[Viewpoint]Room to grow
In 1960, Daejeon had a population of 230,000. Now, nearly 1.5 million people live in the city. Over 50 years, the population grew by seven times. Nearby Geumsan County in South Chungcheong Province had over 140,000 residents in 1960, and the population has shrunk to below 60,000. The county’s population was absorbed by Daejeon and other cities.
Was the growth of Daejeon harmful to the residents of Geumsan County? Hardly. The increase in Daejeon’s population came mostly from the vicinity, including Geumsan. Daejeon is a collection of settlements of these people, and its growth meant the development of the region as a whole.
Nevertheless, Geumsan County might have wanted to restrain Daejeon’s growth to retain its population. If Daejeon’s population growth and industrial inflow were controlled, fewer Geumsan residents would leave the county. Moreover, factories that should have been built in Daejeon might come to the county instead.
However, it was better to leave Daejeon to grow and have people from the region settle and find jobs there. This was the way the Republic of Korea has grown for the last 60 years.
Similarly, Daegu absorbed the populations of Gunwi and Chilgok counties in North Gyeongsang Province, and Gwangju attracted people from Naju and Gwangsan counties in South Jeolla Province in the course of its expansion. As a result, metropolitan cities grew bigger and bigger, and populations dwindled in the less developed areas, leaving only the elderly. However, it is important that the sons and daughters of poor peasants did not inherit poverty but were given opportunities to live better lives.
Thanks to urban expansion, the children of the farmers were able to receive quality educations in big cities and enjoyed abundance they could never have been able to afford if they remained in the countryside. If the flow of people into big cities were restricted, Korea would have remained a backward, agricultural country.
The situation in the capital region is similar. The population of Seoul was 2.45 million in 1960 and has grown to over 10 million, most of whom come from other regions. Seoul natives are actually very few in number. After all, Seoul and the capital region were created by people from other regions. The non-natives have led the capital region’s development, and they shared the profit of growth as well. If the population in the capital region grows even more, it will be from an inflow of outsiders.
In the long run, the interests of metropolitan cities and their surrounding areas go hand in hand. That’s why I call for the lifting of development restrictions in the capital region.
If restrictions are removed, investment in the capital region will increase. More foreign capital will come in, and domestic capital that could be invested abroad may remain in the region. Incomes will increase, and more jobs will be created. It will boost the migration of outsiders, but it will create more opportunities for more people.
Cities and counties close to the capital region such as Eumseong County and Gwisan County in North Chungcheong Province and Wonju City in Gangwon Province might be hurt by relaxed regulations in Seoul since they have attracted the companies that could not stay in the capital region due to restrictions. However, these areas can be reached from Seoul within an hour, and they cannot strictly be called “countryside.” The entire country is now in Seoul’s sphere. And there is no reason to distinguish the capital region from the rest of the country.
Assemblymen need to work in the interest of the Republic of Korea as a whole. If lawmakers are obsessed with interests of their districts only, the National Assembly will be a battle ground for regional selfishness. Their attitude toward restrictions in the capital region should begin with what’s best for the national interest. No matter where an investment is made, it is best for Korea as a whole to create jobs and boost profits. Companies are bound to find the best locations if there are no restrictions.
The development of the capital region means the growth of the Republic of Korea. The history of economic development so far proves this. Relaxing restrictions on the Seoul metropolitan area will make the goose again lay golden eggs.
*The writer is the president of the Center for Free Enterprise. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Chung-ho