Media and the “Nation”: south Korea

How much do cultural icons reflect our “national values”? Actually, we should refer to them as “national ideals”, though this certainly isn’t the space to discuss the difference. For the moment, let us suffice to declare that national ideals are upheld by our popular cultural icons – our actors, our singers, our writers, painters, and artists. Like most people, I don’t ever really pay attention to this link – until I do.

If it please my dear readers – the following link is from Psy (the sensational pop singer from the southern half of the Korean peninsula. This Youtube music video was posted in July 2012 and is entitled “Korea” and is a “cheer song” for the 2012 London Olympics. While in Korean, the video also includes English translation for the lyrics in the bottom left corner. What Z Geography finds interesting is the conception of Korea in Psy’s music. I had assumed that “Korea” would reference both halves of the peninsula, they are after all “one people separated by war” (being the Korean War that is still, technically, going on). While the music video is understandably devoid of any references to the ruling Kim dynasty, most of the clothing (except the shirts with the South Korean flag) also counts as part of the northern state’s heritage. There are taekwon-do martial artists, men and women in hanbok, and more recent symbols of nationalism – Olympic athletes (representing South Korea).

In Psy’s worldview – South Korea is Korea. Is North Korea part of Korea? No. Throughout the song one of the lyrics is “the shouts of 50,000,000 are ringing and spreading”. The estimated population of South Korea in 2012 was 50 million. It is clear that these lyrics and the presence of decidedly South Korean national symbols (the athletes and flags) highlight the underlying notion (at least for Psy, the producers, and others) that South Korea is the descendant of the Choson (Joseon) dynasty. As the wikipedia article summarizes: “the Joseon period has left a substantial legacy to modern Korea; much of modern Korean etiquette, cultural norms, societal attitudes towards current issues, and the modern Korean language and its dialects derive from the culture and traditions of Joseon.”

That this message is coming from a cultural icon is also important. While state’s (government’s) often have their own motives for their press release and messages, most often they reflect governmental (or bureaucratic) desires rather than societal (or cultural) beliefs. Psy’s music video, “Korea”, will probably do two things. First, it highlights a cultural view among some South Koreans that they are the real “Korea”. How prevalent is this view in the south is the next logical question. Second, the music video as a cultural production will be used to acculturate younger Koreans. They will grow up understanding themselves as Korean, rather than as strictly “South Korean”. Will these future voters consider the North to be “Korean” as well?

Detractors will point out that this song was produced for the Olympics. While true, Psy’s comments to the Daily Beast in 2013 (referenced in his wikipedia article) are also illuminating, asked about North Korean threats to the south:

“Well, as an entertainer, I don’t want to talk about politics. As a Korean citizen, I want peace. That’s all I can say. I want permanent peace.”

This video and Psy’s comment leaves Z Geography with a final, more troubling thought, is what this means for Korean Reunification. Could it be that some aspect of southern culture is indefinitely postponing the idea of reunifying with the north? After all, there’s no need to reunify the Koreas – if you are the only Korea.

Population Decline: A Map

I’ve written a few times about demographics, most specifically population decline (see here, here, here, here, and here). Some time ago I volunteered to make a map showing those countries currently experiencing (i.e. in 2013) population decline. The results of this effort is below. The map uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Data Base. In addition to current population decline, I also highlighted those countries estimated  to experience population decline in a decade (2023).

Population Decline (via U.S. Census, ME!)

Population Decline (via U.S. Census, ME!)

In one of the earlier posts I discussed the eastern European concentration of declining populations. Currently, this belt of decline stretches from Russia to Germany and the Adriatic Sea (specifically to the former Yugoslavian republics of Croatia, Slovenia, and others). By 2023, Slovakia and Austria are also experiencing population decline. Reviewing the U.S. Census data, Austria is already experiencing a natural population decrease. However, immigration numbers are high enough to ensure a growing population. By 2023, immigration inflow isn’t enough to replace elderly Austrian citizens, who are dying of natural causes. The decline belt also spreads further west (to Belgium, Finland, and Portugal) and south (to Greece).

