SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korean politicians and activists criticised what they called China's "cultural appropriation", after a woman appearing to be wearing Korean traditional dress appeared among those representing China's different ethnic groups during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Games on Friday.
China is home to around two million ethnic Koreans, half of whom live on the Chinese side of the North Korean border, and they are a recognised minority group whose language and culture are granted official protection.
South Koreans have expressed ire in the past over recent Chinese claims that some aspects of Korean culture such as kimchi, a Korean side dish made with fermented cabbage, or traditional Korean dress called hanbok, are of Chinese origin.
"We deeply regret that hanbok appeared among the costumes of Chinese minorities at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics," wrote ruling party lawmaker Lee So-young in her Facebook page on Saturday, referring to a woman dressed in a white top and pink dress among people that passed the Chinese flag during the ceremony.
"This is not the first time China has introduced Korean culture as if it were its own... If the anti-China sentiment of the Korean people becomes stronger by leaving this issue as is, it will be a big obstacle when conducting diplomacy with China in the future," Lee said.
Lee Jae-myung, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea candidate for the country's presidential election in March, wrote in his Facebook page late on Friday, "Do not covet (our) culture. Oppose cultural appropriation".
The main opposition People Power Party (PPP) called the costume's appearance a "rude" act of appropriating the culture of a sovereign state, which overshadows the Games' slogan of "together for a shared future".
"We cannot remain angry, but make the world more aware of the truth that hanbok is a traditional Korean costume," Seo Kyoung-duk, a professor at Sungshin Women's University and activist promoting South Korean culture, wrote in his Instagram account.
Although the South Korean government has not expressed an official statement, Culture Minister Hwang Hee told South Korean media on Saturday that referring to people as a minority means it hasn't become a sovereign country, which could cause "misunderstanding" in bilateral relations, according to Yonhap.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Kim Coghill and Jane Wardell)