[Viewpoint]Korea needs areas that representWhat makes the difference between an advanced country and an underdeveloped country? It may be possible to analyze a country from various angles, but I think the difference can easily be ascertained by counting the number of businesses and areas that represent a country.
Underdeveloped countries have almost no businesses that can represent the country and only one representative area, its capital city. On the other hand, in advanced countries, especially in the United States, there are numerous representative businesses and areas such as New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, the Silicon Valley, etc.
South Korea’s number of representative businesses and areas is to small for it be a first-class, advanced country.
Korea has many areas with the potential to become representative cities. Changwon city, for example, was modeled after Canberra, Australia, but Changwon has much better scenic views and better living conditions than Canberra, according to a university professor who knows Canberra well.
Canberra, with a population of 350,000, is a city built on flat ground far away from the sea. On the other hand, Changwon sits close to the sea and mountains, and is an industrial city with a population of 530,000, with greater growth potential than Canberra. However, Canberra is an international city that represents Australia while Changwon is not.
The size of Ulsan city is similar to the area of Hong Kong (1,057 square kilometers or 408 square miles), but the per capita income of Ulsan greatly exceeds that of Hong Kong. Ulsan’s infrastructure is strong, and it has boundless potential for growth. The size of Jeju province is bigger than the combined area of Hong Kong and Singapore, and the province has a population of 540,000. The per capita income of Jeju is higher than Luxemburg’s per capita income of $66,000, which is the highest in the world.
The population of Gyeonggi province is 11 million, which is larger than the population of 17 of the 25 European Union member countries.
The population of the Chungcheong area, including North and South Chungcheong provinces and Daejeon, is 4.9 million, larger than that of Singapore or Norway.
Also, the combined population of Daegu and North Gyeongsang province as well as that of the Honam area, or the North and South Jeolla provinces, are both 5.3 million, which is similar to that of Denmark and bigger than the population of Finland.
The combined population of Busan and South Gyeongsang province is similar to Hong Kong and a little smaller than Switzerland.
A good way to nurture a nation’s representative area is by pushing it to move forward by comparing it to an advanced country with a similar population. That is, through comparisons we can tie Jeju province to an area such as Luxemburg; link Gyeonggi province to Sweden or Belgium; and see the Chungcheong area like Singapore or Norway.
By promoting the entire nation as an advanced area, we can make Korea an advanced country and promote balanced development of the national territory.
The representative areas of the nation can be seen in three different ways. The first is to divide the area roughly into two, between the Seoul metropolitan area and the southeast seaside area, including Busan.
The second is to divide the area into eight economic zones, according to the revised 4th Integrated National Territory Development Plan, or 16 metropolitan cities and provinces, the administrative units.
The third is to divide the areas into smaller units such as Icheon, the home of porcelain; Andong, the home of the famous Hahoe mask dance, etc.
In an age when globalization and localization are both important, it is necessary to create the nation’s representative areas in many dimensions.
For this, the national territory policy should be changed from the central government-led balanced development to the nurturing of the nation’s representative areas.
Here is one good example. Gyeonggi province, together with Seoul, has, as the heart of the Korean economy, merits incomparable to any other areas in the world in terms of its industrial environment, living conditions, scenic beauty and geopolitical locations.
Although we can develop unique brands in this area by promoting it as the mecca of the semiconductor industry, the center of the electronic industry, the hub of Oriental porcelain and the forum for international peace by featuring the truce village of Panmunjeom, a large part of its potential is jeopardized by the government’s policy banning development in the Seoul metropolitan area.
Jeju province aims to be born again as a free city like Hong Kong or Singapore in the near future.
If that happens, Jeju will be able to employ foreigners as civil servants, give long-term tax exemptions to foreign investors, expand visa-free visits and lease nationally or publicly owned land on long-term contracts.
Other representative areas of the nation also need such innovative local policies. The central government should make it possible for local areas to grow as representative areas of the nation by transferring government functions other than national defense, security and foreign affairs en masse to local governments.
I would like to add that we have to develop various representative areas like the Silicon Valley in the United States, Zhongguancun in China and Toyota City of Japan.
Last, I would like to point out that the growth of private business is the key to the development of these areas.
Regional development that does not contribute to the growth of businesses ends up as a waste of our national finances.
The policy for the development of representative areas of the nation should be promoted with a policy that nurturs representative businesses.
*The writer is a professor emeritus at Seoul National University. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.
by Song Byung-nak