Weekend Tangent: Naturalized Caucasian Korean becomes SK’s National Tourism Org leader


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Hi Blog.  It’s the weekend and the summertime, so how about a little diversion?  Here we have a case of how a naturalized citizen in South Korea has been given a significant administrative post.

Good for him, and good for Korea.  This is a country with only recently established a law against racial discrimination (at last) in 2007, and their democracy’s much younger than ours.  What’s holding Japan back?  The LDP’s primacy?  Not for long, I bet, and there are hundreds of thousands of naturalized citizens here to choose from.  I know at least eight of them.  Let’s get cracking.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Naturalized Korean Lee Charm named tourism head
The Korea Herald, July 29, 2009, Courtesy of MS


Media personality Lee Charm was named chief of the Korea National Tourism Organization Wednesday, the first naturalized Korean to take a top government post in Korea, according to Yonhap News.

Lee, 55, is the first German male ever to become a naturalized Korean citizen, and his appointment is anticipated to pave the way for others like him to assume government positions, a pledge by President Lee Myung-bak during the 2007 election.

“I became a Korean citizen to help the country in some way,”

Lee said in an earlier interview with Yonhap after it was known he had been nominated. “I hope this new role will bring me closer to that goal.”

Lee will hold the post for three years from Thursday, when he will officially be appointed to the post by Culture Minister Yu In-chon.

“The ministry had requested the president to consider Lee for the post, considering his global experiences which will help boost the domestic tourism sector,” the culture ministry said in a press release.

Having come to Korea in 1978 as Bernhard Quandt, the catalyst for Lee’s move was a post with a European cultural foundation, where he helped with academic seminars on international issues.

Over time, Lee has played many different roles in Korean society, including a German teacher, English teacher, consultant, actor and broadcaster.

Lee became one of only a few dozen Caucasian citizens of South Korea in 1986. He has since become a prominent figure in Korean media and politics, and worked for President Lee’s campaign during the 2007 elections.

Lee Charm currently hosts a Korean culture and food show on KTV, a government channel, and is member of the state-run Korean food promotion body.


9 comments on “Weekend Tangent: Naturalized Caucasian Korean becomes SK’s National Tourism Org leader

  • why is korea making so much progress with regards to human rights and anti discrimination laws and also equal employment rights etc. [exaggerated attributions deleted]

  • ‘why is korea making so much progress with regards to human rights and anti discrimination laws and also equal employment rights’

    I think Korea has its own version of ‘in and out’ and what you are reading is what comes out of Korea and not what happens in Korea.
    The Marmot’s Hole website I think is good balanced source for what is really going on in Korea.
    (a) In Korea all non-ethnic Koreans on a teaching visa, E2 visa, have to have an AIDS test and a criminal background check.
    (b) The newspapers in Korea abound with ‘Foreigner = sexual predator/drug fiend/criminal’ articles.
    (c) In Korea your visa is a form of indentured employment for a company. The visa is owned by the company you work for and must be reapplied for, when changing company. You cannot work privately while on that visa and police actively pursue people who do.
    (d) In Korea there are active vigilante citizens groups who ‘hunt down’ those non-Koreans whose sexual and professional mores they consider less than acceptable by their quantified standards.
    (e) We might moan about the Japanese police and their disinterest in crimes committed against foreigner by the natives, but the Korean police have a shocking record of indifference; especially sexual crimes committed by Korean males against non-Korean females. There was one case just last week that you can read about on the Marmot’s Hole.
    (f) The Korean education system is Korean nationalism gone mad. Korean uniqueness and victim-hood, spiced up with a large dose of anti-Japanese learning.
    (g) Being ripped off by the Hagwons – the Japanese equivalent of eikaiwa – is a rite of passage in Korea.
    (h) Korean males are much more in your face about non-Koreans dating their women.

    While cultural or national relativism neither resolves or condones any behavior found in Japan, let’s not go overboard about how far Korea is progressing. The pernicious form of racism that we see in Japan – the ‘other’ as a diseased dangerous entity existing within the pure ‘us’ and something that should be controlled so that the danger and impurities have limited influence/effects – is something prevalent in all of north east Asia. The Japanese, thru their non-confrontational approach, almost make it more bearable than the strains found in Korea and China.

    — Thanks for the reality check.

  • I always thought Korea was 10 years behind Japan on everything, however this is a great thing for Korea, I hope it rubs off to Japan.

