" of a nation worthy of hosting
the Olympics.

8. (SBU) The torch run incident sparked a rancorous blogging
war of sorts between Korean and Chinese netizens arguing over
ownership of common culture and historical traditions. The
situation in Tibet fed anxiety about China's fitness as a
regional or global power. Then a few days before the opening
ceremony, a Korean television network, SBS, released footage
of the opening ceremony rehearsals--outraging Chinese

9. (SBU) Once the Games started, Chinese fans often
enthusiastically supported Korea's opponents. Chinese fans
even cheered for Japan in its baseball match with Korea. On
August 27, the center-left daily Hankyoreh ran a story
headlined "Anti-Korean Sentiment Spreads through China" which
explored possible explanations for Chinese fans rooting
against Korea in the games.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
Was Beijing city or China seen as modern, wealthy, developed?
Portrayed as an economic threat or opportunity?
--------------------------------------------- ---------

10. (SBU) Koreans generally thought that China did an
impeccable job managing the Olympics. But there was also the
sense that China tried too hard and acted as if it had
something to hide, according to one government official and
China watcher. For example, too much effort was made to
clean up Beijing by evicting small merchants and migrant
workers, as if the Chinese government did not want the
outside world to know that these people existed.

11. (SBU) The resulting impression was that China erected a
facade of development, illustrated by the fake fireworks and
lip-syncing school girl singing the national anthem. But to
become a leading global country, more is needed than economic
development, one government official said. The most
important result of the 1988 Olympics for Korea was the
development of Korea's political system. It is not clear to
the Korean public that Chinese citizens will be so motivated.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
Did the Olympics change Korea's approach to dealing with
--------------------------------------------- ---------

12. (SBU) Since establishing diplomatic ties with China in
1992, the ROK-PRC relationship has undergone tremendous
development. The relationship is so important and runs so
deep (Ref B) that, whatever anxieties might have been stirred
by the Olympics, Koreans must continue to engage China.

-- China is the ROK's biggest trading partner and the ROK is
China's third biggest trading partner. Total bilateral trade
last year totaled $145 billion and is growing at an annual
rate of 20%. The ROK's annual bilateral trade with the U.S.
and Japan combined is approximately $165 billion.

-- China is Korea's most popular tourist destination. Last
year 5 million Koreans visited China and 1 million Chinese
traveled to Korea.

-- Korean students comprise the largest number of foreign
students in China, totaling more than a third of all foreign

-- Between Korea and thirty Chinese cities, there are on
average 113 flights per day.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
Have expectations of China's global role and position changed
in the view of elites after the Games?
--------------------------------------------- ---------

13. (SBU) Expectations of China have not changed, but in the
aftermath of the Games a number of Korean academics and media
outlets are engaged in retrospective analysis of the causes
of anti-Korean sentiment in China. For example, the JoongAng
Ilbo, a major South Korean daily, has started a campaign
called "Approaching China with a Humble and Warm Heart." As
one government official said, the 2008 Olympic Games
reinforced many negative sentiments Koreans have about China

SEOUL 00002016 003 OF 003

but Korea has no choice but to endeavor to put a good face on
its relationship with China.

© Scoop Media

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