Korea must shed homogeneity jinx

2013-07-17

Korea must shed homogeneity jinx

Kim Ji-soo

Korea should more positively shed the yoke of racial homogeneity and welcome immigrants with open arms in order to get ahead globally, an international politico-economic expert claims in an interview. Talking about his recent book on the future of Korea immigration, Mo Jongryn, said, “Look at Apple. Everybody, irrespective of nationality, wants to work there.” “By changing its concept, Samsung will be able to tap into the 7 billion of the world population rather than from 50 million South Koreans,” Mo said about Korea’s global winning strategy.Mo, a professor at the Graduate School of International Studies at Yonsei University, recently released a book titled “Strong Immigration Nation.”

“The increasing presence of foreigners in the country is an attestation that we are doing well,” he said.

He went on to explain that Korea is doing well in terms of globalization “output,” meaning that it is successfully selling its products and its human resources to the world.

“But Korea is resistant to globalizing “input,” in terms of capital but more importantly human resources and this is where it has to step up,” he said.

The professor is also vice president of international affairs at the university, and he sees talented foreign students who might provide the skills in necessary sectors such as teaching English.

“We need to import skilled workers in, say, English education: Korea is the only country that mandates that English teachers be Korean citizens to teach English. “But that has only enlarged the private market. I mean the estimate is that Koreans are spending about 10 trillion won in public education for English.”

He also said society should be more open to foreign domestic helpers and executive-grade officials at leading conglomerates to remain competitive, and tackle more proactively the issue of immigration.

Korean society, once intently homogenous and where international travel was barred for Koreans even up until 1998, has become more multicultural, with some 1.4 million foreigners living here. That figure jumped in just 12 years, from 21,000 in 2000, reflecting the fast pace of change and forecasting on how fast future changes might come.

Mo believes that this transformation has happened without a public discussion on how Korea should be more open to immigration, to discuss what type of an immigration policy it needs to effectively determine just how many immigrants it needs in what fields. The discussion is pivotal because Korean society is “exacting in evaluating people by their ability” and where elitism rules.

As a result of non-discussion, the government is lopsidedly focused on distributing welfare benefits on the existing immigrants such as foreign workers and migrant brides.

“Being a ‘strong immigration’ nation means utilizing immigrants in the necessary fields such as English education, domestic help and executives at the nation’s leading conglomerates,” said the professor. “A strong immigration nation simultaneously processes openness and control.”

“The word “multiculturalism” is an alternative for immigration, because the government is reluctant to talk about immigration policy per se,” Mo said.

But by raising the issue, Mo is sounding the alarm so that society and the government can take a more confident and proactive approach to expanding the immigrant society that Korea needs. He believes Korea is busily integrating the existing immigrant societies made up of foreign workers and migrant brides.

Mo realizes that Korea does not have institutional barriers for highly-skilled workers, but they just don’t come to Korea because of the relative smallness of the market.

“Sure the environment for living here may not be favorable, but I think it’s the culture of regarding them as expendable short-term goods. This closed organizational culture is a serious obstacle,” Mo said. Another leading Korean group, LG Electronics recruited five vice-president level executives from 2007 through 2009, but all their contracts terminated in 2010.

He laments the fact that among the 100 foreign professors at Yonsei, there are no representatives. But the university does not necessarily dream that one of the foreign professors will one day become a dean, and neither do the foreign professors.

The immigrants whether they be migrant brides or low-skilled workers shouldn’t be regarded only as possible pool of recipients of that we need to provide welfare. “The government should provide skills training so that they could become a productive workforce, rather than focus on Korean language and traditional cultural programs. And if need be, the government should properly train the brokers that bring in the migrant brides or the foreign workers. This should also apply for North Korean defectors. We need systematic skills training.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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