Cablegate: East China's South Korean Community

DE RUEHGH #0474/01 2110646
R 300646Z JUL 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

(U) Sensitive but unclassified - please protect accordingly.
Not for dissemination outside USG channels.

1. (SBU) Summary: Since the establishment of diplomatic
relations in August 1992, South Koreans have flocked to Shanghai
in search of economic and educational opportunities. More than
110,000 South Koreans live in east China (Anhui, Jiangsu and
Zhejiang provinces and Shanghai), with some 70,000 in Shanghai
alone. The community has its own schools, churches and business
organizations. Major concerns include ongoing frictions with
the local authorities, particularly environmental concerns for
businesses and the extent of religious freedom for different
churches, and access to education. Despite these problems, most
people with whom we met predicted that the South Korean
community in Shanghai and the surrounding regions would continue
to grow and contribute to closer relations between the two
countries. End Summary.

Exploding Migrant Community

2. (U) From late June to mid July, Poloff met with various
representatives from South Korean communities in Shanghai and
surrounding regions to find out more about their experience in
East China. For Korea in the modern times, there is no other
foreign city more important as a historical landmark than
Shanghai. The Korean Provisional Government was founded in
Shanghai in 1919, and Shanghai was a major center of Korean
nationalist resistance against the Japanese occupation of Korea.
With the establishment of formal ties between Seoul and Beijing
in 1992, finally ending the long Cold War hiatus between the two
countries, South Koreans began to flock to Shanghai again in
search of various commercial and/or educational interests and

3. (U) While estimates vary, according to the June 2007
quarterly report released by the joint Korean Chamber of
Commerce in East China (covering Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang
provinces and Shanghai), there are around 70,000 South Korean
nationals residing in Shanghai, and the number is expected to
reach 100,000 by the year 2010. In addition to Shanghai, other
cities in the region with a significant South Korean population
include Suzhou (25,000), Yiwu (7,000), Wuxi (7,000) and Nanjing
(5,000). According to Mr. Jae-won Jun, a Consul at the South
Korean Consulate in Shanghai, 3.9 million visited China in 2006,
with 1 million to Shanghai alone.

4. (U) According to the Shanghai Korean United Church's
Reverend Um Ki Young, South Koreans in Shanghai are concentrated
in the Minhang district (around 85 percent of the population)
and Pudong district (around 15 percent). Numbers residing
outside of Minhang and Pudong districts are negligible. Prior
to China's accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001,
the Chinese government had designated all the foreign nationals
in Shanghai to live in the Gubei area. After the restriction
was lifted, most South Koreans moved to the adjacent and newly
developing Minhang district, just outside of Gubei and began to
concentrate in that area. Availability of different South
Korean churches, food stores, restaurants and schools made
living in the Minhang district appealing for many South Koreans.

5. (U) Many interviewees commented that perhaps the most
important characteristic that distinguishes South Koreans in
Shanghai and rest of China from many South Korean communities
abroad was the fact that their stay in China was never meant to
be permanent. The Chinese government does not recognize any
sort of permanent immigration by foreigners, unlike their
counterparts in places like the United States and Canada, and
South Koreans defined their stay in China as wholly temporary.

Economic Opportunities

6. (U) Most South Koreans residing in Shanghai and surrounding
areas came to China for commercial interests. According to the
joint Korean Chamber of Commerce in East China's June 2007
report, there are over 8,000 South Korean companies in the
region, and around 3,200 in Shanghai alone. Other cities in the
region with significant number of South Korean businesses are
Yiwu (3,000), Suzhou (890), Nanjing (200), Wuxi (200), Ningbo
(120), Hefei (100), Zhangjiagang (83), Lianyungang (78), Jiaxing

SHANGHAI 00000474 002 OF 005

(60), Yancheng (53), Hangzhou (50) and Nantong (50). According
to Mr. Jun, the size of these businesses ranged from giants like
Samsung and LG to small shops selling trinkets. Typically
larger businesses were concentrated in Shanghai, while smaller
ones dotted the cities in the interior.

