From 2003 to 2007, I used to live and work in South Korea, dispatched from my German based employer as an expat manager. Every year I am coming back for a kind of "home stay" with my Korean wife. In combination with reading Korean newspapers this gives me a special perspective on what is actually happening in my second home country.
Recently we took a flight from Gimpo to Yeosu. The view outside the window was excellent, and watching the scenery inspired me to search for the "green growth" which the current administration is promising. In advanced countries like Germany "green growth" means: less concrete, more nature, less asphalt, more forest, less construction, more renaturation, less old economy, and more knowledge industries.
But what I saw from my helicopter perspective was the opposite. At first we passed the island of Incheon International Airport. It has been deforested almost completely and hills were cut to a large extent, but since 2008 no construction takes place, which finally could justify such a sin against nature. The canal which should connect Incheon and the Han River is still, after years, not finished. But a huge number of bridges and other concrete structures around the designated bed were built in this formerly pristine farming area.
Flying along Saemangeum I was reminded the decision of the court years ago that this huge dam and land reclamation can be completed, although there was no convincing business plan and although the local people fought with passion against it.
Now in 2011 it looks just same as 2005. But tons of concrete were already built into this bird sanctuary, with taxpayers’ money. And since 2005 the advertising pages in the English language magazines are getting bigger and more frequent: "Please invest in Saemangeum!"
Before landing we could see Mt. Halla at the horizon, and I was reminded two recent articles on Jeju Island. This island is a candidate as one of the "New7Wonders of Nature." It is already designated by UNESCO as Biosphere Reserve, as World Natural Heritage site, and as Global Geopark. And now, years after planning and arguing over pros and cons, the government starts to build a naval base there.
Do they really expect a military aggression from Shanghai or from Taiwan? Or is it rather the U.S. military needs which count more than the pride of Korea?
Whatever are the reasons behind these construction activities, the understanding of concepts like "green growth" and "economic development" is maybe the last big difference between Korea and the advanced countries.
Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province