[VIEWPOINT]To Snag China, Open Up the West Coast

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[VIEWPOINT]To Snag China, Open Up the West Coast

China's open-door policy is enabling it to nudge ahead of Korea in national competitiveness, thanks to the improvement of its foreign investment environment and its increasing ability to cope with rapid change. Even prosperous Korean companies are considering moving some of their operations to China.

A report recently anticipated that China would overtake Korea in every sector except semiconductors in 10 years. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games will be a further catalyst for Chinese economic growth, many analysts say.

The Pudong region of China, whose rapid development was spurred by the former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's "Wealth First" approach, has attracted over $3 billion in foreign investment annually over the last 10 years. Its gross domestic product and exports both exceeded $10 billion in 2000. Its GDP per capita reached $5,000 last year.

To Korea, China's open-door policy is both a threat and an opportunity.

East Asia is fast becoming a core international trade area. It includes China, one of the world's biggest production markets, Japan, the world's second-largest economy, and Russia, a country with indefinite potential power.

Korea's west coast should be given the chance to play a key part in this economic activity. But with the exception of the area west of Seoul, its development is hampered by a lack of investment and clear-sighted government strategy. The government's attempts to create industrial complexes at Daebul and Gunsan, in the Cholla provinces, have attracted few companies, perhaps because of the lack of infrastructure and easily accessible markets. Even in northerly metropolitan areas which have attracted foreign investors, red tape has often blocked investment.

Korea must reorganize its national land development planning as soon as possible if it wishes to improve national competitiveness and modify its industrial structure for this information age.

Other problem areas in Korea's land development policies also include the inland strip between Seoul and Pusan, which is overloaded with people and industrial facilities.

If we do not even out this distribution, information technology and biotechnology industries will add further industrial concentrations to this strip. Then high land prices will make investment more expensive, weakening competitiveness and choking off further development.

On our coasts, land development is concentrated in the southeast to cater to our high dependence on trade with the United States and Japan. These remain important trade destinations, but we have to recognize that sources of demand are shifting. Korea should respond energetically to this chance to diversify our trading partners.

Another problem - and opportunity - is North Korea. To activate North-South economic cooperation, we need a land development strategy which will smooth the way for cooperative ventures, including good transportation and development in locations accessible for both sides. North Korea has its door ajar - South Korea should jump at the chance. To balance these developments and to take advantage of burgeoning trade opportunities along China's coast, developing our west coast is vital.

Inchon and Pyeongtaek in Kyonggi province should be further developed to exploit the full potential of Incheon International Air port, Pyeongtaek free port and the Paju free trade zone. Gunsan and Janghang in Cholla province should be developed as core production and logistics centers through the expansion of infrastructure, land reclamation and the creation of free ports. Mokpo and Gwangyang in South Cholla province should also be developed.

A long-term strategy for land development and industrial redistribution will lead to sharpened national competitiveness in this age of opportunity.


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The writer is the president of Kyonggi Development Institute.

by Ro Choon-hee

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