Kang-han Kim, Chosun Ilbo

How long will the so-called Jeju fever last? The recent surge of Chinese-driven real estates and property bonanzaㅡinvolving mostly condominiums and golf facilitiesㅡin the South Korean vacation island is no longer a surprise to many investors. A slippery side of this phenomenon is the popular unfounded Sinophobia among the native residents, who appear to believe that their homeland is being predatorily bought out by the China Money.

“It perplexes us when customers ask everyday what country our CEO is from,” says a manager of a hotel located on Baozen(寶建) street in Yeon-dong, Jeju. “I work for a Korean hotel chain, which has 6 branches total across the countryㅡonly in Jeju does this sort of rumor circulate.” The rumor is that a wealthy Chinese businessman had purchased the hotel last February and sold it to another with ₩4 billion margin. The official registration stated clearly otherwise: the hotel has been sold to a Korean lodging franchise in June 2013. The source of rumor is unknown except for its obviously presumable background that Chinese fuyidai(富一代, the first generation of self-made millionaires) are investing on Jeju for the merit of permanent residency and pristine natural environment.

Other widespread rumors typically narrate how rich Chinese are on a shopping spree of major commercial buildings and all of underdeveloped lands, which also turn out far from being true. For example, none of the shops and malls on Baozen street were owned by Chinese nationals, according to the property ownership survey conducted by the regional government last Julyㅡwhich was all the more disheartening to the Jeju officials who actually wished for more Chinese capital flowing in, not less.

Regardless of facts, the vague fear of Chinese capital taking over Korea appears quite commonplace on the web. A feature coverage on fuyidai by Chosun Ilbo online received a surprising number of fear-mongering comments exclaiming that sooner or later, Korean nationals would need visa to land on Jeju Special Autonomous Province.

What really enabled Jeju Fever, its supposed investment opportunities or its pristine nature?

Nevertheless, the fuyidai themselves, the very object of all those groundless talks, did not seem all that enchanted or care about the opportunities on the island. “My portfolio is mostly comprised of assets in China, U.S., and Europe,” says Mr.A(43), “and the only reason I bought a house here is for my children’s education and retirement life.” Another interviewee says “Jeju Island is simply too small to expect big return on investment, or plan a new business.” To Chinese millionaires who casually drop millions solely on their children’s tutoring, earning mediocre profit over some piece of Korean vacation resort was not their concern. An analyst at Jeju provincial government also pointed out that the major cause of soaring land price in Jeju is the domestic speculation under the expectations of Chinese tourist boom. But the actual percentage of land owned by Chinese nationals remains around 0.46% of the entire island.

So perhaps it is safer to say that the residents of Jeju were severely mistaken. The supposed Chinese invasion is not only ridiculously exaggerated; they may not benefit anything at all if Jeju ceases to look all that appealing to the eyes of shrewd and sophisticated Chinese investors. A Chinese businessman(40) from Dalien says:

I plan to leave Korea once my son graduates the international school here and get into an American university, even if we have obtained the permanent residency by then. The condominiums will go empty, and Jeju will soon lose all the attention from the mainland. If the island wants us to stay, more has to be done in order for us to like living here longer.
His warning, in a sense, sprawls a different kind of Sinophobiaㅡa completely different one.

Byunghun

Byunghun

Founder, editor-in-chief

  • Bomshin Chris Kim

    regardless, it certainly is true how those supposed “rumours” are driving the real estate frenzy in Jeju. I wonder where that leads…