Yang Choong-mo, administrator of the Saemangeum Development and Investment Agency, speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Friday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Saemangeum, located in the west of South Korea, is drawing wide attention under the government’s fresh vision to foster the area, where futuristic, eco-friendly industries as well as tour destinations can coexist.
Saemangeum is a reclaimed area -- with the world’s longest seawall -- that stretches across parts of Gunsan, Gimje and Buan in North Jeolla Province.
Earlier this year, the government shifted the area’s vision from the initial aims for a regional center of global trade to be a pioneer in the green energy-oriented “Korean New Deal” and keep pace with the global community’s goal to attain carbon neutrality by 2050.
During a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul, Yang Choong-mo, administrator (a vice ministerial post in the nation) of the Saemangeum Development and Investment Agency, said that “based on solar energy generation, industries in the area will be able to use 100 percent renewable energy” without resorting to fossil fuels.
This refers to the “RE100 Industrial Complex” to be built in the area, where the world’s largest-scale factories will produce renewable energy up to a 7-gigawatt scale, and where manufacturing companies will only make the best of the renewable energy.
The East-West Road linking the seawall of Saemangeum and Gimje, North Jeolla Province, opens in November 2020. (Saemangeum Development and Investment Agency)
Yang said production of CO2-free green hydrogen and eco-friendly automobiles will be among the main industrial items in the complex.
“I believe Saemangeum will take the initiative in Korea’s active participation in the international move for carbon neutrality by 2050,” he said.
Like his remarks, a large portion of tasks for the Korean New Deal have already been planned or underway in Saemangeum.
The development and investment agency has signed a contract with SK Group, which unveiled its willingness to join the RE100 -- a new term used on the global stage for the commitment to 100 percent renewable energy -- for the first of its case among local enterprises.
“Under the contract, SK is poised to build a global data center via investment worth 2 trillion won ($1.8 billion) at the industrial complex,” Yang said. “This will also vitalize attraction of about 60 information technology-oriented companies at home and abroad.”
He also said that “as the test bed for the Korean New Deal, (the agency) would make full-fledged efforts to attract overseas enterprises for relevant industrial segments.”
Japan-based Toray Advanced Materials and Belgium-based Solvay have been operating assembly lines in the complex since 2014 and 2015, respectively. In addition, several more foreign companies are in the final stages of clinching pacts with the Saemangeum Development and Investment Agency.
Despite a variety of restrictions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency has offered online promotion activities for businesses in North America, Europe, China and Japan in recent weeks.
For international logistics, the agency -- in close coordination with the National Assembly -- is pushing forward policies to establish an airport, harbor and railroad. Further, a variety of preferential treatments, including corporate tax benefits, are likely to be proposed to businesses, which make inroads into the complex.
Gogunsan Islands off the Saemangeum reclaimed land (Saemangeum Development and Investment Agency)
Administrator Yang pointed out that Saemangeum is not just an industrial location, commenting on scenic views of the Gogunsan Islands -- which are composed of 63 islands and islets in the West Sea -- and the Byeonsan Peninsula National Park.
“(US broadcaster) CNN had ranked Seonyu Island, a part of Gogunsan Islands, at No. 15 in its designation of 33 most beautiful islands in Korea,” he said. “Alongside the tourist attractions, cultural facilities will be fostered.”
The cultural facilities will include theme parks to experience augmented reality and virtual reality, museums and maritime tour products.
The width of Saemangeum reaches 409 square kilometers, which is comparable to Sejong, where the nation’s main government complex is located, and is larger than major Gyeonggi Province cities -- Goyang, Gimpo, Suwon and Seongnam.
Yang said the promotion of tourism resources will be vitalized on the occasion of the 25th World Scout Jamboree, which is scheduled to be held in a Buan portion of Saemangeum in August 2023, where about 50,000 people from 170 countries are estimated to participate.
“We will establish resort complexes and contrive creative cultural contents and festivals for the Jamboree event,” he said.
This year, “K-pop Festa in Saemangeum” is slated for September, with the event to either be held as scheduled on the back of active vaccinations or postponed according to the coming pandemic situation.
Yang went on to say that the agency is continuously benchmarking successful land reclamation projects in foreign economies. He pointed to the Netherlands’ Almer City, Singapore’s Marina Bay, Virginia’s Loudoun County, Japan’s Naoshima Island and New Zealand’s Auckland City.
Almer City has become a competitive area with a population of 400,000 on the back of about 50 years of reclamation, creating 5,000 jobs per annum.
Marina Bay has developed into a main tourist attraction of Singapore, as its government carried out drastic deregulations that made it possible for private capital to perform creative urban design and development.
Saemangeum is also benchmarking Loudoun County as an IT-focused data center, Naoshima Island on tourism and Auckland City on waterfront towns.
Yang, since being appointed to the post as administrator in August 2020, has been busy in accelerating the development and investment project for the reclaimed land, which had been making relatively slow progress for a decade or more.
He has been making round-trips between Gunsan, where the agency’s headquarters are located, and the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul, several times a month, as there are many details for legislation and law revision.
Yang said he would spare no efforts to successfully implement the “plan for Green plus Digital New Deal in Saemangeum,” which was officially confirmed as the government’s policy direction earlier this year.
In August 2010, the Saemangeum seawall was acknowledged as the world’s longest artificial barrier with a length of 33.9 kilometers, outstripping the former record held by the Netherlands-based Zuiderzee Works since 1932.
Earlier preparations for Saemangeum -- reclaiming the tidal mudflat of Mangyeong River and Dongjin River -- started in 1991 through planning procedures in the 1980s.
By Kim Yon-se (email@example.com
Yang Choong-mo, administrator of the Saemangeum Development and Investment Agency (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
[Profile of Yang Choong-mo]
Aug. 2020 Administrator of Saemangeum Development and Investment Agency
Jan. 2020 Deputy minister for fiscal affairs at Ministry of Economy and Finance
2018 Director general of budget office at Ministry of Economy and Finance
2014 Presidential secretary as senior administrative officer
2013 Director general for planning and coordination at Saemangeum Development and Investment Agency
1990 Passed the 34th Public Administration Examination
1963 Born in Namwon, North Jeolla Province