Doubtlessly you’ve read the stories about the malicious netizen attacks on Philippine-born Jasmine Lee, the newly elected lawmaker with the Saenuri Party.

The ruling party has been expressing concerns about the attacks, concerns echoed by the press, some quarters of which are raising the alarm against “xenophobia” and contrasting Korea–quite unfavorably–to the United States, where Korean-American Jim Yong Kim has been nominated to head the World Bank.

As I sifted through the press accounts and commentary, a couple of things came to mind:

1) It’s interesting–although not surprising, given that it’s a Saenuri lawmaker we’re talking about–that it seems to be the conservative press rushing to Lee’s defense. Which is not to say that the progressive press hasn’t talked about it–the Kyunghyang ran an op-ed on Lee and migrant workers yesterday, for instance–but in terms of intensity, it’s the conservatives leading the way. The Chosun, Dong-A and JoongAng have all run editorials on Lee, with Ye Olde Chosun in particular attacking the DUP and UPP in an editorial this morning for remaining silent about the racist netizen assaults on the lawmaker. I find this somewhat ironic, given the tenor of the conservative press’ coverage of the recent killing in Suwon. Not that it has been racist per se, but compare this editorial on Chinese-Koreans in the Chosun and this one in the Hankyoreh. The Chosun:

Around half of the 1.36 million foreigners in Korea are Chinese, and 70 percent of them, or 460,000, are ethnic Koreans. Most of them live in the Yeongdeungpo, Guro and Geumcheon districts on the outskirts of Seoul, surrounding Gyeonggi Province or in the satellite cities of Suwon and Ansan just south of the capital.

Wongok-dong in Ansan, a neighborhood especially favored by ethnic Koreans from China, has seen a rise in violent crime, and some residents there say they are afraid to go outside after dark. There has also been a rise in prostitution, gambling, drug dealing and extortion committed by ethnic Korean gangs targeting others in their group. The number of Chinese nationals arrested for crimes in Korea rose 22.6 percent from 12,791 in 2007 to 15,682 in 2011.

vs. the Hani:

Claims that the migrant worker community is a hotbed of violent crime also lack factual support. More often, they are victims of crime. The crime rate among foreigners living in South Korea is lower than among South Koreans. Obviously, we do need to increase the security presence in high-crime areas to prevent offenses. Ahead of that, however, we need preventive measures to stop foreigners from being made into social outsiders.

To be sure, the Chosun also calls for Chinese-Koreans to be treated humanely and counsels better communication, but the difference in tone is obvious.

This leads me to believe the Jasmine Lee story is largely driven by concerns other than xenophobia. Which is to say, I think certain newspapers smell blood in the water and are using the attacks to bludgeon a) the opposition in general, and b) Internet and SMS users in particular. I think it’s also useful in keeping other issues off the front page.

2) The progressive press shouldn’t be let off the hook, though. If the NPP had secured enough votes to put Pak No-ja in the Assembly and he came under similar racist attacks from netizens, I’m sure the Hani, Kyunghyang and friends would be screaming bloody murder about “right-wing xenophobia” and dropping Anders Breivik’s name every chance they got. And not to be excessively subtle here, but it seems the progressive heart bleeds for the plight of the foreigner only when they are poor and preferably brown–see if the Hani takes care to note low foreign crime rates next time it runs an editorial about USFK. Or a story on English teachers, for that matter (OK, the Hani has been OK to the English teachers—see Bulgasari’s comment here).

3) About these attacks on Jasmine Lee, how bad are they? I’ve read what has been printed in the press, but heck, you can read more and worse in half of my weekend Open Threads. Some of things I’ve read are nasty to be sure, and I hope she goes after some of those jackasses legally, but are comments and Tweets being cherry-picked to a) unfairly tarr Internet and SMS users and b) make a story where no story exists? I’m asking, because I honestly don’t know.

4) Rep. Lee has been pretty gracious about this all, saying that while she worried that other multicultural families might be hurt by this episode, it was also a chance to show how incredible Korea’s inclusiveness was. Probably true, even if it should be noted that she wasn’t elected by the people–she’s a proportional representative. What I’m more curious about is what policies she will push as a lawmaker. The “fake campaign pledge” might be, well, fake, but truthfully, I’m not sure I like the Saenuri Party’s platform on multicultural families, either (something readers of the Korea Herald have probably gathered already).

PS: Sorry for the lack of posts as of late. I’d say I was busy, but truth be told, I was just exhausted. Now I’m re-energized and ready to go again.


1) And as if to prove my point about the left’s selective sympathy, the reliably progressive Seoul Sinmun chimes in with an article today on xenophobia. The article itself isn’t bad, mind you, warning about the dangers of treating all foreigners like potential criminals and noting—very responsibly—that foreigners have a crime rate less than half that of locals. But smack dab in the middle, they quote a Mohammed—a Pakistani-turned Korean national in Ansan—who complains that even if they commit the same crime, Koreans will let an American go ™ but deal sternly with a guy from a small, weak country.

Not that we haven’t heard that before.

2) The Korea Communications Commission announced yesterday it would start taking measures against cafes and other websites that post xenophobic material. Can’t say I like that very much, but I know some of you will be thrilled.

3) Even the prime minister is chiming in, saying we need comprehensive measures to deal with xenophobia. That’s all well and good, but I could do without the “multiculturalism not being a choice” BS. Before you hoist a change like multiculturalism on society at the policy level, you’d better ask the society what it thinks.

4) I have to say, I’ve been really disappointed by the North Koreans. With a “drop of ink” not only polluting the Han River, but now even the National Assembly, I should have thought Pyongyang would have had let loose with a deliciously racist rant by now. Especially with said drop of ink wearing Saenuri Party red. They must be loosing a step under Kim Jong-un.


Despite the winds of xenophobia reportedly blowing all around me, I made it safely home without being accosted by a pitchfork-carrying mob.