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Old Japan, young South Korea?

  The aging characteristics of both Japanese and Korean societies are evident. According to Japanese government statistics from September last year, the country’s elderly population aged 65 and over reached 36.4 million, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the total population. By contrast, the child population has been declining for more than 40 years. As of April this year, the number of children under the age of 15 in Japan accounted for only 11.7% of Japan’s total population.
  South Korea’s demographics are also not optimistic. The aging process is accelerating, but the fertility rate is declining. According to data from the South Korean Ministry of Administration and Security in June this year, the number of people aged 65 and over in South Korea accounted for 17.6% of the total population. The Bank of Korea predicts that in 20 years, South Korea’s population may surpass Japan’s to become the most aging country in the world.
  Affected by factors such as socio-demographic structure and traditional ideas, the main right to speak in the political arena of South Korea and Japan has always been in the hands of the older generation.
  According to the National Assembly Legislation Survey released in December 2020, the proportion of young Korean parliamentarians is the lowest among OECD countries. In the 21st South Korean National Assembly elected in 2020, members aged 20 to 40 accounted for only 4.3% of the total. As for Japan, the cabinet members formed by the two most recent prime ministers, Yoshihide Suga and Fumio Kishida, have an average age of over 60.
  A government with middle-aged and elderly people as its main target will naturally tend to favor the groups to which they belong. In recent years, the problems faced by the younger generation in an aging society have become increasingly prominent – South Korean young people can’t find jobs, rent houses, and debts, and their prospects are bleak; Japanese young people are beginning to “lie down”: they do not buy a house, do not Married, not having children.
  This year, South Korea “delegated” some power to young people. A 19-year-old college student, Chun Seung-ah, became the youngest member of parliament in South Korean history; 26-year-old female activist Park Ji-hyun joined the Democratic Party on the eve of the 2022 presidential election and became the party’s interim leader just over a month later. Will these “fresh blood” entering the political arena bring a new turning point for the society?

On April 6, 2022, Park Ji-hyun (second from right), interim co-chairman of the Democratic Party of Korea, held a committee meeting

  In 20 years, South Korea’s population may be older than Japan’s.
Unwilling to “hide”

  For a long time, few young people have caused a big splash in Japanese and Korean politics. But Lee Jun-seok, who was born in 1985, caused a sensation when he was elected as the leader of the National Power Party (now the ruling party), South Korea’s largest opposition party, in June 2021.
  Lee Jun-seok was the chairman of the Korean Student Union at Harvard University. He took advantage of the fact that young people turned to support conservative candidates in the past few years and became the leader of the National Power Party. However, because he was under 40 years old, he was not eligible to run for president. Destruction of evidence was “suspended for 6 months” by the party’s Central Ethics Committee on July 8 this year.
  Qian Chengya, Park Ji-hyun, Lee Jun-seok, etc., can be regarded as the budding young warriors in the Korean political arena. However, judging from past data, the younger generation in South Korea seems to be less interested in politics than the older generation. For example, in South Korea’s 2020 parliamentary elections, less than 60% of voters in their 20s and 30s voted, compared with 70% and 80% of voters in their 50s and 60s, respectively .
  Young people in Japan have lower voter turnout. In the country’s 25th general election, only a third of the 20- to 29-year-old group voted. For comparison, among those aged 60 to 69, the rate was 72 percent.
  A 2021 analysis by Reuters noted that the vast majority of candidates in Japan’s elections are older men whose concerns about society are seriously out of touch with the younger generation. Politicians with an average age of 50 or 60 seem to be unable to see the enormous pressure faced by the younger generation; the difficulties of young families and serious labor shortages are not on their agenda.
  In 2014, the Japanese government lowered the voting age from 20 to 18 in order to attract younger voters. However, this approach is neither temporary nor permanent.
  In contrast, South Korea appears to be “more sincere”. At the end of last year, South Korean lawmakers revised the Public Office Election Act, lowering the age of participation in parliamentary and local elections from 25 to 18. Thanks to this bill, seven young candidates including Qian Chengya, Lu Ruizhen, and Li Zaihe entered the political arena for the first time.
  At the same time, younger voters with weaker partisan awareness and more practicality have also become the focus of this year’s presidential candidates’ “canvassing”. In 2022, in the 20th South Korean presidential election, the enthusiasm of young people to participate in politics will reach an all-time high. Among the 44.19 million voters, the “2030 generation” (referring to young people in their 20s and 30s) exceeded 13 million, accounting for nearly one-third. In June, the number of people under the age of 40 participating in local elections also reached an unprecedented 416 people. Of the 4,131 people who won the election, 11 were under the age of 24, including the 19-year-old Cheon Seung Ah, the youngest member of parliament in South Korean history.
  Qian Chengya, born on November 13, 2002, is a member of the ruling National Power Party. She is a reporter at the Ewha Womans University Broadcasting Station and an assistant to the Goyangjeong People’s Power Party Cooperation Committee. While doing volunteer work in Goyang City, she came up with the idea of ​​running for local elections.
  Qian Chengya has been a volunteer reading English picture books in the local library for 4 years. “It would be great if this project could be extended to the whole of Goyang,” she thought. Therefore, she ran for election during her university sabbatical and was successfully elected as the proportional representative of the basic council of Goyang, Gyeonggi-do in the local election on June 1. , became the first “underage” city councilor (the age of majority in South Korea is 20). After being elected, Qian said she hopes to expand aid programs for children in the city and improve the transportation system.
  However, shortly after Qian Chengya was elected, she was attacked from within the party. One complaint alleges that Chin Seung-ah’s resume claimed that she held a position on the youth committee of the National Power Party’s governing board, when in fact the position did not exist.

