Korean students and companies stay away from China as sentiments continues to remain negative

The adverse sentiments about China in South Korea have shown no signs of improvement as the overall attitude toward the Chinese is becoming more and more negative every passing day. The effects can be gauged from the reports of the dwindling number of Korean students and Korean companies in China.

The number of Korean students studying in China has declined by a significant 78 percent in the past six years.[1] According to the Korean Education Ministry, the fall in 2023 was 6.5 percent. Now Korean students prefer Japan over China for higher studies while the US remains the top destination.[2]

The controversial ‘Zero Covid’ policy of the Xi Jinping government, the economic slowdown, not-up-to-par education facilities and bullying by Chinese are to be blamed for it.[3] Soong-Chan Park, a professor at South Korea’s Yong In University, said “Many students who attended online classes have not returned to China; secondly, people who experienced quarantine have been traumatized,” he said.[4]

A Korean student named Kim Si-eun said the general perception was English-speaking countries have better academic careers. “It’s not just about studies. Everyday life in English-speaking countries also seems more convenient and better compared with that in China,” she said.[5] Overall, the education standards in China are not seen as par with that in Western countries.[6]

About 60 percent of Koreans do not find Chinese technology above average.[7] Kang Jun-young, a professor at Seoul-based Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, said “Parents and students judged that studying in China may not be very useful in the future as they have come to believe that China’s image in the international community is on the decline.”[8]

The growing distrust between the two countries has added to Korean people’s thinking about the education quality in China. Moreover, the economic coercion and cultural conflicts led South Korean perceptions of China to worsen.

The anti-China sentiments have grown at a higher rate in the recent past said Lee Dong Gyu, a research fellow at Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “The favourability of China for those in their 20s and 30s has shown a more significant drop, having fallen below the average favourability rating of China since 2015,” he said.[9]

On the business front too, Koreans are getting disinterested in China. The number of entities being set up by Korean companies in China has seen a decline. In 2023, the number was 138, which was the lowest in past 30 years. They are now moving to Japan. Moreover, Korean companies do not want to be solely dependent on China, said Zhang Huizhi, a professor at China’s Jilin University.[10]

Japan saw 118 new companies by South Korean investors in the first half of 2023, an increase of 46 compared to the same period in the previous year.[11] On the other hand, China saw the number decline from 99 to 87. “Many Korean companies have left China… It is currently difficult for international students to find jobs in China after graduation,” Professor Park said.[12]

Despite appeals from the Chinese side for friendly relations, the anti-China sentiments in South Korea do not wane.[13] The display of animosity and economic curbs by the Chinese when Seoul tried to install an American-built anti-missile system THAAD in 2016 to defend against rival North Korea continued to irk the people of South Korea. 

Richard Q. Turcsanyi, a Program Director at the Central European Institute of Asian Studies, said “The THAAD dispute has often been cited as the cause of a turning point in public attitudes toward China in South Korea, leading to the sharp increase in negative sentiment after 2016.”[14] South Korean Uhm Jong-sik, who is studying in China, said “The strongest hostility I felt happened during the THAAD dispute, and taxi drivers would tell me to get out if they learned that I am South Korean.”[15]

Turcsanyi said the authoritarian regime of the communist government and its decisions too were disliked by South Koreans. And so by the students. “China has become less attractive for overseas studies because of its economic slowdown. Actually, most South Koreans don’t understand the political system of China, so disputes between us and Chinese over political topics are inevitable,” said Rick Lee, who works in a South Korean company in the Chinese city of Xian.[16]


[1] https://www.voanews.com/a/number-of-south-korean-students-in-china-plummets-/7438113.html

[2] https://koreapro.org/2023/12/south-korean-students-shifting-away-from-china-amid-tensions/    

[3] https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2024/02/113_365722.html

[4] https://www.voanews.com/a/number-of-south-korean-students-in-china-plummets-/7438113.html

[5] https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3249089/how-steep-drop-south-koreans-studying-china-symptom-chill-bilateral-ties

[6] https://chinapower.csis.org/education-in-china/

[7] https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2023/07/27/views-of-china/

[8] www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3249089/how-steep-drop-south-koreans-studying-china-symptom-chill-bilateral-ties

[9] https://en.asaninst.org/contents/how-should-south-korea-respond-to-youths-worsening-perception-of-china/

[10] https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3235994/china-pull-out-more-south-korean-firms-are-heading-japan-first-time-1980s

[11] https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3235994/china-pull-out-more-south-korean-firms-are-heading-japan-first-time-1980s

[12] https://www.voanews.com/a/number-of-south-korean-students-in-china-plummets-/7438113.html

[13] https://finance.yahoo.com/news/china-south-korea-relations-last-093000167.html?guccounter=1

[14] https://thediplomat.com/2022/12/south-koreans-have-the-worlds-most-negative-views-of-china-why/

[15] https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3249089/how-steep-drop-south-koreans-studying-china-symptom-chill-bilateral-ties

[16] https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3249089/how-steep-drop-south-koreans-studying-china-symptom-chill-bilateral-ties?campaign=3249089&module=perpetual_scroll_0&pgtype=article