“I Have No Idea What To Do Now”: South Korean & Japanese Firms Screwed By Shortage Of Chinese Migrant Workers

Since COVID-19 went global just over two weeks ago, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing how China’s economic shutdown is going to impact the global economy. But by focusing on giant companies like GM and Foxconn, we’ve maybe overlooked some of the little people.

People like the millions of Chinese migrant workers who occupy unskilled and skilled jobs in South Korea and Japan. Many companies in agriculture and construction employ young Chinese ‘technical interns’ to compensate for serious labor shortages. These workers effectively form the base of a transnational supply chain. And without workers, the agricultural sector could be in a serious bind as the spring and summer approach.

In a story published Friday, the Nikkei Asian Review offers a glimpse into the world of migrant workers in Japan and South Korea (the paper essentially caters to English speakers in East Asia outside mainland China).

As Nikkei reminds us, South Korea’s economy has experienced a serious backlash from the global resurgence of protectionism and mercantilist trade policies. These changes have disrupted trade and global supply chains across Asia, creating winners and losers (Vietnam has often been cited as a beneficiary of President Trump’s antagonism of Beijing), and South Korea is an example of a fast-growing economy that has been upended. Some economists have gone so far as to argue that it could be the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for the global economy if trade continues to decline.

That being said, the situation is often

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