[INTERVIEW] In second term, Incheon's mayor has high-flying ambitions

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[INTERVIEW] In second term, Incheon's mayor has high-flying ambitions

Yoo Jeong-bok, mayor of Incheon, conducts an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily on Oct. 4 at Incheon City Hall. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Yoo Jeong-bok, mayor of Incheon, conducts an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily on Oct. 4 at Incheon City Hall. [PARK SANG-MOON]

INCHEON — Almost 100 days into his second term as mayor, Yoo Jeong-bok is promising to build Incheon into a world-class city by redeveloping its old port and attracting companies fleeing Hong Kong.
Yoo was reelected in June after a hiatus of four years. He was Incheon's mayor from July 2014 to June 2018.
One of Yoo’s goals is to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Community (APEC) summit in Incheon in 2025. APEC is an annual economic forum bringing together 21 Asia-Pacific economies to discuss cooperation in trade and investment. It is recognized as one of the oldest forums in the Asia-Pacific region.
In 2015, Korea was chosen to host the 2025 APEC summit, although it has to choose where. Yoo is making an all-out effort to defeat its competitors such as Busan and Jeju, and made a visit to APEC headquarters in Singapore on his first business trip since reassuming office.
Incheon has hosted many regional events including the Asian Games and the Asia-Pacific Regional Urban Forum, but hasn’t hosted an international summit. 
After taking office, the former security and public administration minister also visited the waterfront areas of Singapore’s Marina Bay and Sydney’s Barangaroo to learn about those urban development projects.
Yoo is emphasizing Incheon’s rich history, such as the opening of the port in 1883, as well as promising features like the Incheon International Airport, Yeongjong Island, and Free Economic Zone.
Yoo sat down with Cheong Chul-gun, CEO of the Korea JoongAng Daily, on Oct. 4 at Incheon City Hall to talk about his vision for Incheon.
Below are edited excerpts of the interview.

Q. You will be reaching 100 days in office Thursday. What is your top priority for Incheon Metropolitan City?

A. As I’ve served as mayor before, I basically have an understanding of all the issues and the direction to take. But there’s something more important than that — and it is a vision of how to shape the future of a big city like Incheon. So I’m bringing up big projects focused on the future of Incheon.
In that sense, the New Hong Kong City project that I proposed is very important. Incheon is the only location that can welcome multinational institutions in various fields such as finance and trade that are trying to leave Hong Kong, as we have a world-class international airport and regional infrastructure to accommodate them in the islands of Yeongjong and Ganghwa. We have convenient access to the capital, and we are home to 27 million people living in greater Seoul.
A project to attract large companies can open up a future not only for Incheon but also for Korea. That is why I’m trying to push the New Hong Kong City project.
One ambition is the bid for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in 2025. Please explain your thinking.

Whether it is an international conference or a large-scale industrial promotion, Incheon has a comparative advantage above all other cities.
We have Incheon International Airport and the competitiveness that comes from having a world-class hub airport is huge.
Incheon is the base of 15 international organizations, including the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Incheon’s bio industry is by far the best in the world, with connections to related industries including IT.
We have experience hosting many international events — such as the Asia Pacific Cities Summit in 2009, the World Education Forum and the Presidents Cup in 2015 and the OECD World Forum — and we are also equipped with infrastructure to hold a large-scale international conference with the Incheon Songdo International Conference Complex Zone, Incheon Free Economic Zone and Songdo Convensia, which has been enlarged twice.
But because we have never held a world leaders summit, hosting APEC would be a good opportunity to establish a new status for both Incheon and Korea. I visited the APEC headquarters in Singapore in September and met with the executive director to explain that Incheon is the best city in Korea to hold the conference.
Let’s talk about the future of Incheon. What strategies should be taken for Incheon to overcome protectionism and grow into a hub city for the bio industry?

