[FOUNTAIN]For land's sake

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[FOUNTAIN]For land's sake

There are many ways for a government or an individual to acquire foreign land. Not surprisingly, the most common way in times past was by the edge of a sword or the muzzle of a gun.

In the course of widening its vast frontiers in the West, the United States resorted not only to force, but also to the power of the dollar, although the entire stretch of the Louisiana Territory was bought for a mere $15 million. This expanse covered 600 million acres, and was roughly comprised of what are now 13 states, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Colorado, Montana and Louisiana. This deal came down to less than three cents an acre, which is a bargain by any stretch.

The 1867 purchase of Alaska from Russia was another stroke of luck for the United States. William Seward, the secretary of state in President Andrew Johnson's administration, closed the deal for $7.2 million, or less than two cents an acre. Even so, Mr. Seward had to face ridicule that he had acquired the "largest icebox on the planet." But long after the Alaskan gold rush in the 19th century and the discovery of huge oil fields there in the 1960s, no one ever cracks jokes about Mr. Seward.

Until the early 20th century, the "settlement system," which was a hybrid of normal property transactions and extortions, enjoyed wide popularity.

Instead of hassling itself by annexing an entire country and dealing with tough resistance movements, the Western imperial powers chose to concentrate on the lucrative and accessible land surrounding ports or harbors. These "settlements" would be leased for several decades or more, yet the territories were in fact acting as colonies.

Since the first British settlement of Shanghai in 1845, powers such as Germany, Russia, France and Japan followed the lead to establish 28 more de facto colonies throughout China. Meanwhile, Japan established settlements in Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and Korea acceded to increasing Western pressure by opening the port cities of Busan (in 1876), Wonsan (in 1880), and Incheon (in 1883).

The settlement system comes to mind with news of North Korea's venture to lease Sinuiju to international capital for the next 50 years.

This special economic zone will administer its own government, parliament and courts. Although the North seems confident of the stability of its system, with the relocation of half a million citizens and the influx of more than 200,000 young elites, this "fully capitalistic" experiment should draw the world's attention.

The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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