By Kim Tae-jong
Many Koreans believe that Jim Yong Kim will bring great benefits to Korea in case the nominee for president of the World Bank wins, shown by the heroic welcome shown to him.
When he recently visited Seoul, President Lee Myung-bak as well as Minister of Strategy and Finance Bahk Jae-wan and Bank of Korea Governor Kim Choong-soo met him to officially express their strong support while saying he is the “right person” to lead the World Bank.
Observers point out, however, that his success has little to do with Koreans and add that underlying the cheerleading by Koreans, there might lurk some aspects of nationalism, which Jim Yong Kim might not share.
In fact, upon his nomination last month, local media generated much-hyped anticipation that the nation will have a Korea-born individual at the helm of another international organization, another leader similar to United Nations (UN) Secretary General Bank Ki-moon.
But the question is, should such Korean-Americans be considered Korean, although they have American citizenship?
Actually, Jim Yong Kim is not the only person who makes Koreans confused about nationalities and “bloodlines.”
Koreans have a strong tendency to link an individual’s achievements with nationalism, especially true when it comes to those of Korean descent.
“I think Koreans are emulating the Jewish people in some way,” Lee Yeon-ho, professor at Yonsei University, said. “Korea’s whole population is so small and not many people have advanced into renowned international organizations.
So, they tend to support those with Korean descent, as shown in the case of Jim Yong Kim.”
One of the most obvious cases in such tendencies can be found in Korean-American sports stars such as golfer Michelle Wie.
Wie is an American of Korean descent, but Koreans seem to claim her as their own, counting her two wins at LPGA Tour as victories of a Korean golfer.
But sometimes, such an attitude is criticized by those who think that they are too nationalistic.
Time wrote an article about Korea’s collective guilt, when the Virginia Tech massacre took place in 2007, killing 32 people and wounding 25 others.Koreans, who were more shocked by the fact that the perpetrator Cho Seung-hui was a Korean-American, expressed a sense of public shame.
The Korea government even convened an emergency meeting to consider possible ramifications.
A candlelight vigil was held outside the Embassy of the United States in Seoul.
President Roh Moo-hyun expressed his deepest condolences.
However, international media simply called such collective action as defensive nationalism.
In an op-ed piece, the LA Times wrote, governments and ethnic organizations should not “endorse this sort of stereotyping.”
“Ultimately, though, any reaction that reinforces primitive notions of racial or ethnic collective responsibility is headed for absurdity,” it said.
“But the truth is that Cho was an American kid. He had lived in the United States since he was 8, and he was clearly immersed in the dark side of U.S. popular culture.”
Experts say that Koreans have long developed severe nationalism, which could have a negative impact in the global arena.
“Koreans tend to expand the concept of family when they think of Korean-Americans or other nationalities with Korean decent,” Kim woo-seon, professor at Sogang University, said. What’s more important now is to embrace those who become Korean citizens and live here as Korea is becoming more multicultural, he said.