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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

In 2050, almost 10% of Korea's population will not be Korean

Not so long ago, Korea celebrated its first millionth foreigner (see "One Million Aliens"). The Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements (KRIHS) expects that number to reach 2.5 M in 2020 and 4 M in 2050*.

We recently learnt that at the same mid-century horizon, and even in spite of the "mixed kids" boom, Korean population will be 13% smaller than now ("
The Incredible Shrinking Korea").

The combination of both trend means that in 2050, almost 10% of the people living in Korea will not be Korean.

My guess is that at least one third of these "foreigners" will be Korean. Either ethnic Koreans from China, or North Koreans, or ethnic Koreans from the US and other parts of the diaspora.

One day or the other, tough political choices will have to be made.

I'm not talking about measures to revert birth ratio trends, but about decisions regarding naturalization and rights given to non-nationals.

Many people in their twenties to thirties left the country over the past decades, and their kids may be more prone to choose Korean nationality if the Government understands the need to welcome fresh blood with an international background. Depending on the situation up North, military duties could change dramatically by 2050, facilitating the return of prodigal sons who escaped Korea's tough education and military service systems.

But the most important choices shall regard ethnic Koreans from China and North Korea. How will Korea cope with their increasing number ? After decades of integration, they will necessarily become a political force, even if they don't have the right to vote. You certainly don't want Korea to be demographically "
hanschlussed" by China, but you don't want Koreans to treat their brothers like "burakumin" or second-class citizens either.

Tensions are bound to rise over the next decades, and rulers must invest NOW in education and pedagogy if they want to prevent major crises. Korea shouldn't wait until racism and prejudice grow stronger to fight at their roots. Korea should prepare the population for a better and more diverse future : immigration is a chance for Korea and for its identity, not a threat. And in exchange, Korea must provide opportunities for immigrants to contribute more directly as an essential part of the community.

I'm really impressed by all the efforts made to help newcomers, but I'm not sure the Korean population is as well prepared for the changes to come.

Now is the time to decide which path the country will follow for this century.

Seoul Village 2009

ADDENDUM 20090907

An awful racial incident may trigger change. This week-end, an Indian professor was verbally aggressed by a drunk man on a bus in Seoul. The culprit is charged, but people noticed that the law was not adapted for this kind of situations, and something positive could come out of this shameful moment.



* see "
Foreigners to make up 10 pct of Korea's population in 2050: report" (Yonhap 20090903)

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