Acclaimed actor, K-pop superstars and hopeful residents all get behind Busan
BUSAN — The face of actor Lee Jung-jae, best-known for his role in the hit Netflix series “Squid Game,” is everywhere in Korea's port city of Busan.
From Busan Station to its city hall, major tourist attractions, bus stations, and even on the seats of taxis, posters of the actor flashing a wide smile while clasping his hands together are hard to miss. Lee is not advertising his newest film or running for mayor of the city — he's lending a hand to promote Busan's bid to host the World Expo in 2023.
Along with Lee, K-pop boy band BTS was also named as an honorary ambassador for the 2030 Busan World Expo bid. The group is set to hold a concert on Oct. 15 in Busan to support the city’s candidacy, with around 100,000 people expected to attend the free event.
"While the government and leading businesses will be campaigning for the World Expo from the top, we plan to increase international support from the bottom up using K-culture as a medium," Busan Mayor Park Heong-joon said in an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily on July 5.
Residents of Busan are also rolling out intensive promotion campaigns of their own. A committee comprised of over 200 local civic groups has erected some 300 banners throughout the downtown area in the hopes that the six-month-long world fair will take place in their home city.
“With the pride of being a citizen of Busan and of Korea, I voluntarily decided to participate in the promotional activities for the bid,” says Lee Jeong-min, the owner of the popular Busan-based nakgopsae (small octopus, tripe, and shrimp) franchises Gaemizib, who heads the citizens bid committee. “The global prestige of our city will increase if the event is held here.”
Korea applied to host the 2030 World Expo by submitting a letter to the organizer Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) in June last year. In terms of major international events, Korea has hosted the Summer Olympics in 1988, jointly-hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2002 and most recently held the Winter Olympics in 2018.
With the global popularity of K-culture and the support of some of the country's biggest stars, as well as the city's citizens, Busan was set to submit a detailed candidature dossier to the BIE on Sept. 7. The winning city will be chosen at the end of 2023.
Held every five years, World Expos not only bring enormous economic effects for the host countries but also showcases the best of civilization and innovations. The first world fair in London in 1851 exhibited steam engines, and the Paris fair in 1889 was where the famous Eiffel Tower landmark was first unveiled.
Today the event has been separated into World Expos, which Busan is bidding for, that are held for six months under a universal theme, and Specialized Expos that are held on a smaller scale with a shorter duration of three months under a specific theme.
If Busan beats Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh and Italy's Rome to host the 2030 expo, Korea will be the seventh country in the world to serve as stage for the world’s three “mega events” — the Olympics, the World Cup and the World Expo.
The government has proposed a plan to hold the World Expo in pavilions featuring more than 200 countries to be installed on a 3.44 million square-meter (37 million square feet) area located near Busan North Port from May 1 to Oct. 31, 2030.
If World Expo 2030 is held in Busan, it could attract as many as 50.5 million visitors over the six months, with revenue estimated at 61 trillion won ($44 billion) and 500,000 new jobs created, according to the city government.
Expos held in the early days were venues to show off new technologies and inventions, but in recent years, they have become a forum to find solutions to the challenges facing humanity and to present new visions.
The recent deadly floods in Korea and Europe’s record drought have put a new focus on climate change. Humanity is now facing unprecedented global challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the digital divide and the climate crisis, meaning the implementation of sustainable development is now a necessity.
To achieve this goal, Busan aims to host the World Expo 2030 with the main theme of “Transforming Our World, Navigating Toward a Better Future”.
Three sub-themes have been selected to address three global challenges — climate change; the downsides of the digital transformation; and inequality among and within nations.
According to Busan City, BIE Secretary-General Dimitri Kerkentzes highly praised the selected theme focusing on climate change, as no World Expos had been hosted under such topic.
“It is difficult to undertake the climate crisis as a topic at the expos, which are mainly hosted by developed countries, as there are challenges to obtain sympathy from underdeveloped or developing countries,” Cho You-jang, director general of the 2030 Busan World Expo Promotion Headquarters, told the Korea JoongAng Daily.
