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Base Closures Leave Locals Wondering

Posted September. 08, 2006 07:00,   


It is a Tuesday afternoon and a holiday for the American soldiers serving at Camp Casey at the special tourism district of Bosan-dong, Dongducheon City, Gyeonggi Province.

Kim Dae-yeon (age: 52), the president of the Bosan-dong Commerce Promotion Committee who has done business with the American soldiers for more than 30 years at this venue, sighs at the sight of plain clothed soldiers.

“There is practically no industrial sector in Dongducheon. These soldiers are our source of income. I am struck by the fact that the provisional land for the U.S. military is being returned without any countermeasures.”

It has been four days since the “Surrounding Territory of Provisional Land for U.S. Armed Forces in Korea Special Act” came to effect. The people of northern part of Gyeonggi Province, where 79.6 percent of the U.S. military provisional land is located, are high in expectations and anxious at the same time.

On one hand, the region welcomes removing its image as a military campside town. On the other, the people are skeptical that the regional economy will flourish with the provisional land returned to the Korean government. Local governments that had to forfeit their hopes of developing the territory due to the presence of the American military bases, realize that this can become a boon or a crisis depending on how they pursue their development plans.

Rich and poor local governments divided on the issue-

Dongducheon internally drafted plans to build a university, an industrial complex and a golf course among many things on the reacquired land. The only problem is money.

It is forecasted that Dongducheon will purchase some 5.95 million pyeong of land from the Ministry of Defense. The central government has promised to cover up to 80 percent of the purchasing cost if the local government turns the land into public use. All the same, a local government such as Dongducheon cannot match the 3.05 trillion won with its modest annual budget of 170 billion won.

The city can much less afford to build sufficient roads and railways on the land. President Kim says, “Despite the city government’s plans to attract a university, the lack of roads and surrounding situation will turn off any university.”

Paju City, with a busy industrial complex and housing development, is in better shoes. It has only 500 thousand pyeong to purchase. The city is planning to entrust a professional agency on September 11 to come up with a specific development plan.

Uijeongbu City has all but decided to build roads and a park to replace Camp LaGuardia and Camp Falling Water – two facilities situated in the center of the city. This will alleviate the transportation jam that has plagued the city for decades. Even if Camp Stanley is returned, however, development projects will be difficult to carry out as it sits in the limited development district.

Planning and Administration Section Chief Roh Seung-cheol of Gyeonggi Province says, “The central government pays the whole amount for the development of the Yongsan military base, but local governments in Gyeonggi Province have to come up with the budget ourselves. It is a big challenge for us. Since the project will take more than 10 years to carry out, we will work on a long-term plan that puts under-developed regions in top priority.”

The potential tension from the return of provisional land-

The return of provisional land will not just effect the local governments that acquire them. It could mean competition and tension between the central government and local governments, and between local governments themselves.

Local governments not located in the Seoul area are becoming very sensitive over the issue. They think that government support for local governments that receive provisional land will lead to the eventual relaxation of regulations in these areas. They are especially concerned that these local governments will be able to expand information technology related manufacturing facilities of conglomerates and will be exempt from the total maximum factory load regulation defined in the Seoul Metropolitan Area Readjustment Planning Act.

It is still uncertain how the central government will come up with funds, which the special act calls for, to support the local government. Given that the Ministry of Planning and Budget had initially argued that the central government should take only 20 percent of the burden, it is also uncertain whether the central government will support 80 percent – the maximum amount the bill allows. 20 percent of 3.05 trillion won, which is the price of the land that Dongducheon will purchase, amounts to more than 600 billion won.

An official of Gyeonggi Province hinted at the possibility of tension with the central government by saying, “The central government must support development projects and help build infrastructure such as roads that must precede these projects.

Mayor Kim Mun-won of Uijeongbu City said, “It is only reasonable, that the central government must extensively back up these regions. These regions had to endure the military bases for the sake of national security. If our city does not receive as much support as the other local governments, our residents will not stand it.”

Controlling the development competition between local governments is another problem to be solved. Paju, Uijeongbu, and Dongducheon all have plans to attract a university to their cities, but in reality, it is doubtful even one will ever succeed.