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[Letter to the Editor] Strip Jeju of its World Heritage Status

It is easy for me to remember the very first time I set foot on Jeju Island. David Beckham and the rest of England’s 2002 World Cup squad were in Seogwipo to play Gus Hiddink’s Korean team in a World Cup warm-up game at Jeju’s shiny new World Cup stadium. A certain Park Ji-sung scored to equalize Michael Owen’s opener for England and the game finished 1-1.

I filmed the whole experience and did the same when I returned to Jeju to watch Brazil thrash China 4-0. On my video camera I managed to capture not only the thrill that was the World Cup, but just how stunning Jeju Island was in 2002. I returned to Jeju many times over, and my love for its bucolic splendor grew stronger with each visit. Having spent a number of years away from South Korea I returned to work on Jeju recently.

I am astonished at the mess the island is in. The destruction of Jeju’s beauty is heart-breaking. Like a fading K-pop star, the aesthetics have been compromised and unfortunately no amount of surgery can reverse what has happened to the island. Construction, traffic and plastic pollution are out of control -- it is a national disaster.

Is this what economic progress looks like? If it is then Jeju does not need it. It certainly does not need another airport, another casino or another theme park. It does not need another coffee shop nor another guesthouse. It does not need another ridiculously obscure “museum.” It does not need another convenience store full of single use plastic. It does not need another road. It certainly does not need another housing estate plonked in the middle of a field. What is going on?

I presume it was on the 1st of July 2006 that Jeju’s fate was sealed, when Korea’s first self-governing province began and the Jeju Self Governing Office invited investment. So, after 2 million years of beauty, the mainlanders came and so did the Chinese. Shame on Jeju’s government for not managing growth responsibly.

Are there any planning restrictions? Are there any building regulations? This is not America. South Korea simply does not have the space to allow such unplanned, sporadic building of frankly low-quality buildings. Jeju is set to become a case study in a Geography textbook, another example that children can reference in terms of tourism gone wrong, right alongside Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and Vietnam’s Halong Bay. Have the money hungry 386 generation even heard of the Butler Model?

Changes need to come fast to save what is left of Jeju. Great Britain is an island nation of over 66 million yet only 5.9 percent of England and 2.1 percent of Scotland is built on. Great Britain still looks and feels green. Green belts control urban sprawl, planning permission is difficult to get and building regulations are high. But Jeju needs more than stricter planning laws -- the whole island needs to be made a National Park immediately. If not, then Jeju needs stripping of its World Heritage status and then maybe the Jeju Government will think more carefully about what it is doing to Korea’s most beautiful asset.

From, Mr. Nicholas Chaddock,
Jeju Island.