In addition to Europe, the East Asian region of decline also begins to emerge with South Korea joining Japan in experiencing negative population growth. By 2030, the People’s Republic of China joins South Korea and Japan with a declining population.

Finally, the United States is expected to continue grow about 0.8% per year in both time periods (2013 and 2023) due to a combination of natural increase (i.e. births being more numerous than deaths) and immigration (i.e. more immigrants than emigrants). Likewise, the United Kingdom and Canada also remain in positive growth due to the same factors.

Though nationalists would undoubtedly take issue with immigration as a policy tool to reverse demographic decline, it makes economic and demographic sense. After all, one of the problems associated with demographic decline is the greater burden that the elderly place on working adults. In less developed economies that burden is comprised of an overabundance of youth, where children are often a form of social security. In the advanced economies, there is far less pressure to have children. There is (typically) a social security program for the elderly as well as retirement and pension plans. Similarly, the cost for having children is also greater. Attempting to spur citizens into having more children would (probably) take decades of consistent policy, which is unlikely to happen (at least in a democracy). Such a policy would not only have to take into account the costs of children, but citizens’ (particularly the female citizens’) preferences.

In light of these challenges, why not encourage immigration?

Immigration to Japan: Demographic and Geopolitical Perspectives

Discussion of Japan’s demographic decline is proving to be a popular topic for the blog (based on reader hits) so I thought it’d be nice to delve a little bit more into the topic by discussion one way of reversing the trend, immigration (in-migration). In the original post, I mentioned in passing that Japan has a “strict” immigration policy (quoting a National Bureau of Asian Research article). While I can’t comment on the strictness of the immigration policy, I can say that it is apparently modeled after the United States’ in that it favors skilled, rather than unskilled, labor. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, I’m confident that most states would prefer skilled laborers, such as doctors, nurses, technologists, and the like, to immigrate than “unskilled” laborers, typically those involved with manual labor occupations.

Looking at statistics for immigration to Japan (from the Ministry of Justice) reveals some interesting points. But an introductory note, if you do decide to take a look at the Ministry of Justice data be sure to keep in mind the two “loopholes” which the Migration Policy Institute relates in a 2006 article. That article mentions the establishment of the 1993 Technical Internship Trainee Program. The MoJ data reports numbers of immigrants (arrivals and registrations) in table 7-1/2, “Changes in the number of New Arrivals of ‘Thechnical [sic] Intern Training (1)’ by Nationality”. The other loophole was through recruitment of Nikkeijin (descendants of Japanese emigrants, i.e. persons from Japan who left and settled elsewhere). The article notes that the primary beneficiaries of this loophole were Brazilian Japanese. One should also note that there are a number of categories related to various “trainees” but whether these are all “unskilled” workers is subject to speculation. An additional word on Brazilian Japanese, I can’t remember where I read this now but one of the reasons why the Japanese went with a much more open policy of immigration for descendants of Japanese emigrants was due to the prevailing assumption that they would be culturally similar to resident Japanese. Of course, we know better now – but that’s for another post.

What can we glean from the immigration data? First, is the widespread presence of Chinese immigrants in the Japanese economy. Probably two-thirds to three-quarters of the categories tracked list Chinese immigrants as the largest population group (among new arrivals). Other notable mentions are Filipinos, Koreans (from South Korea), Brazilians, and Americans. The most ludicrous one first, Americans, this group comprise the largest number of immigrants in two categories, “Specialist in Humanities/International Services”, of which there were 986 Americans of 4,113 immigrants in 2010. This reflects the generally services-oriented economy that the United States currently operates. The other category is, wait for it, “Entertainer”, where Americans represented 6,785 of 28,612 immigrants in 2010. The second largest is the United Kingdom in this group. To the Japanese, Americans are the equivalent to troubadors and wandering minstrels (and we’re just as annoying).

