The motto of The Incheon Free Economic Zone is “We Build Success”. L.Bolormaa reports on how South Korea is building its Future City.
The setting up of a Free Economic Zone in any country is an ambitious undertaking. It calls for enormous investment, takes a long time to develop, and even then, it might not succeed in attracting global industry to use it. South Koreans have been at work on The Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) for 10 years now, and construction will continue until 2020, when the island zone expects the world to converge on it.
Nobody coming to Seoul can miss the work going on, but few can guess its extent and pace as they move along the highway from Incheon airport to Seoul. The IFEZ is coming up on the island that has the airport, on land reclaimed from the shallow coastal sea. The 169.5-sq km area that was under water 10 years ago, will soon enough be home to 640,800 people.
The decision to build the IFEZ here was guided by its proximity to Mongolia, China, and Japan. There are 61 cities, each with a population of one million or more, within three and a half hour’s flight time from Incheon.
The IFEZ will have three districts or parts, each with special features.
Songdo will have 252,000 people spread over 53.3 square km. It is to be an international business and technology hub and also a North-East Asian Trade Centre. Songdo
Global University will have a campus here, housing branches of the best international universities. The UN’s Green Climate Fund will also have its office here. Yeongjong
is to be the biggest of the three, with its 98.4 sq km hosting a population of 298,800. This is planned as the tourism and transport centre, served by a new international airport and a new seaport. The high-speed railway being built will take 40 minutes to reach Seoul. There will be a casino and also a Boeing training centre.Cheongna
would be the smallest district, with 90,000 people in a 17.8-sq km area planned to be built as a miniature New York City. It will be a clean and green city, with minimum carbon emission and 30 per cent of the buildings constructed according to green norms.
Minister of Foreign Affairs L. Bold visited the IFEZ site at the head of a team that included Ch.Bayarmunkh, Director of Department of Asia and the Pacific at MFA, and B.Ganbold, Mongolian Ambassadorin Seoul. Kim Jinyong, Director General of Planning & Coordination Bureau, Incheon Free Economic Zone Authority, received them.
In his address at the welcome ceremony Minister Bold said,“Mongolia also has a plan to develop aneconomic free zone to serve Northeast Asia, which has its own economic interests and features. South Korea is a strategically important part of this region lending special importance to its relations with Mongolia. We are here to see how you are developing The Incheon Free Economic Zone, and to apply your experience when we go ahead with our own zone, to cater to industries of the Russian Far East, Northeast China, and of course Mongolia itself.”
Kim Jinyong replied with thanks to Mongolia for its support to South Korea’s bid to host the Asian Games in Incheon this year and also for its active participation in the 2009 Expo there. He noted howit is usual for South Koreans to root for Mongolian competitors in international meets. “We learn about Chinggis Khaan and the Yuan dynasty at school and harbour a feeling of special closeness to you,” he said.
When Bold referred to how bilateral ties have been getting stronger in recent times, and expressed the hope that Mongolian companies would set up joint ventures in South Korea, Kim was enthusiastic and asked the Minister to persuade large Mongolian companies to utilise IFEZ facilities, promising them all support.
Kim said they would be happy to offer training to Mongolians on different aspects of implementing a free economic zone project, and also urged Mongolian students to join the Songdo Global University in the IFEZ. Its campus will ultimately accommodate 10,000 students, whose studies will lead to their receiving official certificates from The State University of New York and two other US universities, and also Ghent University of Belgium. All courses will be taught in English. On a visit to the IFEZ last year, President Putin promised to get a major Russian university to establish a branch there. Besides these foreign institutes of education, four South Korean universities also work in the IFEZ.Kim very kindly agreed to answer a few questions.The IFEZ needs a huge investment over 20 years. How will the returns come? And what are the terms of participation for both South Korean and foreign companies, such as, say, General Motors of the USA?
We expect the total investment to be $50 billion, with 20% of it coming fromthe Government, which alsoreclaimed the land from the sea, and then sold plots to businesses.Those who bought the plots construct buildings and sell them. The government used the proceeds from the first land sales to reclaim more land from the sea and sell it. So it goes.
Incidentally, foreign entities get land at cheaper prices than South Korean companies, as part of our incentive to them to come to what is primarily meant to be an international centre. Another attraction for them is our use of the world’s best technology in everything we do here. Higher prices have not deterred many domestic companies, who see the zone as the future. In any case, the construction work is almost totally local. Indeed, several domestic companies feel they would be better off working here totally on their own, without foreign collaboration. We shall inform the Government of these views, with our own opinion that construction would proceed quicker if this independence was allowed.What is the legal status of those, particularly foreigners, living and studying or working in IFEZ?
There are special laws for the zone, which were adopted after extensive public debate. They are meant to encourage the use of the best business practices and expedite all construction work. We have given the Mongolian Government copies of the law and of documents recording the preparatory work before the law was drafted.
There was some talk about lowering visa fees for the zone, but this is proving difficult as there cannot be too great a departure from other existing laws of the land. However, anybody who has lived in this zone for more than three months is entitled to receive the same medical services as South Koreans elsewhere in the country.