Will Jeju Island soon want independence?

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Will Jeju Island soon want independence?

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I spent a few days this summer in Corsica. I checked into a hotel in Ajaccio, where Napoleon was born, and navigated the island in a rental car. I enjoyed “barefoot luxury” in the “treasure island of the Mediterranean” blessed with bright sunlight, blue sea, beautiful beaches and flowers. The island has 20 mountains taller than 2,000 meters (6,561 feet), offering one of the best trekking courses in Europe. It is a place in which I want to live at least once in my lifetime.

If Corsica is the treasure island of France, Korea’s jewel is Jeju Island. While Jeju is only one fifth the size of Corsica, it boasts spectacular scenery and a mild climate. Whenever I visit Jeju Island, I have to resist the strong temptation to live there. Partly influenced by the hit romance film “Introduction to Architecture,” young Koreans are increasingly settling down in Jeju.

A friend of mine left for Jeju after retirement, with a plan to live on the island for about a year. Despite the controversies in the selection process, it is no coincidence that Jeju was named one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Olle trail has become the symbol of slow life in Jeju as walking gains popularity. A few days ago, the 21st course of the Olle trails opened, completing the 460 kilometer (285.8-mile) course around the island.

Jeju Island has saved itself from the economic slump of the inland, and four things are absent in the island today. There is a saying that Jeju lacks three things: thieves, gates and beggars. The economic slump has no place in Jeju. The brisk economy is evident in statistics. Through September this year, the federal tax revenue in Jeju was 460 billion won ($430.5 million), up 35 percent from the same period last year. On Jeju last year, 241 imported cars were sold, but this year 3,493 units had been sold through October.

The economic boom is a result of hosting international schools and attracting Chinese tourists. The Jeju economy is flourishing, as 1,400 students are enrolled in three international schools and their parents have relocated or visit frequently.

Moreover, Chinese tourists have been granted no-visa entry since 2008. By the end of October, about 1 million Chinese tourists visited Jeju Island, more than double compared to the same period last year. As of November, 1.5 million foreigners came to Jeju and spent nearly 2.2 trillion won there. Every day, the island is visited by 4,000 to 5,000 foreign tourists, and they are the biggest boost to the economic boom.

Because of the worldwide economic crisis, separation and independence movements are growing all over Europe. Although it is not as serious as Catalonia seeking independence from Spain, Corsica is no exception.

Someday, Jeju Island, too, may want to become independent.

* The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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