Jang Jeong-min, governor of Ongjin County, expects easing military tension on the Korean Peninsula will lead to the creation of a peace zone and a joint fishing area of both Koreas in the West Sea in the near future. In addition, he hopes improved relations between the two Koreas will make it more difficult for illegal Chinese fishing boats to access the Northern Limit Line (NLL) area in the West Sea, while vitalizing fishery trade between the two Koreas. Eased tension between the two Koreas will also allow the county to launch multiple projects to attract domestic and foreign tourists to the five West Sea islands that have wonderful natural environment. BusinessKorea had an exclusive interview with the county governor to hear about his plan for cross-border exchanges. Following are excerpts from the interview. – Ed.
At present, the government is making efforts to turn the five West Sea islands from a region of inter-Korean confrontation to a peace zone and the center of inter-Korean economic exchanges. All of the five islands belong to Ongjin County. How will the county benefit from the creation of the peace zone?
The five islands have gone through the First Yeonpyeong Naval Battle in 1999 and the Second Yeonpyeong Naval Battle in 2002, the destruction of the South Korean Navy vessel Cheonan by North Korea in March 2010, and the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010. Residents in the islands have had to fish in very narrow areas and only during the day to make a living. They have had to endure frequent fishing boat control for military exercises and repeated illegal fishing by Chinese fishermen. Fortunately, however, inter-Korean relations are showing signs of improvement these days and we are looking forward to the creation of a peace zone and a joint fishing area of both Koreas in the region.
If a peace zone is created in the West Sea, it will make it easier to curb illegal Chinese fishing boats’ access to the Northern Limit Line (NLL) area in the West Sea and revitalize fishery product trade between the two Koreas, helping boost the income of the islands’ residents. In addition, their living conditions will improve, more tourists will visit the islands, and the regional economy of the islands will get better.
More and more people are expected to visit the West Sea islands to appreciate their wonderful natural environment once inter-Korean relations improve. What does the county have to do to promote regional tourism?
Ongjin County is planning to launch multiple projects to that end. For example, a small airport will be built in Baengnyeong Island and ferries will ply between the island and China. We will successfully finish the projects in close cooperation with the central government and Incheon City.
The county is currently talking with the central government so that the proposed West Sea Peace Expressway construction project can start without a preliminary feasibility study. The project calls for the construction a bridge to connect Yeongjong Island and Shindo, one of the county’s islands. Also, we are talking with the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries to expand the Incheon Coastal Passenger Terminal and move it to the nearby Incheon Port International Passenger Terminal.
Some islands in the county are short of drinking water and energy infrastructure. How are you going to solve the problems?
The amount of rainfall is small in the islands and energy supply has yet to be further developed there. Better infrastructure for water supply, gas supply and the like is urgently needed in that it is essential for higher living standards of the residents.
When it comes to water, problems include groundwater depletion and the deterioration of water supply facilities that has led to leakage. The county is going to renovate water pipes and tube wells the first thing and build seawater desalination facilities, drinking water dams and water supply networks in the long term.
At the same time, drains for agricultural use will be repaired and reservoirs and farm ponds will be made to stabilize water supply. An LPG supply network will be expanded to improve residential conditions as well.
The county is already a highly aged society. How are you going to cope with it?
The county is trying to cope with the challenge with a 10 billion won senior welfare fund, better medical service systems and more private and public job opportunities.
For instance, the EM Eco-friendly Clean Project and the Day Care Assistance Project will be launched this year so that senior citizens in the county can contribute more to the local community. Also, the county has provided each senior citizen in the region with 450,000 won a month since 2017 so that their living conditions can be improved and they can participate more in the local community as they wish.
What plans do you have to stimulate the economy of the county?
The county badly needs tourism promotion projects tailored to its unique characteristics.
Coastal trails and shelters for travelers have been developed in the region since I took office. The county is seeking to develop geoparks in Baengnyeong and Daecheong islands and popularize diverse local dishes. It is also focusing on expanding tourism infrastructure, including yacht marinas, theme parks for arts and performances and public stadiums.
As Ongjin County consists entirely of islands, it needs a reliable marine transport service for its residents. What efforts is the county making?
At present, a total of nine sea lanes and 16 passenger ships are available for the residents. However, cancelation occurs for more than 60 days a year depending on weather conditions such as fog and strong winds.
What is needed in this regard is passenger ship guidance by the Korea Coast Guard in foggy areas. And passenger ships will have to be allowed to operate during night time.
The residents in Shindo only have limited access to Yeongjong Island. A bridge between the two islands is essential not only for the convenience of the residents but also as the starting point of an inter-Korean road network covering Yeongheung, Shindo, Ganghwa, Gaesong and Haeju. We will work closely with the central government and Incheon City so that a bridge can be built in the near future.
What is your message to the central government and Ongjin County residents?
As I mentioned earlier, a joint fishing area and a peace zone in the West Sea are likely to become reality thanks to the government’s efforts. I believe now is the time for various government agencies to provide more specific economic and political support to Ongjin Country in view of its geopolitical importance.
On behalf of all public employees in the county, I promise that Ongjin will become the linchpin of the marine tourism industry and the hub of peace on the Korean Peninsula. I will do my utmost to ensure that every tourist in Ongjin has a healing moment in the county and that every resident in Ongjin is very content with their life in the county.