‘Jeju wants Chinese to invest in renewable energy’

By: Kim Hyo-jin

Jeju Governor Won Hee-ryong says he will seek to lead Chinese investors to invest more in the renewable energy industry rather than in real estate on the scenic island.

“We have to control their real estate-oriented investment, since it has failed to give Jeju any substantial benefit,” Won said in an interview with The Korea Times on May 21 at Jeju’s Haevichi Hotel. “Instead, I will encourage them to invest in renewable energy or bio industry to help boost the local economy.”

The remark came amid ongoing concerns over Chinese investors rushing to speculative development on the island.

Won, who took office in July, expressed concern over Chinese investments in short-term profit-making schemes like land purchases and development.

Among the 21 ongoing land development projects on the island, 18 are led by Chinese developers, worth some 9.34 trillion won ($8.4 billion), according to the Jeju provincial government.

Chinese land ownership jumped from 20,000 square meters in 2009 to 8.33 million square meters in 2014, occupying 0.45 percent of the island.

Critics say the city should start restricting reckless development by Chinese investors. But the governor believes a more “practical approach” is needed.

“Jeju is devising a win-win mechanism for both foreign investment and the local community. It may include compulsory employment of citizens or use of local products when signing a business contract with investors,” he said.

The Jeju government set up a taskforce early this year to effectively deliver such stance to Chinese developers through regular contacts.

Won added he will further redirect Chinese money to new and renewable energy projects, and environment-friendly tourism industry, all “core fields” to develop, according to Won.

“There are some difficulties along the way as profit-pursuing investors are easily drawn to short-term investments. Nonetheless, I will try my utmost to balance between development and preservation until the end of my term,” he said.

Eco-city Jeju

The Jeju-born governor has envisioned a “carbon-free” island since he took office last year.

The Jeju provincial office signed an agreement with LG last week to launch the “Global Eco Platform Jeju” project. The 6 trillion won ($5.4 billion) project aims at replacing the island’s power resources to renewable energy by 2030.

The project will push the capacity of wind turbines to 2.35GW, up by more than 15 times from their current capacity of 156MW.

Under the plan, the governor also plans to replace all 377,000 vehicles on the island with electronic ones by providing subsidies for EV usage and an EV battery lease program. Nearly 44 percent of the electronic cars in the country have already been running on the island.

Won said his vision is a response to a mounting call from the public.

“Jeju is valuable as a vacation retreat that can offer healing and help people recharge themselves. The province can only guarantee qualitative tourism by pursuing eco-friendly development,” he said.

Further, Jeju has embarked on the process to build a new airport to meet the tourist demand. It has been in brisk consultation with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport to expand its airport facilities, the governor said.

The Jeju provincial office estimates that the number of tourists using Jeju International Airport was more than 23 million in 2014.

“We expect the number of tourists to double if we offer better access to the island. Therefore, airport expansion is essential for long-term growth,” he said. “We aim to operate the second airport within 6-7 years, by 2022.”

From politician to governor

The third-term ruling party lawmaker became the 34th Jeju governor in June 2014, winning about 60 percent of voters’ support.

Since inauguration, he has pushed for “solidarity in governance,” which stresses citizen participation in policy and decision-making. It was a new type of governance where a group of civilians, experts and other interested persons can compromise for continuous discussion, he noted.

Despite such efforts, Won once faced intense criticism when the military forced a group of sit-in protesters off the construction site of a naval base in Gangjeong Village early this year.

The villagers have been opposed to constructing apartment buildings to accommodate officers who will work at the base. They argued that even though 96 percent of local people voted against the construction in 2013, the construction was pushed forward over the objections of the people.

The governor admitted that residents were excluded to some extent in the decision-making process. Saying that was “regrettable,” Won pledged his full support for the village in the future.

“I believe healing the villagers’ pain is the provincial government’s role,” he said, adding it was impossible to scrap the plan as it was a national project.

Despite some difficulties, Won has been ranked tops in the assessment of governors for the last few months.

“I see the result as reflecting people’s expectations for me,” he said. “From now on, I feel more burdened because now is the time for me to present practical results for Jeju citizens.”

Recent opinion polls include Won as one of the rival parties’ potential presidential hopefuls. The public expects Won to possibly make his case for the presidency after the governorship of Jeju Province.

Asked what he feels about seeing his support rate on a weekly basis, Won said it can be “stimulus” for him, but is of little significance.

“I’m honored to be ranked in such polls as I believe politicians should be constantly checked and monitored by people while engaging in political activities. It encourages me to do a better job,” he said.

“It however is a mere figure. And I know people’s support is not swayed by such results.”

Born in 1964 in Jeju, he started his career as a prosecutor. He entered politics in 1999 at the recommendation by then-conservative party chief Lee Hoi-chang. The reform-minded Saenuri lawmaker ranked second in the party supreme lawmaker election after the 2004 general elections.


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