Incheon has the best environment for and integration of biopharmaceutical firms such as Samsung Biologics and Celltrion. Although it is already the world's No. 1 city in terms of the biopharmaceutical industry, we are now aiming to become a city that is incomparable.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative requires more active support from the state and local governments.
With 86 percent of bio raw materials imported from overseas, we first selected 30 items that are in urgent need of localization — such as rubber products and single-use bags — and we are supporting Research and Development (R&D) and working on localization.
What's regrettable is that our businesses are becoming more global, but there’s not enough supply and demand of manpower that can keep up with them. Incheon introduced the Korean NIBRT (National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training; a training program to nurture workforce in bioprocessing procedures and operations benchmarking guidelines of Ireland’s NIBRT) program at Yonsei University’s International Campus to provide education for domestic and foreign job seekers and students. 
I will make efforts at the city level to nurture talents for growing industries, such as bio and semiconductors, at universities and research institutes, while also urging the government to make provisions.
Ghent University Global Campus in Incheon [INCHEON METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT]

Ghent University Global Campus in Incheon [INCHEON METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT]

The Incheon Global Campus (IGC), which is Korea’s only joint educational complex with the campuses of five foreign universities, celebrated its tenth anniversary this year. You mentioned educational infrastructure needs to be supported to foster global talent. What is your plan for international education in Incheon?

The enrollment rate of IGC is showing a good increase for the third consecutive year, standing at 78.2 percent last year, though it's true that we're not at a level that's remarkable or satisfactory yet.
I believe we need to attract more foreign universities, especially research institutes. In order to complete the value chain of the bio-industry, it is necessary to establish a cooperative system of industry, academia, and research — meaning that students studying here can link the research functions they learned to the regional and national economy.
And these days, people are showing a lot of interest in foreign schools at elementary, middle and high school levels. Chadwick International School in Songdo or Dalton School in Cheongna have great reputations. If we attract such foreign schools more actively, we can [foster future talent] from elementary, middle, and high schools, and to universities, research institutions, industries, and then international organizations. Creating a city where English is spoken is a real transformation into an international city.
With China, in particular, we will be more active in meeting the demands of the country. There are already a lot of Chinese students studying here, but beyond that, I’m planning to form a coalition with leading Chinese universities.
I promoted the In-China Project during my previous term in office, and I recently held the In-China Forum [to strengthen ties with China.] While building a special relationship with China, we will start by establishing an international school, exchanging with schools in China and attracting schools here, and eventually making Incheon a hub city [of exchanges] for the residents of China.
A rendering of Jemulpo Renaissance Project [INCHEON METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT]

A rendering of Jemulpo Renaissance Project [INCHEON METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT]

Recently, you visited successful urban regeneration projects such as Clarke Quay in Singapore, Barangaroo in Sydney, and South Bank in Brisbane. How do you plan to incorporate their lessons in Incheon?

I visited the sites where I could find clues for the Jemulpo Renaissance, my pledge to rejuvenate the old downtown with culture, tourism and industry.
Incheon has a population of 3 million. The majority live in the old downtown, and we can’t talk about development of Incheon without properly revitalizing this area.
Jemulpo served as an international area for 140 years. The Incheon Inner port, which was the old site of Jemulpo, was open then and people from Japan, China, the United States, Russia, Britain and Germany started to reside in the region, which was the start of Incheon becoming an international city.
Jemulpo drove Korea’s industrialization and modernization, and it was the place that introduced inflows of many firsts in Korea, including a post office and telephone office and even jjajangmyeon.
But now that the area is in decline, the Jemulpo Renaissance project is aimed at bringing it back to life — to return the old Inner Port to life with a new look. With the idea of turning a hideous eyesore into a beautiful landmark, I’ve made the grain silos of Incheon's Inner Harbor the world's biggest mural recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records.  
Pentaport Rock Festival held in 2022 [INCHEON METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT]

Pentaport Rock Festival held in 2022 [INCHEON METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT]

Korean pop culture is popular around the world. Incheon has a geographical advantage to attract fans. What are your plans to revitalize Incheon's tourism and cultural industries?

We are seeing a lot of visitors to local festivals, and among them, the number of foreigners is increasing considerably.
In addition to Songdo, where the Pentaport Rock Festival was held, we'll be able to offer indoor spaces for performances.  
For example, at the domed stadium to be built in Cheongna, the multipurpose venue will host K-pop concerts and international exhibitions during baseball off-seasons.
The island of Yeongjong will have three integrated resorts — Paradise City, R&F Korea (RFKR) and Inspire.
Incheon is the place that can properly hold K-pop concerts and world-class performances.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun1@joongang.co.kr]
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