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A Fallen Pop Star and Korea's Meandering Road to Globalization (Korea Times - Business

Updated February  14, 2002

Recent attention grabbing headline stories surrounding dance singer Yoo Seung-jun뭩 unexpected decision to renounce his Korean citizenship in favor of becoming a naturalized US citizen, thus avoiding military service, has created a storm of controversy. The resounding cries of betrayal by many of his once loyal fans culminated with the government뭩 move to ban his entry into the country upon arriving at Incheon International Airport.

This decision, as well as many of the negative sentiments expressed by fans, only goes to show that Korean mentality is still ridden with a ludicrous form of nationalism that at times embarrassingly bucks the current trend of globalization. In today뭩 age of globalization, capital flows, ideas and people should have the freedom of mobility to come and go as they please. A look at China뭩 policy on overseas Chinese ?in which 밅hinese are Chinese?regardless of where they choose to reside ?makes Korea look like it is still stuck in the stone age. This does not bode well for Korea뭩 globalization drive to join the class of elite states.

In many ways this case can be viewed as analogous to the side effects of foreign direct investment in Korea. With the surge in FDI over the past several years, Korea has been the beneficiary of many positive spillovers into society such as introduction of new skills, marketing techniques, changing mindset, etc. It may be said that Mr. Yoo has made positive contributions to Korea뭩 process of globalization.

First, few will deny that he has played a role in helping to internationalize the Korean music industry. The emergence of artists raised on foreign soil has given music fans a much wider array of choices for their listening and viewing pleasure. Also, Mr. Yoo himself has hinted at one day pursuing a career in the west, a goal that few current pop musicians could even realistically consider due to their inability to speak basic English. If Yoo were to succeed, the boost that he could give to Korea뭩 enduring struggle to upgrade its country image would be immeasurable.

Second, most foreign firms operate in a host country eager to payback their hosts through various philanthropic events. Mr. Yoo is no different in this regard as he has maintained a squeaky-clean image and has offered his time and energy to many charitable functions, including being a poster-boy for the country뭩 anti-smoking campaign. Furthermore, if we assume that most of Mr. Yoo뭩 earnings from CD sales and concert appearances were deposited or spent here in Korea, this is an example of re-investment versus repatriation on the part of foreign firms. Although the amount in question is relatively negligible, the Korean economy still benefits in the end.

The rationale of both the Justice Ministry and the Military Manpower Administration for banning his entry into the country is a result of Mr. Yoo뭩 perceived failure to see through with his 뱎romise?to fulfill his military duty. As an idolized entertainer, the government has deemed him to be a person 밹apable of action that may harm the public뭩 interests or safety.? The intended argument here is that Yoon뭩 actions run the risk of negatively influencing other Korean youngsters into trying to avoid military duty through similar means. This line of reasoning is not only based on a fragile legal premise, but appears to be dictated by popular emotional outrage.

Let me ask: how many people in Korea actually have the stature to influence so many young people and at the same time be eligible to apply for foreign citizenship? One could probably count them on his or her hands and feet. Regardless of the number, I doubt that there are enough to cause even a minimal threat to national security.

Also, are we not forgetting that a country like the US doesn뭪 just hand out green cards or citizenship papers to everybody that requests them? Mr. Yoon is in the same position as thousands of young Korean males who have lived abroad since an early age not by choice, but because of their parents?decision to immigrate. Should all of these individuals face similar punishment as well? Mr. Yoon뭩 successful conversion to US citizenship speaks volumes about a country (the US) that is willing to welcome him with open arms versus Korea, which is so quick to turn its back on him.

Sure, many Koreans may be angered by an individual who can have his cake and eat it too. But just how serious of a crime, if any, has he committed that deserves such extreme punishment? Perhaps he misled his fans, but there are countless other Koreans caught in scandalous lies involving enormous sums of money and posing much more serious threats to national well-being that have gone unpunished.

The real issue at hand is why the government felt the need to intervene, thus blowing the incident out of proportion and turning it into a legal matter. Whether Mr. Yoo뭩 actions were a simple change of heart or indeed an outright lie, he did not commit a crime deserving an outright ban from entering the country. If so many feel angered by his decision, wouldn뭪 this reaction be just as well served through letting market forces determine his fate (i.e., boycotting his CDs and live performances, as well as pulling the plug on his endorsement deals)?

The Military Manpower Administration, which is responsible for enforcing the laws pertaining to mandatory military service, and the Ministry of Justice wield a convoluted reign of power that seems to impair its ability to realize the international consequences of such irrational actions based on legally skimpy premises. The narrow view held by officials at these bodies is that all emigrant males are essentially military draft dodgers. There is also a jealous-ridden vengeful attitude that overseas Koreans are living lavish wanton lifestyles.

In short, this incident points to a Korean society characterized by an obscure moral dichotomy, which is hindering her quest to become a respected country on the global playing field. One merely needs to look at how quick we turn our backs on our so-called 밾eros.? Usually heralded as Korea뭩 most beloved sports star, Major League pitcher Park Chan-ho invariably is blasted by chastising headlines in the sporting newspapers just because of a few sub-par outings. And the same holds true for past coaches of the national soccer team after failing to reach the round of sixteen in the World Cup games.

How could anyone thrive under such a critical and unpredictably resentful environment? No wonder Koreans?successes on the international stage are so few and far between. On another note, it strikes me as ironic to see how quick Korea is to embrace world-renown classical musicians and other artists of Korean heritage as its own when many of them are in fact citizens of other countries.

Coming from teenage fans, such emotional lashing out is understandable, and even expected, but for the relevant government agencies to follow through based on the same rationale is unfathomable. Maybe it is not too late for them to reconsider their decision, and at least give Mr. Yoon a chance to explain his side of the story (which was his intention for coming back to Korea in the first place). Continually allowing our emotions to get the best of us will only prevent Korea from projecting itself as a civilized and rationale country in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Date Updated: 2-14-02
By Dr. Kim Wan-soon

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