7. (SBU) Poloff attended the joint meeting of the Korean
Chamber of Commerce in East China from June 29-July 1 and met
with many Korean business representatives. Many of these
representatives identified the prospective Free Trade Agreement
(FTA) between South Korea and China as a major issue for South
Korean businesses in China. An official representative of the
South Korean Ministry of Foreign Relations and Trade from Seoul
briefed the participants on the prospective China-South Korea
FTA. Although the new administration in power after the
December 2007 South Korean Presidential Election may change
direction, the current South Korean government was cautiously
pushing for FTAs with the European Union and China to follow the
FTA agreement with the United States. China was the most
important economic partner for South Korea and its significance
was even greater considering the entities under its sphere, Hong
Kong, Macao and Taiwan. South Korea had its biggest trade
surplus with China and around 24 percent of South Korea's total
foreign investments went to China. However, the presenter also
spoke of concerns and potential dangers of the FTA with China.
Agriculture and manufacturing industries were expected to be hit
hard, and there were also fears that the FTA may help China to
catch up technologically with South Korea at a faster rate.
Furthermore, there were worries that South Korea may become too
economically dependent upon China.

8. (SBU) The presenter said that there were two main
motivations behind Beijing's endorsement of the FTA between
China and South Korea. First, China wanted to establish Chinese
leadership/hegemony in Northeast Asia by drawing South Korea
into its sphere and increasing its influence in East Asia's
political economy. Second, China would like to eventually have
FTAs with the United States and European Union and was using the
FTA with South Korea as an experiment. Beijing was also
expecting that the FTA with South Korea would help to modernize
the Chinese economy. On Seoul's side, the presenter expected an
increase in the South Korean GDP and trade with China. For
specific industries, including automobiles, mechanical and
petrochemicals, the South Korea-China FTA was expected to be
beneficial, while damaging for the steel and textile industries.
The presenter expected the negotiations between Beijing and
Seoul to begin within the next five years.

9. (SBU) Relations between local governments and Korean
businesses varied. In Wuxi, where there was an algae outbreak
in May that polluted the water, companies were under significant
pressure to conserve water. Hynix Semiconductors (formerly a
part of the Hyundai Group), for instance, was blamed by the
local people for overusing water and causing pollution in the
area. The Lianyungang authorities began issuing warnings
against companies without sufficient wastewater treatment
facilities, and even forced some companies to move out. On the
other hand, South Korean companies in Yiwu launched an
environmental preservation movement which not only made the
Korean companies more popular in the region, but appeared in a
Beijing television program, improving the overall image of
Korean businesses in China. The Yancheng representative said
that the general image of Korean businesses and businesspersons
was so positive in Yancheng that the local government even put
up road signs in Korean. He was once caught speeding but the
policeman let him go without issuing a traffic ticket after he
found out that he was a Korean businessman. However, many
Korean businesspersons also damaged the reputation of Koreans in
China by reneging on business deals and fleeing China. Another
topic that came up was the issue of prostitution. The Chinese
police were on the alert about prostitution and several Korean
businessmen were jailed or deported from China because of
illegal activities.

Religious Life

10. (SBU) Religious activities were important for the South
Korean community, and have been growing despite the Chinese
government's wary attitude. There are three Buddhist, one
Catholic, and around 20 Protestant churches catering to the
South Korean population in Shanghai, and many expected that the
number of religious centers would continue to increase in the
near future. According to Mr. Jun, churches, temples and other

SHANGHAI 00000474 003 OF 005

religious centers were often the place where many South Koreans
socialize, and especially important for newcomers who often find
help at these places in adjusting to the new life in China.
Rev. Um said the Korean United Church, for example, was playing
a big role in the community by providing a place where Koreans
could gather together to cultivate national identity and carry
out cultural programs. The Korean United Church operates a
kindergarten as well, providing daycare services for young
children. He also mentioned that the Church played a role in
policing and providing advice to the deviant teenagers, and was
in fact a significant help to the Chinese police.

11. (SBU) The Korean United Church (Protestant) in the Minhang
district was the largest and the only officially recognized
South Korean church in Shanghai with around 3,500 regular
attendees. Rev. Um said that the first Protestant gathering was
in 1993, when a small group of families regularly got together
for services. This group grew to about 300 to 400 people by the
year 2000, and joined the Three-Self Patriotic Movement/China
Christian Council (TSPM/CCC), the official Protestant Church of
China, and conducted services under its supervision. There were
significant cultural differences between the TSPM/CCC and the
South Korean Protestant Church, and the TSPM/CCC often tried to
impose its standards on the South Korean Church. While the
South Korean Church regularly carried out late night or early
morning services and had many programs for children, the
TSPM/CCC Church did not have such programs nor did it understand

them. In 2004, the South Korean church moved to a new building
for themselves, after winning a concession from the local
government and the TSPM/CCC that allowed them to conduct
services without TSPM/CCC input or representatives from the


12. (SBU) In addition to the Korean United Church, there were
approximately 20 smaller Protestant groups gathered in groups of
families independent of the Korean United Church. Dr. Choi
BooDeuk, an architect and a representative of the South Korean
Catholic Church, said that there were about 1,500 registered
regular attendees and around 500 irregular attendees for the
South Korean Catholic Church. Unlike the South Korean
Protestants, the Catholic Church worked with the Chinese
Catholic Church in conducting their services. According to Mr.
Jun, there were three South Korean Buddhist temples in Shanghai
catering to the current few hundred -- but nevertheless rapidly
growing -- South Korean Buddhist population.

