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2017-10-24 16:56
By Yoon Sung-won

One of the telltale signs reminding foreign visitors they are in China is that they do not have access to global online platforms such as Google and Facebook.

While expressions such as “I can’t use Google anymore” and “I can’t post on Instagram” mean they are simply away from these online services, they also complain of China’s exclusion of itself from the international information and communications technology industry.

It is hardly news that those in China who do business or need to communicate internationally gain access to global online services via virtual personal networks (VPNs). The widespread use of VPNs, which has been going on for years, is proof that the Chinese government is providing a technical bypass.

There may be many reasons why China is condoning this, even though it still locks itself against global online services. It is strongly believed that China does not cut these bypasses to global online services because it sees the competitiveness in them, with the intention of adopting them to domestic services. In other words, China is pursuing a practical interest.

Interestingly, some Korean politicians and government officials argue that Korea needs policies similar to China’s.

Rep. Byun Jae-il of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea recently said Korea must show some nerve like China and stand up to global internet companies such as Google and Facebook. Byun is a member of the National Assembly Science, Technology, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Committee.

The lawmaker stressed that Korea has local internet services such as Naver and LINE if the government blocked Google and Facebook, and so it must not be swayed by such global companies.

Science and ICT Minister You Young-min made a similar remark during his National Assembly hearing as a nominee. Asked how to deal with the rising influence and presence of the global internet giants, he said, “Korea must benchmark China.”

You’s words are unclear. But his comments caused some controversy.

For what reason did a Korean government official and an assemblyman talk about following China’s policies?
It is not known. If they are suggesting threatening global IT giants with a ban on their local services, it is a very emotional approach to the matter.

Another idea possibly behind the remarks is that Korean internet businesses are suffering from discrimination over global service providers. The term suggests that the Korean government is imposing unnecessarily strict rules on domestic internet businesses while global service providers are often overlooked.

There might be some truth in the claim. But it still cannot make imitating China the right strategy, especially for an open economy like Korea.

What if we really follow the communist country and terminate the services of Google and Facebook? We would instantly lose our brand value as a “hotbed of cutting-edge technologies” and face economic retaliation.

That would be good news for U.S. President Donald Trump, who is trying to press Korea to make more concessions by renegotiating the free trade agreement between the two countries.

What Korea needs is to lift unnecessary regulations for all players in the market ― while not making one side feel neglected ― through a more balanced government policy.

We need to move forward instead of going backward.


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