“But Korea, which has grown from a recipient of economic assistance to a donor country, can understand the various solutions proposed by advanced countries as well as the climate changes experienced by underdeveloped countries,” Cho said.
Busan is already pushing sustainable city management systems, including the creation of the world's first floating city prototype in North Port in collaboration with UN-Habitat and floating city developer firm Oceanix.
“Busan is the best place to discuss climate change which is the biggest problem humanity is facing now,” said Cho. “As a maritime city, Busan directly faces problems such as rising sea levels due to climate change.”
The floating city, which is planned to be built in the sea off North Port’s pier, will be able to accommodate up to 10,000 people. The artificial island not only produces its own energy but recycles resources, and therefore does not emit carbon.
“Climate change and rising sea levels are threatening to erode whole islands [in the Pacific], and it has become necessary to record national identity and culture,” Cho said.
In line with this concern, should Busan win the bid for the expo, it plans to host an online exhibition featuring its 'digital twin' in the metaverse.
“Korea is capable of implementing a digital twin of a real-world city, supported by our technologies like the metaverse,” said Cho. “Any pavilion can be created in cyberspace for education, and visitors can also plan their actions against the climate change crisis there. We are trying to show a new paradigm of an expo.”
Korea as a gateway to the world
Located on the southeastern tip of the Korean Peninsula, Busan is a testament to Korea’s "great transformation."
During the Korean War, Busan served as the provisional capital and a refuge for millions of people fleeing from all over the country.
Many put down their roots in the area, leading to economic growth that turned Busan Port into one of the largest trading hubs in the world.
Busan's North Port, now an idle port that is the proposed venue for the World Expo, is undergoing a comprehensive makeover to lead the regional development and regeneration of the city, in line with the values of the BIE. Under the redevelopment plan, an opera house and a marina are being constructed.
Accessing Busan is also easy. Flights from the greater Seoul area to Busan's Gimhae Airport take just an hour and there are plans for the construction of a new airport to be built on Busan’s Gadeok Island, not only for passengers but also as a hub for cargo. The new airport is to help further bolster Busan's position as a global logistics center as it will create synergy with the city's ports.
There are daily high-speed SRT trains from Suseo Station and KTX trains from Seoul Station that take about three hours to reach the city. Busan is also reviewing plans to introduce an Urban Loop, or a high-speed mobility solution that will be able to transport passengers within the city at an average speed of over 1,280 kilometers per hour, connecting the main sites in Busan including North Port, Gijang County and Gadeok New Airport.
In the era of a unified Korean Peninsula, Busan will be a starting and ending point for the Silk Road connecting the Eurasian Continent as well as an outpost for the logistics of the East Sea.
Its global prominence is increasing as well.
Busan already has experience hosting international conferences and events, including the Asian Games in 2002 and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in 2005.
Around 80,000 rooms are available for tourists, including the five-star Park Hyatt Busan, Lotte Hotel Busan and Ananti Hilton Busan.
A hopeful government, public
The bid for the Busan Expo kicked off with high hopes from the residents of Busan.
Rep. Suh Byung-soo first mentioned hosting the expo during the 2014 local elections, and in 2015, the city carried out a One Million Signatures campaign in order for the government to take on Busan's bid as a national project. The goal was reached in just six months and the bid to host the 2030 World Expo in Busan was finalized as a project in May 2019.
The level of awareness about the campaign is also high. According to a survey released by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) in June, 88.3 percent of the 3,945 respondents answered that they had either ‘heard of’ or were ‘well aware’ of Busan's attempt to host the World Expo.
The committee expects that the status of Busan will change if such a big international event is held in the southeastern city, and not in the metropolitan area.
“The World Expo can help Busan, Ulsan, and South Gyeongsang to achieve balanced national development,” said Jeong Sang-hoon, the operations director of the citizen bid committee and the president of the Korea Marine Design Association.
“We believe the event will also attract young people who left the city to come back for newly created jobs, and that can be the growth engine for the future of Busan," Jeong said.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]