  One of Qian Chengya’s challengers, the vice chairman of the council, Li Kanghuan, resigned after learning that Qian Chengya was nominated. He expressed his hope that the other party would resign. Still, the young congresswoman started her political career on schedule.
intergenerational hostility

  In 2021, South Korea will have the lowest fertility rate in the world. According to the Korea Statistical Information Agency, in 2020, the elderly aged 65 and over accounted for 15.7% of the total Korean population of 51.8 million. By 2030, that proportion is expected to rise to 25% – while the country’s overall population is expected to decline.
  As one of the “fastest aging societies” in the developed world, South Korea’s social welfare costs will continue to climb, according to a 2021 article by the Carnegie Center for Global Policy. In 2019, spending on health care, welfare programs and unemployment benefits accounted for 35.2% of the South Korean government’s 2021 budget. Issues such as underemployment, youth unemployment and rising healthcare costs are putting enormous pressure on South Koreans.
  Although social contradictions are prominent, it is not easy for young people to change the status quo by participating in politics – not just a matter of age.
  First, they have to have money. Some young candidates say they must put up about 20 million won (about 100,000 yuan) in campaign funds in order to run successfully. Lee Yechan, a 22-year-old member of the Yeongdeungpo-gu district of Seoul, said that he spent a year of internship salary and part-time teachers’ savings for this, and even took out a loan at high interest.
  Second, it has to be “related”. The Korean political scene is mainly composed of people in their fifties and sixties. If young people want to enter the political arena, they need the nomination of party officials. In the National Power Party, the chairman of the local council has the power to nominate candidates. In the liberal Common Democratic Party, candidates not only have to win the nomination but also win the primary to be eligible for election. The 19-year-old girl Qian Chengya, who has attracted much attention in the local elections this year, was elected because of the nomination of the 52-year-old local party council chairman Kim Hyun-ah.
  Furthermore, many older voters disliked these young people, seeing them as “inexperienced” and “gullible.” In South Korea, a person’s social status is largely linked to age. There is a huge gulf between the two generations. A 2018 study showed that most young people believe that intergenerational conflict has become a serious problem. The National Human Rights Commission of Korea surveyed 1,000 seniors over the age of 65 and 500 young people aged 19 to 39. Among them, 40.4% of the seniors and up to 90% of the young said that they had difficulty communicating with each other; 82% of ” Generation 2030″ believes that this has become a key societal issue.