13. (SBU) All of the religious representatives noted that there
were ongoing missionary activities by South Korean missionaries
in China. However, they were reluctant to discuss this issue
and said that the missionaries' activities had little to do with
their operations. Missionaries came to China from abroad and
were not affiliated with the local churches. Mr. Jun said that
while he had heard of few cases of missionaries getting caught
by the Chinese authorities and being jailed or deported from
China in other provinces, he has not heard of any case in
Shanghai. Religious representatives also said that the Chinese
government had restricted them to cater only to the South Korean
population, and to exclude both the Korean-Chinese and North
Koreans from services.

14. (SBU) Although the South Korean protestant group was able
to get their own church and practice their faith with little
interference, tensions remained. Rev. Um mentioned that the
Protestants, for example, were still upset about the Chinese
government's policy of grouping all Protestants into one group,
arguing that there were often incompatible differences among the
different Protestant groups. However, religious representatives
noted that the situation had progressively improved and they
were hopeful for the future. Dr. Choi stated that the Chinese
government was troubled by the widespread materialistic
attitudes in society after the implementation of economic
reforms, and may utilize religions to reestablish moral values
in the society as other countries had done. He also mentioned
that the establishment of full diplomatic relations between
China and the Vatican, if it occurred, may also significantly
improve the religious situation in China.


15. (U) Education was a big concern for South Koreans, and a
significant number came to Shanghai and its surrounding areas
just for study. The growing number of South Korean students in
China reflected increasing influence and importance of China and

SHANGHAI 00000474 004 OF 005

Chinese language in the world, especially to the geographically
proximate South Koreans. Although the measurements varied,
there were between some 6,000 to 8,500 South Korean students in
different colleges and universities in Shanghai. According to
the June 7 joint Korean Chamber of Commerce in East China
report, other cities in the region with significant Korean
college/university student population are Nanjing (1,000),
Suzhou (500) and Yiwu (200).

16. (SBU) According to Professor Sun Kezhi, an ethnic Han
Chinese scholar specializing in Korean history at Fudan
University, there are approximately 1,000 South Korean students
in Shanghai and the surrounding regions. Despite the large and
growing number of South Korean students at Fudan University,
South Korean students, in general, lagged behind their peers and
frequently did not attend class. Professor Sun opined that most
of the South Korean students at Fudan could not gain admission
to first-rate schools in South Korea but still wanted to go to a
big name school such as Fudan. It was relatively easy for
foreigners to gain admission to the Chinese universities.
Professor Sun said that while there were some South Korean
students who worked hard, they constituted a small minority.
The South Korean Students Union functioned largely as a social
club. The non-participating South Korean students were often
ostracized by their South Korean classmates, and those who did
participate often progressively lost their Chinese language
skills as they were surrounded by South Koreans and did not mix
with Chinese students. According to Sun, such trends among
South Korean students were observed by his colleagues teaching
in other colleges and universities in Shanghai and elsewhere.

17. (U) While most primary and secondary South Korean students
in Shanghai and surrounding areas were children of those who
came to China for business, there are also a few primary and
secondary school students who came by themselves to acquire
proficiency in Mandarin by living and attending school in China.
According to Mr. Lee Kil Hyun, the principle of the South
Korean school (grades 1 to 12), about one-third of South Korean
children attend the South Korean school and the remaining
two-thirds either attend local Chinese schools or other
international schools (including the American School). Mr. Lee
added that different schools offered different advantages. Many
students and parents choose the American or British school to
teach their children English and to send them off to colleges
and universities in the United States or the United Kingdom.
The Chinese schools offered an opportunity to gain fluency in
Mandarin. The South Korean school's appeal was the chance to
learn or retain Korean language skills and an opportunity to
gain admissions at South Korean colleges and universities.
There were also several weekend Korean language schools in
Shanghai and other cities for young children. However, as the
Zhangjiagang representative of the Korean Chamber of Commerce
mentioned, in areas where there are not many Koreans around,
like Zhangjiagang, many Korean children cannot speak Korean
because there are no Korean teachers or schools nearby.

