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  • Chinese students in South Korea feel heat from recent tension over THAAD missile defe

    Chinese students in South Korea feel heat from recent tension over THAAD missile defense system
    ○ Chinese students in South Korea feel pressure from what they say is a growth of anti-China sentiment in the country

    ○ The students also face criticism from nationalists in their motherland for being "unpatriotic" by studying in a country that's supposedly turning against China

    ○ Observers forecast that the education sector in South Korea, where China contributed most foreign students, may face a downturn
    When Xiaoying (pseudonym) boarded a subway car in South Korea's Gyeonggi Province two weeks ago, she says she was pushed out by a man in his 50s.

    "She is a Chinese," the man told people surrounding her, while pointing his finger at her. No one in the crowded car offered help, she recounts.

    Xiaoying said it's the first time she encountered such a situation during the year and a half she has spent studying cosmetics and makeup at Eulji University.

    "I think this was caused by the recent strained relationship between the two countries. I felt very upset. I couldn't stand up to him because I'm not strong enough," she told the Global Times.

    Gyeonggi Province is the most populous province in the country and surrounds the capital Seoul. Ever since the South Korea government decided to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, the relationship between China and South Korea has become worse.

    The first phase of THAAD has arrived, and sources say it will be put in use as early as possible on land once owned by Lotte Group. There have been reported sporadic protests in recent weeks in South Korea.

    After the subway incident, Xiaoying wrote a satirical post on her WeChat Moments, instructing women how to dress like a South Korean to avoid trouble. Her advice included wearing silk stockings no matter how cold it is, and only wearing flip flops, whether inside or out.

    "But I'm too old to dress like this," said the 23-year-old, in a dig at South Korean fashion.

    When Xiaoying tried to seek comfort on China's social media, she was once again attacked, by words. Netizens said she deserved to be assaulted, and accused her of not loving country because she is studying abroad.

    Like Xiaoying, other Chinese students now studying in South Korea find themselves caught in the middle. They are worried about their personal safety, but in China they are labeled by many as "unpatriotic."

    According to a report published by Yonhap News Agency in 2016, the number of overseas students in South Korea has exceeded 100,000, among which about 60 percent are Chinese.

    Patriots abroad

    When Xiaoying shared details of her daily life in South Korea on social media, some netizens criticized her.

    Their messages said that China is facing a dilemma, but Xiaoyang was eating South Korean food. "You are undeserving to be a Chinese," read one message.

    At first, Xiaoying would talk to these people, pointing out that she has no choice. "I need to eat food and I would like to eat Chinese food. But it's too expensive in South Korea, which I can't afford," she replied.

    These words didn't make her critics any more forgiving. They urged her to come back.

    "I'm a patriot. But I can't just quit my school. My parents already paid my tuition," she said. "But recently, I can't say that I'm Chinese when I go out, which pierces my heart." She indignantly added, "South Korea is a small country, how dare it go against China!"

    A search of the keywords "Chinese overseas students in South Korea" on the search engine baidu.com pops up hundreds of results, many of which criticize these students. This upsets Xiaoyang. "It made me feel even worse that our people don't care about us," she said.

    But she had some words for people who criticize Chinese students in South Korea. "Do we spend your money? Do we eat your rice at your home? We're learning things overseas to better develop our country when we return," Xiaoying said.

    Bao Rong, 20, is now a sophomore at a South Korean university. The 20-year-old said she loves South Korean pop stars, but this does not mean she is not a patriot. She believes that despite politics, it's important to appreciate good things from other people and countries and learn from them.

    "We go outside to see this world to enrich ourselves. We don't want to be content with staying where we were. China is on a fast developing track. Only when we, its people, are getting better, can the country be stronger," she said.

    Uncertain industry

    Huang Shasha, 18, is now studying at Ewha Womans University in South Korea. She said even some of her family said she is wrong to study there.

    Huang told the Global Times that because she got poor marks in high school, she studied in South Korea, where the admissions standards are low.

