[Viewpoint]Koreans need a sense of space

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[Viewpoint]Koreans need a sense of space

The world is in turmoil in the aftermath of the U.S. financial meltdown. Not only the United States but also all countries including Korea are trying to reduce the shock by increasing capital supply, but the crisis doesn’t look like it will easily subside. While trying to ride out this storm we must be mindful that at the end of the line there will be the start of new growth here in Korea.

And for that, we must prepare.

First, we must continue discussion on deregulation, particularly in and around the capital city.

Recently, Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo and South Chung-cheong Governor Lee One-koo engaged in a fierce debate. Kim severely criticized the policy of restricting the development of the capital region and the policy of balanced regional development, calling them “policies not even the communists have implemented.”

Lee was having none of it. He said China is engaged in balanced regional development, something he personally witnessed during trips there. Both governors said what could be expected of them as the heads of provincial governments, and it was good to see them engage in a logical exchange.

However, I question whether it is appropriate to compare China and Korea in a debate about the capital region’s development.

For a short period of time, I studied the Chinese language and used reading materials from Beijing Language and Culture University’s publisher. One sentence in the material said Datong, famous for the giant stone Buddha, is “very close to Beijing, being only seven hours away by train.” I smiled at the time. I had actually felt such a different sense of distance during my trips to China.

As Korea grew closer to the world’s top 10 economies, we probably began to perceive our country as larger than it actually is.

Of the four provincial-level municipalities in China is Chong-qing. The city is 82,400 square kilometers, occupying 470 kilometers from east to west and 450 kilometers from south to north. The area has 31.44 million people, about the same as the population of South Korea, which is about 100,000 square kilometers. Shandong Province, geographically near South Chungcheong and Gyeonggi provinces, occupies 156,000 square kilometers of land, and has population of 93 million.

Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces, across the western sea from South Jeolla Province, each only occupies 1 percent of the entire territory of China, but each of them is larger than South Korea. And yet, Chongqing is a part of an economic belt along with Chengdu, while Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces are tied to Shanghai in one economic zone. That’s how large China is.

Concentrated development on the capital region is simply impossible in China, and it is inappropriate to compare such a country to South Korea’. Likewise, it’s inappropriate to compare China’s southern region with South Korea’s coastal belt.

Some point to Japan instead of China. However, Japan also has very different history and geography. We tend to see Japan as a small country in terms of territory, but actually it’s fairly large.

Tokyo is located near the middle of Honshu, the largest island. From Tokyo to Osaka is 552.6 kilometers and to the tip of Shimonoseki is 1,088.7 kilometers. From Seoul to Busan is about 500 kilometers, and Koreans can reach anywhere in the country within 300 kilometers from Chupyungnyong, located about in the midsection of South Korea.

Yet, we cannot just blame our ancestors for inheriting a small plot of land. If we want to build a small, but strong, nation, we must make the best use out of the territory and turn our eyes to the outside to create new wealth.

The issue of concentrated development of the capital region must be seen in such a light.

I was born and raised in South Chungcheong and currently living in Seoul and Gyeonggi. I believe this country is simply too small to talk about regional concerns.

A small country, of course, should have its own scale of balance. However, the balance does not come from hosting the same number of public offices and large business companies for each regional government.

Fostering specialized industries and nurturing specialized manpower are far more important, as well as trying to reach out to the outside world such as China’s coastal belt or Japan’s Kyushu.

If the key to Korea’s future growth is depended on the business investment, we must assist so that the investments can be made in the most effective ways. Whether a company will invest in the capital region or the areas near the Yellow or the South Seas is up to the company.

While Koreans were obsessed with being Asia’s largest or the world’s largest, a foreign economic magazine once introduced Korea as the “think big economy.” And it is now time to really “think big.” Rather than engaging in petty arguments, we must have a farsighted vision to draw an expansive picture of our future.

*The writer is the chief of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Park Tae-wook
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