I read recently a very good column in the Chosun Ilbo by Hallim University poli-sci professor Kim Yeong-myeong on multiculturalism in Korea.

As readers know, I’m not especially fond of multi-kulti. And yes, as a foreigner living in Korea with a Mongolian wife, I appreciate the irony. Anyway, the problem with being something of an equal-opportunity, knuckle-dragging nativist is that so often, the people on “your” side come off like jackasses (see TK’s post).

So it’s nice when you find one who doesn’t.

I’ll translate/summarize his piece below.

Kim points out that multiculturalism has become something of a fad. Multiculturalism can be summed up as “since we’re entering a global age, an inflow of foreigners is inevitable, so let’s usher them in with open hearts.” Seems reasonable at first, with little room for dispute. Globalization, too, can be seen as a global trend, and treating foreigners with open hearts sounds like a moral law nobody can deny. But it’s not that simple.

Firstly, the word “multiculturalism” is vague and controversial. Is the term “multiculturalism” naturally correct? Or would “multiracialism” be more exact? And is “multiracialism” unavoidable and desirable, and are the social tensions that will emerge in the course of becoming a multicultural society worth bearing? There’s a lot to think about. In Korea, however, calls for multiculturalism are based on an excessively simple logic.

Korean multiculturalism began with trying to protect the human rights of “marriage immigrants,” i.e., women who came to Korea to marry Korean men. It was to help relieve the pain suffered by these women as they came to a strange country and assist them in making a life here. It was a desirable start. However, there are already more foreign laborers than marriage immigrants, and in the future, Korea’s foreigner issues will mostly be about them. Accordingly, Korea’s policies regarding foreigners should focus on just how many foreign laborers Korea needs, how they should be brought here and how they can become short-term members of Korean society.

Policy regarding things such as multiculturalism should be based on three axis—employment structure, manpower supply and demand, and the treatment, welfare and social integration of foreigners, but Korea’s current policies are excessively focused on the second (manpower supply and demand). This is because Korea has indiscriminately adopted multicultural arguments from immigrant nations with very different situations. Canada, Australia and the United States are immigrant nations, while the United Kingdom, Germany and France have become multiracial nations by bringing in foreign laborers over the last several decades. To say that Korea, where the inflow of foreigners has only just begun in earnest and is still a “one ethnic group nation,” should take these nations’ experiences and theories and adopt their multicultural policies like Korea was already a multiracial nation runs counter to reality.

Korea is reflecting greatly on its closed past. This is good, but it’s not without its excesses. One of the results has been a sort of “openess complex,” and calls for multiculturalism are on expression. Two groups are representative advocates of multiculturalism. Jaebeol capital wishes to import cheap labor en masse and maximize profits. Intellectuals, on the other hand, view Western multicultural and multiethnic societies as an ideal. These two groups encompass left and right, conservative and progressive, ruling party and opposition party.

On the Internet, netizens attacks on multicultural policies are fierce. Their complaints lean towards the government’s preferential treatment of foreigners, reverse discrimination against Koreans and foreigner crime. They have a lot of good points, but unfortunately, due to their excessively aggressive language, they’ve brought upon themselves the label of “xenophobia.” On the other hand, in mainstream discourse, it’s hard to find criticism of multicultural policies. There’s no proper debate between pro and con, with rampant unilateral attacks and defense without communication.

Korea’s path towards becoming a multicultural/multiethnic society is not inevitable; it depends on a policy choice. Accordingly, there needs to be social agreement. Moreover, multicultural societies have experienced racial tension. Accordingly, German chancellor Angela Merkel and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy declared that multicultural policies should be abandoned. Korea, too, is gradually experiencing tensions resulting from the influx of foreigners. Xenophobia is occurring, and foreigner crime, too, is growing. These cannot be solved through just the spirit of tolerance or civic virtue espoused by the multiculturalists. The government and people must gather the wisdom to reduce social tensions through a balanced policy regarding foreigners.