Amid great controversy, the South Korean National Assembly passed the Overseas Korean Act (OKA) on December 3, 1999. The benefits, which resemble quasi-citizenship rights, are justified by the South Korean government’s drive to redefine and reconstruct Korean identity in the context of an increasingly globalized world. Certain overseas Korean groups are legally included as (quasi) members of the South Korean nation-state, whereas other groups remain legal outsiders. Many people argue that the OKA defines “Korean identity” through technical and legal connections to the nation-state, South Korea, which in turn has larger implications for who does and does not constitute a Korean. Thus, the debate revolves around the confounded notions of national/legal/ethnic identities. Utilizing survey data and qualitative interviews, this article delineates the relationship between the South Korean government’s efforts to legally define Korean identity and a Korean diasporic community’s challenge based on ethnic homogeneity. Findings indicate that there is contention over not only the criteria by which one is defined as “Korean,” but also over the legitimacy of actors privileged to make such distinctions. We also point to the importance of considering historical experiences and geopolitics in shaping identity politics in the current context.

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