South Korea's efforts to rid itself of a reputation for casual racial discrimination and overbearing ethnic nationalism will come under scrutiny this week from the UN's top expert on racism. Tasked with assessing racism, xenophobia and related intolerance around the world, UN Special Rapporteur Mutuma Ruteere began a week-long mission to the country yesterday. One of Asia's most ethnically homogenous societies, South Korea has a small but rising foreign population which has not always been made to feel welcome. Some complaints focus on examples of racial insensitivity, such as performers "blacking up" on television, or recent advertising for a new cigarette brand, This Africa, which featured chimpanzees dressed as a news anchor and a reporter. "I think that type of thing is largely down to a lack of knowledge," said Kim Ji-yoon, director of the Centre for Public Opinion and Quantitative Research at the Asan Institute for Policies Studies in Seoul. "It comes from people who don't really recognise what racism is, or what you should or should not say. We haven't had that education yet," Kim said. As well as meeting labour officials, Ruteere will have talks with the foreign, defence, justice, education and maritime ministries. "He is interested in how Korea's military treats multicultural conscripts, how school textbooks educate children to prevent racism, how foreign workers are being treated ... and what kind of rules and laws are in place," a foreign ministry official said. Kim Hyun-mee, a social sciences professor at Yonsei University, argues that discrimination in South Korea is partly a side-effect of the country's rapid economic development. The obsession with growth, Kim told The Korea Herald in an interview, resulted in Koreans grading foreign countries according to their ranking in the global economic hierarchy. "Collectively, they would perceive specific nations, mostly developed countries such as the US or UK, as their superiors ... while perceiving economically developing countries as their inferiors with no specific grounds," she said. Koreans' strong sense of ethnic community has its roots in a history of relative isolation and constant threat from powerful neighbours China and Japan. But recent surveys suggest old models of national identity are in a state of flux. The number of foreign residents in South Korea has nearly tripled from just over 500,000 in 2006 to around 1.45 million in 2013 - a little more than 3 per cent of the population. That is projected to increase to 10 per cent by as early as 2030. The two main sources of immigration are migrant workers and women - mostly from China and Southeast Asia - who come to marry South Korean men. The latter have forged a significant demographic change, with the number of "multi-ethnic" children born to mixed marriages rising from just over 44,000 in 2007 to nearly 200,000 by 2013, according to government data. In rural areas, where most mixed marriages take place, some projections suggest 49 per cent of all children will be multi-ethnic by 2020. Ruteere's report on his visit will be handed to the UN Human Rights Council in 2015.