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Paju more than reminder of division: lawmaker

Third-term native lawmaker Hwang dreams big for city

The Heyri Art Valley in northern Paju, Gyeonggi Province, is dotted with museums, galleries, shops and restaurants. The serene atmosphere of the 495,000-square-meter village created by some 380 artists makes it hard to believe it is just a few kilometers from the Demilitarized Zone that bisects the Korean Peninsula.

Over the years, Paju has become one of the most frequently visited areas in South Korea, with Imjingak, Panmunjeom and the DMZ symbolizing the tragic national division. However, with recent developments of the once-neglected areas to house commuter towns, industrial complexes and premium outlets, the city is becoming more than just a sore reminder.

This is what is on the mind of Saenuri Party Rep. Hwang Jin-ha every day as he leaves his home in Paju at 5:30 a.m to go to work.

“If you go to the northern Paju area, there are still a lot of regions that are not better off than how they were some 40 to 60 years ago, unlike the areas closer to Ilsan and Seoul that have developed significantly,” the three-term legislator told The Korea Herald.

“It is my dream to make my hometown a city of prosperity, for this contiguous area to become the forefront of peace and reunification,” the lieutenant general-turned-lawmaker said.

Hwang is a proud native of Paju, having been born and raised in Samok-ri, Munsan-eup. A descendant of Hwang Hee, the longest-serving prime minister of the Joseon Dynasty, Hwang’s family has been rooted in the region for around 700 years, except for a brief evacuation during the Korean War.

Hwang volunteered to run in the underdeveloped part of Paju in this year’s general elections, after the city was zoned into two separate constituencies for the new parliament. In his first term in 2004, he was a proportional representative for the Grand National Party ― now the Saenuri Party ― and in 2008, he won his second term by running in his hometown constituency.

“In reality, where the Republic of Korea is confronting North Korea, the development of the northern Paju region located at the farthest front of security must be achieved under stability and within national defense,” Hwang said.

After having succeeded in getting the Special Border Area Support Act passed to enable 18.8 trillion won ($16.1 billion) worth of government subsidies for developing border areas including Paju, Hwang is also working to enact other laws to help the locals and the border regions in the 19th Assembly.

They include a law to designate a special economic zone for unification and to provide subsidies for local residents who have been suffering from restrictions posed by the Protection of Military Bases and Installations Act.
Hwang Jin-ha (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Hwang Jin-ha (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

“Infrastructure cannot be created abruptly. This should be considered a pre-investment for unification by actively promoting inter-Korean exchanges and establishing the system and infrastructure through the special economic zone,” Hwang said, adding that it would help forge positive and healthy relations between the two Koreas.

Known for his good-natured demeanor, diplomatic skills and drive, Hwang has been playing key roles in the Assembly’s defense and foreign affairs committees, utilizing his expertise in military diplomacy.

Hwang, a graduate of the Korea Military Academy, was a defense attach to the Korean Embassy in the United States, and most notably, the first Korean to become commander of the U.N. Peacekeeping Forces. He served two consecutive terms as commander in Cyprus, which remains divided like Korea.

“While maintaining our foremost priority and focus on the Korean Peninsula with readiness, I ask that we also further our capabilities with progressive vigor to voluntarily and proactively protect and enhance our national interest and respond to international calls wherever they may be,” Hwang had said in his speech as he was discharged upon returning from Cyprus in January 2004.

With his unfaltering goal to achieve stability and, eventually, peaceful unification, Hwang said he was still split between which standing committee to join to best serve his purpose.

Hwang is seen as a likely candidate to chair the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee or the Defense Committee.

“Our military must be equipped with a powerful combat readiness that can rapidly quell any provocation by the North. And for this, uplifting our soldiers’ moral is extremely important,” Hwang said to explain his reason for wishing to join the Defense Committee.

He said he would also have the important task of getting key bills passed and promoting legislative diplomacy by joining the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Underlining the importance of the North Korean policies of the next administration, Hwang highlighted three key goals: to prevent the North from miscalculating in their tendency to resort to provocations; to continue to deliver the South’s sincerity that Seoul does not wish to see North Korea collapse; and to fortify international cooperation, especially with China.

“How much have we grown (since the Korean War)? This gap represents the miracle of the Republic of Korea,” Hwang said, adding that the symbol of such history should continue to be developed.

Hwang grew up under the devoted care of his mother and late father, who was a teacher. He is said to have been an exemplary student throughout his adolescence and later enlisted as a cadet in the Army of the Republic of Korea in 1965. His service throughout the turbulent era of Korea included command of an artillery battery, battalion and in the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces. He also built his career in political military affairs and strategy at the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Ministry. He is married with two sons and one daughter. Both sons served in Iraq during their military services.

By Lee Joo-hee (