China and (South) Korea of course have some, shall we say negative, history with Japan, as this blog has touched upon in 1, 2 geopolitical cartoon posts. Many Koreans, in particular, are considered part of the “old wave” of immigrants having come to the Japanese archipelago over a century ago. Chinese immigrants are relatively more recent, many arriving after World War II (the MPI article discusses this). Other countries, such as the Philippines and Brazil, are much more reason and coincide with the relative loosening of immigration policy. Beyond this, Chinese (and to a lesser extent Korean) immigration to Japan is interesting from a geopolitical standpoint. Much has been made over the past year over the Japan-China dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands (which shall be yet another Z Geography post). Admittedly the decision to go to war is primarily political but an era characterized by rising Asian nationalism (Diaoyu/Senkaku island dispute for instance), the large numbers of Chinese immigrants present in Japan, and supporting the Japanese economy, is worth a mention. Would we think that Japan’s government would shoot first, assuming they’re aware of Chinese nationals contribution to society? Of course, this assumes that Chinese workers in Japan would side with China during a conflict. This “fifth column” potential isn’t a foregone conclusion, as the United States learned during World War II with Japanese and German immigrants. However, in that case its worth remembering that both groups had been present in the United States for about a century, the Germans longer. Incidentally a good book on Asian migration to the United States is “Strangers from a Different Shore”. A book review is forthcoming.

The second interesting point is the collapse in new arrivals of Brazilians (see Table 14-1) from 2008 to 2009 in the “spouse or child of Japanese national” category. The number dropped from 2,895 arrivals to 483, though this corresponds (roughly) to a general decline in new immigrant arrivals, it was the greatest proportional drop. Another group disproportionately affected by the immigration decline were Filipinos, whose arrivals decreased from 5,133 to 3,308. Undoubtedly, this drop in immigrant arrivals is partly explained by the global economic decline. Since this category partially represents “unskilled labor”, its reasonable to assume that the global economic decline both dropped incomes for immigrating families (thus making it harder to immigrate abroad especially from places far away, like Brazil or the Philippines) as well as resulted in tighter restriction in Japan for “unskilled labor” immigrants (in order to protect low-skilled work positions at home). For perspective on Japan’s view of immigration check out, this Japan Today article, quite insightful. I mention it here because the Philippines might strike many as strange.

According to that article, nurses are “being groomed” (interesting choice of words) in Indonesia and the Philippines for the “Japanese system.” I assume the nurses are being trained, not only to Japanese medical standards, but also given a healthy dose of Japanese culture. Under the “trainee” category, the Philippines and Indonesia place 2nd and 4th, respectively. Behind China (first) and Vietnam (third). Why the call for Indonesian and Filipino nurses? You know without me telling you, Japan’s aging population (see chart below). With legions of elderly set to arrive in the not-too-distant future, Japan is attempting to import labor now to meet that eventual demand. With fewer and fewer younger Japanese able to take care of aging parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, not to mention however many children are born, it will increasingly fall upon the state, hospitals, and private nurses, to make up the care gap. While the MoJ’s numbers highlights the Japanese government’s identification of one part of the demographic decline problem, that is the scarcity of healthcare workers for the elderly, it misses another entirely, the actual demographic decline.

Japan Population Pyramid, 2000 (via U.S. Census)

Japan Population Pyramid, 2000 (via U.S. Census)

With disappearing populations, Japan’s answer (as reported by the MPI article) has traditionally been to automate the workforce, rather than expand the labor pool with immigrants. One wonders if immigrants are likely to remain in Japan indefinitely if their status doesn’t change and they have little say in the government, despite their burgeoning numbers. The MoJ’s numbers tell this story too, of the 2.3 million Korean immigrants in 2010, some 2.2 million were codified as “temporary visitors”, 124 were codified as “long-term residents.” Among Brazilians, we see that the liberal policies for Japanese descendants continue, of 22 thousand new arrivals in 2010, about 10% were codified as “long-term residents”. To a certain extent, Chinese immigrants also benefit from this policy as many Japanese took Chinese wives or had mixed children. Of 1.1 million Chinese immigrant arrivals, about 2,000 were marked “long-term resident”. Finally, Filipino immigrant arrivals may reflect the long-term nature of their stay (or perhaps a large number of Japanese-descended children?) of 66 immigrant arrivals, 2,195 were marked “long-term resident.”

