Monday, November 14, 2005

CNN on the Kimchi Wars

The "Kimchi Wars" between Korea and China are not news, but I thought I would link this recent CNN story about the subject.

I am thrilled that South Korean authorities are standing up to China on this. First, if the reports are correct, it is a health issue. Advanced countries cannot keep importing substandard products made in substandard factories with substandard practices and not expect there to be any health-related fallout. We've already got the annual "yellow dust," and now we have parasite eggs from human feces in 3.2% of the kimchi imported from China. Is anyone surprised?

Second, it shows that someone in Roh Moohyun's left-adrift government actually has some cojones when it comes to standing up to China. Kowtowing and cowering have too often been the order of the day, and a lot of people are sick of it. It's bad for Korea, and it's bad for China (which needs to learn some tough lessons if it is to go forward with proper development).

Women in Korea making kimchi at a time when parasites from nightsoil were still a serious problem. I hope you're not reading this while eating your dinner.

For years it has been too easy for nationalists to focus their ire on wayward Japanese and American policies, because they never believed the U.S. would abandon its bases in Korea and Japan would always be there as an economic partner. But China, which deserves far more criticism from Korea than Japan and the U.S. combined, generally got a free ride, with Koguryo as a key exception.

Now is the time for Koreans to realize (or re-discover) that China is not like them. Economically, politically, and socially, Japan is a far better match for Korea, and the United States is a far better friend. Japan and America are not perfect (nor is Korea), but the number of things wrong with Japan or America is a mere fraction of what's wrong with China as an ally and economic partner. Many Koreans already know this, but the Japan-leaning or America-leaning camps that have been too scared to speak up lately may now feel a bit emboldened.

UPDATE: According to the Los Angeles Times, China and Korea are trying to bury this issue, in the interest of good relations. But as we all know, things that are buried too long become smelly and pungent when you finally dig them up.


  1. Got a link to that? I'd like to know a few things about that, like if the levels were the same, if the producers were closed down or fined or something, etc.

  2. I found this article, but it says 3.2% and it talks about how this is spurring the administration to implement stricter controls for domestic kimchi as well.

  3. Thanks for the link, Matthew. I would think that the Japanese authorities should be taking this a little more seriously. I thought I had read that the Korean authorities had found egg parasites in Korean kimchi from companies that had been cleared by Japanese authorities.

    If I were a Japanese consumer, I'd wonder who dropped the ball. Come to think of it, I wonder if that's what's behind Japan's nonchalance.

    From the article you linked, it sounds like the Chosun Ilbo is taking a shot at the Roh administration, not just for the apparent ham-handedness in its reaction to China, but for its failure to ensure public health, a basic function of the government.

    I think the Roh government, wary of accusations by critics that it is kowtowing too much to China to the detriment of ties with Tokyo and Washington, wanted to show that it's not in China's camp.

    What better way to show that than by what would seem like a sure thing: health hazards in agricultural products (a win-win, since it also appeals to domestic farmers). It all backfires when the same scrutiny shows that Korean kimchi produced by the less-scrutinized small- and medium-sized producers has the same problems.

    Now Roh's government has a public that doesn't trust them to even make sure the food supply is safe.

    I hope the end result is greater scrutiny of these smaller producers. I do wonder also if they were using agricultural products from China.


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