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Koreatown in Beijing hit by anti-Thaad row

Aug 23,2017
BEIJING - A Chinese sign that read “Hanguocheng,” meaning Korean food court, at a restaurant mall in Wangjing, the once prosperous Koreatown in northeastern Beijing, has been replaced by “Meishijie,” or “Gourmet food street.”

The change reflects an ever-rising anti-Korean sentiment in China amid the current diplomatic row that is souring diplomatic ties between the two neighboring countries.

Korea and China have been at odds over the deployment of a U.S. missile shield called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system, which is being installed in Korea. Beijing claims it could harm its strategic interest.

Back in 2010, many Korean businesspeople and their families began to settle in Wangjing joining the bandwagon of Hallyu, or Korean Wave, in China.

According to data released by the Korean Embassy in Beijing, the number of Koreans who stayed more than six months in China last year reached about 300,000.

About 95,000 Koreans reside in Beijing and Tianjin, northeastern China; 60,000 in Shanghai and the Huadong region; and 65,000 in Qingdao and the Shandong region.

The Koreatown in Wangjing is home to about 10,000 Koreans and boasts of well-established infrastructure. Once a rural village in the vicinity of Beijing, Wangjing saw Korean supermarkets, churches, hair salons and markets spring up following the settlement of Korean residents and businesspeople.

Living in Wangjing gives Koreans a sense of home as popular Korean foods, including boiled pig’s feet or jokbal and fried chicken and beer, or chimaek, are available, sometimes more conveniently than back home.

“Wangjing was the countryside with an empty field just 15 years ago,” said the owner of a supermarket in Wangjing’s Xiyuan Sanqu district, who declined to be named. “As many Koreans got to live together and various amenities were introduced, Chinese people also heard by word of mouth the idea of Wangjing being a good place to live.”

In Wangjing, Korean companies and vendors benefited from a business boom on the crest of the Korean culture wave. Since 2010, however, they have been battered by decreasing competitiveness as well as increasing manpower costs, losing out to local counterparts.

The Korean community, including Wangjing, has found itself at the center of the ongoing Thaad row since July last year, when Seoul announced that the country would host the defense system.

The decision has caused relations with China to plunge to their lowest level in years, with Korean businesses in China struggling under what Seoul sees as retaliatory measures.

Many Koreans closed their restaurants and removed any mention of Korea from signs in the face of moves to boycott Korean products and eateries coupled with growing anti-Korean sentiment.

Apartments and houses evacuated by Korean businesspeople have been taken up by the Chinese middle class and Chinese young people working for foreign-invested companies.

The phenomenon of hollowing out is seen not only in Wangjing but also in other areas where a large population of Korea residents live.

Choi Chung-gwang, a Korean businessman who started a Korean restaurant in 1993, just one year after the establishment of diplomatic ties between Seoul and Beijing, said the Hallyu boom in the 2000s helped raise the popularity of Korean restaurants and products. Yonhap