18. (U) The South Korean school in Shanghai was among the 28
officially-recognized South Korean schools abroad. Nine of the
28 are located in China. The school, with more than 1,000
students, has grown significantly since it was established in
1999 with 43 students. There are currently 647 students in the
elementary division (grades 1 to 6), 180 in the middle division
(grades 7 to 9) and 248 in the high division (grades 10 to 12).
Because of rapidly increasing enrollment, the school just
finished constructing a new building complex and moved in last
year. The South Korean school caters exclusively to the South
Korean nationals and is an important community institution for
the South Koreans in Shanghai. Teachers mentioned that one goal
of the South Korean school was, due to China's rise in the
international scene and its growing relationship with South
Korea, to develop the South Korean students as the next
generation's China experts. Teachers also noted that many
students experienced confusion growing up in a foreign setting,
and the problem was amplified by the general lack of cultural
activities specifically for Korean students and advising by
trained adults.

Korean Chinese and North Koreans

19. (SBU) Although miniscule in number compared to their South
Korean counterparts, there reportedly are a small number of
North Koreans living in Shanghai and the surrounding areas. In
separate interviews on June 15 and 18, Gong Keyu, Yu Yingli and

SHANGHAI 00000474 005 OF 005

Xue Chen of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies
said that there are around seven North Korean restaurants in
Shanghai, and North Korean scholars and officials sometimes
visited Shanghai for research and exchange with their Chinese
counterparts. They noted that North Koreans always traveled in
groups in order to keep an eye on each other, and they were
difficult to contact. Professor Sun mentioned that while there
were some North Korean students studying in the Shanghai area
before, none remained after the economic reforms were
implemented, and this was also the case for other parts of
southern China. He said that there currently are some North
Korean students studying in Beijing and few other places in the
Northeast. None of the interviewees spoke of any real contacts
between North Koreans and South Koreans.

20. (SBU) All the interviewees spoke of Korean-Chinese as a
staunchly closed and distinct group which often stayed aloof
from both the South Korean and the Han Chinese communities. As
Chinese nationals, Korean-Chinese were not permitted to join
their South Korean counterparts in many educational and
religious programs exclusively designated for the South Korean
nationals. However, many Korean businesses and educational
institutions hired Korean-Chinese especially because of their
fluency in both the Korean and Mandarin languages. Professor
Sun mentioned that Korean-Chinese students and professors at
Fudan University tended to be a closed group with limited
interaction with either the Han Chinese or the South Koreans.
There was little cooperation between the History Department,
where Prof. Sun teaches Korean history, and the Korean language
program, which was completely dominated by the Korean-Chinese
scholars, because Korean-Chinese professors tended to be
uncooperative and did not want to work with Han Chinese scholars
in Korean Studies.


21. (SBU) While sharing many common problems and concerns with
other foreign communities living in Shanghai and surrounding
areas, the South Korean community nevertheless constituted a
unique group among the foreigners in Shanghai. One notable
difference was the physical distance between China and South
Korea, which is much less, when compared to Europe or the United
States. Shanghai is less than a two hour flight from Seoul,
making communication and travel relatively easy and convenient
for the South Koreans. In addition, the general perception
among Chinese of the South Koreans is different from their
perception of Westerners and the Japanese. In contrast to the
bitter historical memories the Chinese have towards the British,
French, German, Americans, Russians and the Japanese, South
Koreans are free from such historical "guilt" and resulting
suspicion that taints the other communities in the Chinese eyes.
According to Mr. Xue, "hallyu" or the "Korean culture wave" in
China has also influenced Chinese popular culture in important
ways and improved the overall image of South Koreans in China.

22. (SBU) The existence of a significant native Korean
population in China, some two million Korean-Chinese, mostly
concentrated in Northeast China but with a significant number in
Shanghai, who are mostly raised bilingual in both Korean and
Chinese cultures, is an important asset for the South Koreans.
Despite some tensions between Korean-Chinese and South Koreans,
Korean-Chinese have provided invaluable help for many South
Korean businesses with their language skills as well as their
knowledge and understanding of the Chinese society and culture.
Despite the long Cold War hiatus, the South Korean-China
relations have become increasingly important for both countries,
and the rapidly growing South Korean population in Shanghai and
elsewhere in China is testimony to such development.

© Scoop Media

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