Jeju in danger
On Tuesday, decades-old trees were pulled up by the roots in a forest near Hado-ri, Gujwa County, in Jeju. The thick forest was destroyed and ruined. Kim, 51, and her group destroyed the forest near the prospective site of the second Jeju airport to divide the land and sell it in smaller lots. The group purchased the land at a cheap price and cut it into many pieces to sell at premium prices. They destroyed the beautiful nature of Jeju for money.
Development projects were all around Jeju Island as I did research on the investment boom. The villages on the shore and around Mount Halla known for beautiful scenery were dotted with new buildings. Jeju Island was groaning in pain from reckless development. Investments by Koreans and foreigners, including the Chinese, are wounding Mount Halla and the seashores.
Experts emphasize that the dignity of Jeju should be maintained while pursuing development to make the island an attractive destination loved by people around the world. Jeju is the only island in the world with three Unesco designations. The international organization named Jeju a Biosphere Reserve in 2002, a World Natural Heritage in 2007 and a Global Geopark in 2010. Song Jae-ho, a professor of tourism development at Jeju University, said it is hard to find another island like Jeju that has a volcanic mountain like Mount Halla, primeval forests, waterfalls and carbonated hot springs.
The authorities are cracking down on development to make the island free from crime, accidents and pollution. Real estate speculation is also controlled to prevent reckless development and environmental destruction by speculative investors. Most notably, the authorities halted the China Beyond Hill tourist complex project in Aewol-eup. The project includes condominiums and hotels, and the location is close to Mount Halla. Jeju Gov. Won Hee-ryong has ordered a complete review of the project.
Some say Jeju’s efforts are already too late. Large-scale construction projects in the mountain and along the shoreline have been approved for several years already. Lee Young-ung, secretary general of the Jeju Federation of Environmental Movement, said the policies should look 100 years ahead, but policies and plans change whenever the organization heads are replaced.
Since 2010, the Chinese investment boom has accelerated, and the value of real estate in Jeju has skyrocketed. Celebrities moving to the island also elevated the land and housing prices. But as the current reckless development continues, the island may turn into a second-class tourist spot, not a classy destination.
Jeju Island and the residents need to work together to make an island that can attract visitors with sophisticated tastes.
The author is a national news reporter for the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 25, Page 29
by CHOI KYUNG-HO