    The university she studies in is one of the best in the country. Huang admitted that after studying abroad for six months, she is considering returning to China. "My father is worried about my safety. I'm worried, too," she said.

    She added that she is worried South Korean professors who dislike China will intentionally fail Chinese students if the situation keeps deteriorating.

    On popular Chinese question-and-answer website zhihu.com, a user posting on behalf of her boyfriend asked whether he should give up his plan to study in South Korea.

    In addition to safety concerns, she said that obtaining a degree from an unfriendly country may harm his employment prospects in the future.

    Worries like this are impacting the study abroad industry.

    In a recent Yonhap article, South Korean schools expressed worry that the strained relationship with China will harm their study programs.

    In Chonbuk National University, only 150 Chinese students participated in its winter program, which is less than one third of last year's figure.

    Woosuk University faces a similar drop. A professor from Hanyang University said tension over the THAAD system has influenced the education system.

    A spokesperson from one of China's leading overseas studying agencies EIC Education refused an interview request from the Global Times, saying that now is a sensitive time.

    When Xiaoying first came to South Korea, some Chinese students contacted her for advice about studying there. But now nobody consults her.

    Not everyone in the industry is pessimistic. A consultant at the Weilan South Korea study agency said that so far they haven't seen a decline in students applying for South Korean universities. She added that the agency's applications have been processed by schools without trouble. The agency charges 15,000 yuan ($2,178) per student for helping them to apply.

    "The relationship between the US and China is not very good. But does this influence people's choice of studying or immigrating to the US?" she asked rhetorically.

    A year of study costs one student 80,000 to 100,000 yuan a year, which covers tuition and living expenses in South Korea. The price is competitive compared with the US and UK, where prices are at least double.

    A poisoned degree?

    There are reports saying that many South Koreans are boycotting Chinese commodities, including Tsingtao Beer and mobile phone manufacturer Xiaomi.

    South Korean Jeon (pseudonym) told the Global Times that as far as she knew, there hasn't any large-scale anti-China movement in South Korea. "I haven't heard that many people are boycotting Chinese commodities," she said.

    She said that Tsingtao Beer isn't popular in her country, but Xiaomi's mobile power pack has lots of fans.

    She says most people she knows have shown little interests in the current strained relationship between China and South Korea. "They care more about the upcoming presidential election."

    But she noted that those who have business ties with China have been influenced. In her opinion, South Korea now relies too much on China, which isn't good. "You shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket," she said.

    Personally, she is against THAAD, saying it's a complicated thing which needs thoughtful consideration. "Park Geun-hye made a decision too fast. She left little time to communicate this with the public," she said.

    From Huang's personal observation, it's impossible for South Korea to break away from China.

    "Half of commodities sold here are made in China. And there are many Chinese people working here," she said.

    Huang said the only boycott she has noticed is from some taxi drivers. Some drivers refuse to take Chinese passengers, she says.

    "China has a 1.4 billion population. Those who are irrational patriots are not worth mentioning. Most people are showing support for us," she added.

    Chu Zhaohui, a research fellow at the National Institute of Educational Science, played down student worries.

    He told the Global Times that the government won't disavow university degrees of South Korean universities that Chinese students held because of the strained relationship.

    Chu pointed out students in certain majors that are related to South Korea like Korean may have more difficulties in landing a job if more South Korean companies exit the Chinese market.

    He said people studying technical skills and engineering won't be hurt.

    He added that even if talented students can't find a job in China, they can still have a chance to work in South Korean companies in other countries. "Under globalization, those South Korean companies leaving the Chinese market will enter other countries," he said.

    He suggested that choice of study destination shouldn't be linked with politics, and students should consider more about what they can learn.

    Huang and Xiaoying, on the other hand, have started to pay attention to politics, which they never cared about before.

    Huang hopes that in the upcoming presidential election, South Korea will choose a president who is against THAAD.

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