  • Scipio,

    Letters A B C F G and H all seem to hold true for here in China as well as Korea! I’ve never heard of any vigilante gangs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did exist.

    That having been said, I’ve never really had any major racial incidents in China (thought I didn’t have that many in Japan, either). at least I certainly haven’t seen any “no foreigner” signs here, though (if that means anything).

  • That’s great news for Korea, opening a government position to a naturalized foreigner is something we can only dream for here in Japan. Obviously the koreans understand much better the potential of such an opening as a world economy who relies heavily on their manufactured exports, and therefore the image they project to the rest of the world, sadly here we have so many stone hard heads who still didn’t get that concept.

  • Has everyone forgotten the existence of Tsurunen Marutei, a naturalized citizen of Japan, a Caucasian, and an ELECTED government official. DPJ diet member. Not a political appointee, like Lee Cham. Japanese citizens voted Tsurunen-san into office through an election held in 2007.

    Anybody know if Korea has any elected officials who are naturalized citizens and are of a different racial background?

  • Yes, on the face of it this makes Korea look more advanced than Japan in relation to foreigners’ participation in society. However, be very careful before making those kinds of assumptions. This is the reality in Korea –

    1) You are OWNED by your employer. No ifs, no buts. They will try to hold the original of your certificates to prevent you from giving legal notice specified in your contract and finding a new job. In the case of the sleazier hagwons (private study schools – after hours schools) they will try to keep hold of your passport as well.

    2)You are not given the option of 3 years visas (ie specialist in Humanities in Japan). It is a strictly one year affair for the majority of English teachers unless you are married to a Korean. You are NOT free to change your job and live without being bound to your employer – you do not own your visa unlike in relatively enlightened Japan.

    3) The xenoophobia of Korea makes Japan look multicultural – seriously. Individual Koreans are open minded but generally there is nobody out there in Korea who will take a stand for foreigners against horrendous slander and libel regularly targeted at the. Why? There is generally no consciousness that it is wrong because, well, foreigners are not Korean are they?

    4) The left wing is shameful generally in their xenophobia/racism. Unlike the left wing teachers who resist fascist anthems and fascist rewriting of history books it’s just business as usual in Korea. The left and right are both equally xenophobic and nationalistic in the worst way.

    The left actually has in recent history encouraged hatred both in verbal form and acts of physical abuse against Americans (when two Korean kids were accidentally killed by an American army vehicle and when there was the hysterical campaign against ‘crazy cow’ beef which resulted in many schools encouraging their students in Art class to draw posters villifying America and Americans. At other times this kind of mob hysteria is directed against ordinary Japanese as well as the Japanese govt. Common question among schoolkids in Korea: “I hate America/ Japan – who do you hate?”

    5) There is neither the level of sophistication nor cultural/intellectual development in Korea that would provide an alternative to these realities (there are more but no space to list them). Korean society is generally stuck in an eternal victim mode with some exceptions but you don’t hear the exceptions give voice nor do they organise.

    By contrast there are many more groups in Japan that are prepared to stand up to nationalistic fairytales and abusive attitudes. Korean school text books list such ‘facts’ as “Koreans have the highest IQ in the world”, “Korea invented gunpowder….(add invention here)”, “Koreans are the cleanest people in the world” (just don’t say that to non Koreans who can quickly squash that).

    Korea is mentally stuck in the nationalistic military govt mode of thinking that did not end with the democratic changeover. Koreans are far more insular than the Japanese and this will not end I think. Public beatdowns of women on the street are far more usual than any country I’ve been in and there’s a whole host of social ills that they see as just part of life. Do you really think having Lee Cham who is an avowed supporter of the current President (an unpopular one though his left wing opponents were just as nationalistic in a bad way) will change anything? I don’t and neither do most foreigners I am sure, who work in Korea.

  • As ironic as it sounds, Charles, the pro-American conservative South Korean politicians are the worst. They don’t care about their own citizens who elected them. The greatest problem with South Korea is that the American and South Korean government repressed its left wing elements and it’s haunting South Korea back for revenge right now. I’ll say it’s a great failure made by the American government to make South Korea a loyal American ally like Japan.

    “Korean society is generally stuck in an eternal victim mode with some exceptions but you don’t hear the exceptions give voice nor do they organise.”

    Really? Read this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_(cultural) This is not a victimhood, it’s a way to identify themselves FOR CENTURIES.


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