Coronavirus

Jackie Chan Helps Lead China's COVID-19 Propaganda War

Screen capture of Chan's Jan. 24 performance
Screen capture of Chan's Jan. 24 performance
CCTV

The COVID-19 propaganda war in and around China now includes a familiar face: There's only one Jackie!

The martial arts movie legend, who is a native of Hong Kong, has long since evolved into a fervent supporter and spokesman for the Communist regime on the mainland. Now critics of Beijing, both inside China as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan, are taking shots at Chan for being a mouthpiece for the alleged cover-up of the coronavirus outbreak. Taipei-based daily Liberty Times reports criticism of Chan began spreading on the Chinese-language internet last week after a CCTV Jan. 24 televised performance reemerged of Chan surrounded by hundreds of dancers performing a patriotic song, in response to news around the world of coronavirus spreading in China. "Does my country look sick?", says one refrain of the elaborate song-and-dance routine aboard a massive (and crowded) cruise ship.

In retrospect, with thousands having died since, Chan's chest-thumping looks more than a little bit off-tune: "This walking disaster! Watch out for the bad luck he is bringing!", one Chinese commented on social media last week. Another added: "Jackie's endorsement, China's demise!"

More recently, Chan appearing more subdued on Instagram, advised his fans to follow social distancing advice. The 66-year-old star ends the bilingual video with "Go China! Go the World!" in Chinese, and just "Go!" in the English version.

This is not the first time Chan has been under fire for his overt nationalism and support of the regime, including criticism of anti-government protesters and regional rivals. "Hong Kong and Taiwan have too much freedom," he declared in 2012. More recently he declared himself China's "national flag guard," demonstrating his loyalty to the Chinese authorities during the months of anti-government protests last year in Hong Kong.

Writing after that incident in The South China Morning Post, Chiu-Ti Jansen said the Chinese government's policy of leveraging soft power through celebrities, like Chan, is short-sighted for all. "It seems certain that there will be more pressure on entertainers to declare their positions and also more policing of their public statements. Stars with international reach must be thoughtful, if not strategic, before endorsing any side." With a deadly virus now spreading worldwide, that seems more relevant than ever.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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