Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thus Spake Zarathustra

It seems that ever since the term 'Silicon Valley' came into popular use in 1971, politicians around the world have been trying to emulate this success story by designating an area within their own region for targeted growth and selecting increasingly silly names to invoke international enthusiasm or bemusement (winner: Malaysia's Multimedia Super Corridor). Not to be excluded, Korea's government has set a goal for the country to become the 'Northeast Asian Financial Hub' by 2015, a project run by 'fn HUB Korea', presumably so named because the origina bureaucrat was having serious problems with their keyboard at the time. Sadly, Seoul's desire to become the regional fn HUB is somewhat complicated by the geographical proximity of Tokyo to its right and Shanghai to its left, or East and West if we're trying to keep politics out of it, and the tide of history that is China becoming a global superpower.

A survey of 103 foreign companies ranked Korea as the least likely to become a fn HUB, causing the Chosun Ilbo newspaper to lament that the fn HUB dreams were 'all talk and no action' while extensively quoting from an Economist article which had, amongst other things they claimed, identified anti-foreign sentiment as an impediment to international investment and relocation within the country. Certainly, the government passing laws such as the one which prevents foreigners from opening bank accounts and using ATMs within three months of entering Korea doesn't help foster an economically conducive atmosphere, and some local attitudes can be forthright, but it's often the media itself which seems to contribute to the sentiment; a couple of links later the Ilbo runs an otherwise largely uncontroversial story about forbidding work permits to unqualified teachers when it suddenly feels the need to remind its readers that some teachers 'have even been found to have taught under the influence of drugs'. They do not comment on their position on writing under the influence of them though we may be able to guess. They ran this story last year although if you read it carefully you'll realise that the 'foreign English teachers' in question were ethnic Koreans who had been deported from the U.S.

The news goes on to make a passing reference to the fact that the new law will see the scrutinisation of education visa applicants' criminal and medical histories, and while the former might be considered reasonable enough, the implications of the latter might raise some eyebrows among those who consider their medical history to be their own, and not something for any government to pry into with a view to categorising and potentially discriminating against them in some way. Whether it represents the thin end of the wedge or not along the road to a Gattaca-style society is largely beside the point; the fn HUB dream of creating a global market requires more of a global perspective, and not an environment where foreign residents are afraid to read the news every day.

Korean tags: 정부, 정치, 경제, 신문, 외국인

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