|Kimchi / gettyimagesbank|
Flawed kimchi coverage upsets Koreans
By Park Ji-won
The Chinese nationalist media outlet Global Times' unverified claim that China has set the international standards for kimchi has recently been refuted by various media organizations.
But the issue has raised concern among Koreans who worry about the "kimchi paradox." Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish but Koreans are increasingly consuming products made in China. Korea's exports of kimchi continued to grow but at the same time the country's imports of kimchi from China are also rising.
Although the kimchi controversy may have come to an end, some worry that similar incidents could occur.
Following the Sichuan provincial government's winning of an ISO listing for pao cai last week, some Chinese media reported that it was a victory against Korean kimchi. The Chinese state-run Global Times reported Saturday that the listing was "an international standard for the kimchi industry led by China" in an article titled, "China sets the international standard of kimchi; Korea, its sovereign country, gets insulted."
However, as kimchi and pao cai use the same letters in Chinese, pao cai could mean Korean kimchi or the Chinese dish pao cai. Even though the listing of the latter is not relevant to Korean food, the paper used the term in favor of China's interests.
There are many kinds of kimchi, the most well-known being a spicy dish made from salted and fermented cabbage with red pepper ― fermenting it twice is key. Meanwhile, pao cai is also made from salted vegetables, usually using cabbage, but it is fermented only once which is similar to pickling.
The BBC earlier reported that China's "false reports" angered Koreans while saying that "Korean kimchi is often served in China under the name pao cai, but China has its own variant which it also calls pao cai."
The Korean government has refuted the Chinese report by citing an ISO document saying the two are different dishes.
"It is inappropriate to report without differentiating kimchi from pao cai from China's Sichuan. The international standards of kimchi were already agreed on by the United Nations in 2001. The latest ISO 24220 listing is about pao cai, a salted vegetable dish of Sichaun. The ISO documents already said, 'This document does not apply to kimchi,'" the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs wrote in a statement.
The ISO also reportedly said that kimchi and pao cai are different.
Choi Hak-jong, acting general director of state-run World Institute of Kimchi, said in a statement, "Following the rising popularity of kimchi internationally, it became a controversy because of the Chinese media's groundless claim."
Korean Internet users were angry about the reports from China, saying the country is again trying to steal the culture of other countries.
"China may claim that they invented pizza, as well," a Korean netizen wrote on Daum.net, a major web portal.
"China's claim is part of the Northeast Project, China's ambition to include Korean culture as theirs and distort history by stealing kimchi and hanbok," another wrote.
The controversy over hanbok, a form of traditional Korean clothing occurred about a month ago when a Chinese actor claimed that hanbok was originally from China.
Meanwhile, Chinese netizens claim that kimchi is a Chinese dish.
"Kimchi is originally from China. Everyone in the world knows that. It's like a discussion about Laozi," a Chinese netizen wrote.
However, some pointed out that Korea should take the controversy as a wakeup call for Korea to protect the kimchi industry, which has been losing ground due to cheap kimchi from China.
The kimchi trade deficit was $7.82 million in the January to October period, as exports jumped 36 percent year-on-year to $119 million, while imports jumped 20 percent to $126 million, according to government data. The deficit has continued for 10 consecutive years, and 99 percent of kimchi imports are from China.
"More than 70 percent of restaurants are serving imported kimchi because of cost. What would tourists visiting Korea to eat original kimchi think after finding out that that what they are eating in Korean restaurants was made in China? … I am worried about the possibility that China could claim to be the originator of kimchi if the market continues in a similar manner," said Yu Hyun-jae, a lecturer at the Nonghyup Agricultural Education Center in Gyeonju wrote in the Kyunghyang Shinmun.