May 31 is Ocean Day, instituted in memory of Admiral Jang Bo-go. On this day we think about the value and meaning of the sea while remembering Jang, who established Cheonghaejin Base to advance Silla’s sea trade with Asian countries.
The sea has been the stage of glory and disgrace for many countries and peoples in world history. Those who held sway over the sea ruled the world, and the maritime power of a country meant its national power.
Originally the Korean people held affection for the sea. King Munmu of the Silla Dynasty, out of his love for the sea, left in his will that the sea be his tomb, and Jang’s stature was largely due to his wielding of maritime power over the seas of Northeastern Asia.
However, the anti-maritime policies of Joseon that prohibited people to go out to the sea or evacuated islands led to Korea’s weakened maritime power, and the eventual disgrace of falling under Japanese colonization. The importance of the sea has increased again in the modern age, and the shipbuilding, shipping and fishing industries play key roles in creating national wealth in modern times.
Korea’s shipbuilding industry has been ranked first internationally, with the highest foreign exchange-earning rate. Recently, the offshore plant industry has emerged to create as much national wealth as that of shipbuilding, while Korean ports are ranked fifth and its shipping industry 10th in the world.
The 21st century is referred to as a new age of the ocean. The importance of the ocean cannot be overly emphasized. The United States, a maritime superpower, is continuously implementing new marine strategies for the future, and the U.K. is realigning its ocean-related systems including the legislation of the Marine Bill.
Our neighboring countries, Japan and China, are strengthening their maritime power as well. Japan has established an office in charge of integrating and reshuffling ocean-related policies with the minister-level officer for maritime affairs, while China has turned its focus to the ocean and increased its ocean-related budgets drastically.
In addition to its objections to Korea-operated Ieodo Ocean Research Station, China has been involved in international disputes with Japan and the Philippines centering on the development of an offshore oil field in the East China Sea. Now the seas of Northeast Asia have become the battle field for countries to secure national competitiveness as well as to develop strategies for survival.
One of the main reasons for nations to secure their maritime territories is natural resources. According to Nature, oceanic biological resources are estimated to have the value of about $22 trillion per year. There lies a huge amount of manganese nodules, 3 million tons of which can be mined for the next 100 years in the region below the Pacific, where Korea has secured mining rights. We are no longer poor in natural resources, for we have such large reserves of methane hydrates, a prospective energy source for the future, at the bottom of the East Sea.
In addition to continuously developing the existing shipbuilding, shipping and port industries, we also need to pay attention to new ocean-related industries. Needless to say, we should invest in and support research and education in maritime science and technology. Resources for fisheries dependent on a clean oceanic environment and marine ecosystem should be restored.
The Korean government should be committed to growing its naval force into the ocean-bound navy and reorganizing and mediating among various offices that handle coastal development and preservation, oceanographic conditions and weather forecast, shipbuilding and marine industries. The recently opened Yeosu Expo 2012 should be promoted for its success. The World Expo is one of the three biggest festivals of the world along with the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup Games.
Yeosu Expo is expected to create economic effects of 12.2 trillion won ($10 billion) in production, 5.7 trillion won ($4.8 billion) in added value and 79,000 jobs. We need to support the expo both materially and morally, for it will help Korea to become positioned as a top-five maritime power in the world thanks to advanced marine industries including ocean-related tourism, leisure business and new marine science and technology.
The dream of an affluent Korea can come true through the ocean, which has endless possibilities. As designated in the Ocean Charter, we can contribute to creating national wealth and raising our quality of life by “developing an ocean of life, abundance and co-prosperity.” I suggest on Ocean Day that we remember the famous words of late President John F. Kennedy: “Knowledge of the ocean is more than a matter of curiosity. Our very survival may hinge upon it.”
By Park Han-Il
Park Han-Il is the president of Korea Maritime University. ― Ed.