  South Korean legislators have revised the Public Office Election Act, lowering the age of participation in parliamentary and local elections from 25 to 18.

In June 2022, 19-year-old Chun Seung-ah (second from left) became the youngest election winner in South Korean history

  In the case of Lee Jun-seok (37 years old), Lee Jun-seok was deeply dissatisfied after learning the news of the punishment because the suspension of the party leader was unprecedented. The suspicion that Lee Jun-seok had accepted sexual bribes was first raised in December last year when the approval ratings of National Power Party presidential candidate Yoon Seok-wyeh (now president, 61) fluctuated wildly. Li Junxi’s first term of the party will not end until June 2023, but the pro-Yin Xiyue faction in the party has been “forcing the palace” recently, revealing the power struggle in the ruling circle.
  Finally, even if these young people are successfully elected, they may not be able to bring policy benefits to their peers. Jung Sang-hoon, 22, ran for the election out of frustration with the future of South Korean youth: few jobs, high rents and high debt. However, on the eve of his inauguration, Zheng Sang-hoon, who was elected as a councilor of Yangsan City in Gyeongnam, said: “Although I feel that I have a responsibility to solve the problems of young people, I do not intend to focus on these problems.” He believes that in view of his young people identity, raising young people’s issues would “invite hostility”.

  In order to please male voters, Yin Xiyue raised the banner of “anti-feminism”.

Voters go to the polling station to vote in Seoul, South Korea, June 1, 2022
gender struggle

  Another prominent issue in Japan and South Korea is gender rights.
  In Japan, the political sphere is almost a male-dominated world. According to media reports in July last year, only 46 of the 465 members of the Japanese House of Representatives are women, accounting for 9.9%; the proportion of women in the cabinet is even less, only 2, and the gender gap is huge. This problem is not an accidental phenomenon in Japanese politics, nor is it in Japanese business circles. According to a 2020 Reuters survey, about one-fifth of Japanese companies have no female managers, and women make up less than 10 percent of management at most companies.
  In South Korea, the situation is much more complicated. Data released in September last year showed that South Korean women accounted for 19 percent of parliamentarians. Furthermore, until 2019, the gender pay gap was still around 32%. But unlike Japan, the feminist voice in South Korea is much more intense.
  In this year’s South Korean general election, in order to please male voters, Yin Xiyue held high the banner of “anti-feminism”, and also said that the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs would be abolished; opponent Li Zaiming included women’s activities known for “tracking room N” Home Park Ji-hyun to win the support of young female voters.
  In early 2022, 26-year-old Park Ji-hyun joined Lee Jae-myung’s campaign as chairman of the Electronic Sex Crimes Special Committee. She did not disappoint Democrats. Just over a month after taking office, Park Ji-hyun has won the support of many young women for the party. After the Common Democratic Party was narrowly defeated in South Korea’s presidential election, she and Yin Haozhong became the new co-leader of the Common Democratic Party and became the interim leader of South Korea’s largest opposition party.
  At the end of March, a survey conducted by feminist activists, Democratic Party Congressman Chun In-sook and others showed that the vast majority of new female party members and female supporters who have turned to the Democratic Party said: “In order to protect the permanent adviser of Lee Jae-myung and Chairman Park Ji-hyun. With President Moon Jae-in, we will go through fire and water.” Among these people, young people aged 20-30 accounted for 94.2%, of which 95.6% were women.
  As a younger generation entering the political arena, the contradiction between Park Ji-hyun and the older generation of politicians quickly became apparent. After she proposed to “retire the older generation of party members”, she inevitably suffered attacks from within the party, and was even called a “party destroyer”. Facing the pressure within the party, “newcomer” Park Ji-hyun had to apologize.
  Although the Common Democratic Party lost successively in South Korea’s general election and local elections, Park Ji-hyun’s political experience is only a few months, and the ending is not perfect, but her experience has proved that women – even young women, are enough to make politics. Attention.

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