People in South Korea (file photo) Photograph:( Reuters )
A measure proposed by the Ministry of Justice, first made public in April, called for easing the pathway to citizenship for children born to long-term foreign residents, by simply notifying the ministry
South Korea is trying to increase its future working population by making it easier for children of foreign residents to become citizens, but its plans have run into trouble in the face of rising anti-China sentiment.
A measure proposed by the Ministry of Justice, first made public in April, called for easing the pathway to citizenship for children born to long-term foreign residents, by simply notifying the ministry.
A presidential petition opposing the revision has gathered over 300,000 signatures. The chatroom of an online hearing held to discuss the proposal in May was overwhelmed with expletive-laced complaints by the tens of thousands of viewers.
The justice ministry has said it is still taking into account public opinion and the advice of experts before submitting the proposal to the Ministry of Government Legislation.
"Given the strong backlash, I would say the ministry has already lost much of the momentum to push ahead with the proposal," said Jang Yun-mi, an attorney, who specialises in issues related to children.
The controversy highlights the challenges South Korea faces as it seeks to ensure a robust future population in the face of declining birthrates and rapidly aging workers, and the potential policy implications of increasingly negative views of China, its biggest trading partner.
Data from last year suggests only about 3,930 people would be eligible under the rule change, but the fact that 3,725 of them were of Chinese heritage prompted much of the criticism.
South Korean views have been coloured by what some see as economic bullying by Beijing, its poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and the assertion by some Chinese that dearly held aspects of Korean food and culture, such as kimchi and the traditional hanbok dress, have roots in China.
Among immigrant communities, the proposed measures are not seen as worth the backlash, said Kim Yong-phil, editor-in-chief of E Korea World, a local newspaper for Chinese-Koreans.
"Anti-Chinese people could use this issue as a pretext to attack Chinese-Koreans," he said.
(With inputs from agencies)