Japanese immigration statistics offer us valuable insights into the country, its economy, and its society. As we saw here, Japanese preference for highly skilled workers continue though an informed read of immigration policies reveals certain loopholes for the “unskilled”. Moreover, we saw in detail the Japanese government’s “cultural” preference for Japanese-descended (in the case of South America) or Asian (particularly East Asian) immigrants. In this latter group, East Asians, we speculated on the geopolitical implications of the presence of large numbers of Chinese immigrants (nationals) in the economy. Finally, we explored the meaning behind the large numbers of Filipino migrants and the Japanese actions, and inaction, in regards to population decline.

Geopolitical Cartoons: Korea, early 1900s

This week’s geopolitical cartoon is a depiction of Japanese-Korean relations in the early 20th century. It depicts an imperial Japanese soldier (signifying Japan) stepping on a Korean man wearing traditional clothing (hanbok and gat), the latter forms a bridge over the “Yalu” and a sign on the other bank points the way to Manchuria. As the soldier crosses, the man holds a sign stating permission to use “Korean territory” to cross into Manchuria.

Imperial Japan and Korea, ca. 1900 (via Mount Holyoke College)

While I don’t have the date of the cartoon, complicating placing it on a precise timeline we can make an educated guess based on what’s happening in the cartoon. But first some background, the cartoon was published during the general historical period of imperialism, more specifically at a time when Imperial Japan began asserting itself in East Asia, of course there was already a hegemon (or “super”power in this region), Tsarist Russia. We often associate the imperial and colonial periods with Europe and often forget that Japan was also involved. China at this time was thrown into disarray with the continued presence of Europeans (and Japanese) and a weak central government. Russian and Japanese tensions led to the Russo-Japanese War from February 1904 to September 1905, ending with the Treaty of Portsmouth. In some interesting foreshadowing, the Russo-Japanese War began with an Imperial Japanese surprise attack on Russian-controlled Port Arthur, now Lushunkou (in Dalian municipality).

the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905 (via wikipedia)

The Treaty of Portsmouth signalled Imperial Japan’s emergence as a real world power and exposed Tsarist Russia as a state in decline. Indeed, some twelve years later Tsarist Russia would be torn apart by the Russian (Bolshevik) Revolution and a civil war. In addition, Imperial Japan also gained recognized control over unified Korea (with acknowledgement from the U.S. and UK). This control turned to formal annexation in 1910. Korea was nominally an empire from 1897 to 1910 but this may have been due to more wishful thinking than actual power. For instance, the August 1904 First Japan-Korea Convention stipulated extensive Japanese governmental involvement in Korean internal governance (specifically in the areas of foreign relations, finance).

The political cartoon could be referring to the First Japan-Korea Convention, but perhaps also to the outright annexation of Korea in 1910. The words “so obliging” hint at the author’s belief that Korea is partially responsible for Japanese actions against Manchuria. The aftermath of the Russo-Japanese war left Manchuria administratively with China but the actual influence lay with Japan, rather than Russia. Following the Mukden incident in 1931, Imperial Japan invaded Manchuria and established a puppet state, Manchukuo.

This political cartoon is an effective political geography tool. The geopolitical importance of Korea for Imperial Japan is highlighted for the reader in that Imperial Japan must cross Korea (and the Yalu river) in order to reach their political objectives in Manchuria.