[KS] "Ecological doubletalk" in Korea

Afostercarter at aol.com Afostercarter at aol.com
Fri Jan 8 05:20:54 EST 2010

Dear friends and colleagues,
Michael Rank's commendably succinct message
draws attention to a major current concern in  Korea.
In November in Seoul, at The Economist  Conferences
Business Roundtable with the South Korean government, 
President Lee Myung-bak and his full team of economic 
ministers and other top officials all harped a good deal on  
green  themes. I append the relevant section of the summary  
that I  wrote for participants. You'll note a degree of  scepticism. 
Songdo, the subject of the article that Michael links  to, is 
probably a lost cause by now for the poor spoonbills. 
(For a  broader and more positive view of this project overall, 
from a  source which one might have expected to be critical, 
see _http://www.japanfocus.org/-David-McNeill/3247_ 
(http://www.japanfocus.org/-David-McNeill/3247) .)
Then there is Saemangeum: mother of all white  elephants,
and politically the purest pork. They built the world's longest 
sea-wall, at vast expense and here again destroying  wetland
bird habitats. Yet after almost 20  years, nothing has been done
with it because no one can agree what the ruddy thing is for! 
Some links: 
(Birdskorea.org is excellent on environmental issues  generally)
(A casino now, forsooth!)
Now we have the Four Rivers Restoration Project (4RRP),
which is ploughing ahead despite many serious  concerns.
These are summarized in an  article I wrote last May; also
appended here, if I may, since it is not in the public domain.
An excellent piece on the 4RRP is this by James  Card:
His opening paragraph reads as follows:
The Korean peninsula was once called geum-su-gang-san, “a  land of 
embroidered rivers and mountains.” Before South Korea industrialized in  the postwar 
years, the rivers were wild-running freestone streams barreling down  the 
mountains and turning into sandy shallow rivers edged by wetlands as they  
reached the sea. In her 1898 book Korea and Her Neighbors,  19th-century 
travel writer Isabella Bird described the upper Namhan River as  “where pure 
emerald water laps gently upon crags festooned with roses and  honeysuckle, or 
in fairy bays on pebbly beaches and white sand.”

That  world is long gone now...
Finally, ecological doubletalk is only one  instance
of how ideology befuddles the brain and skews  policy.
There is also egalitarian doubletalk, whose  progeny
is Sejong City: like Saemangeum an  ill-considered
pork-barrel scheme on whose purpose no one  agrees, 
and a political hot potato which will  waste time and 
money for years to come, belying its website  name:
_http://www.happycity.go.kr/_ (http://www.happycity.go.kr/) .  Here are two 
Happy New Year to one and all,
Aidan FC
Aidan Foster-Carter 
Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology  & Modern Korea, Leeds 
University, UK   
Flat 1, 40 Magdalen Road,  Exeter, Devon, EX2 4TE, England, UK 
T: (+44, no 0)    07970 741307 (mobile);   01392 257753       Skype: 
E: _afostercarter at aol.com_ (mailto:afostercarter at aol.com) ,     
_afostercarter at yahoo.com_ (mailto:afostercarter at yahoo.com)             W: 
_www.aidanfc.net_ (http://www.aidanfc.net/)  
Here's  hoping (malgré tout) for a peaceful, healthy and prosperous New  
A major theme was what President Lee called the “new national vision” of  
low carbon green growth. (So new, indeed, that it hardly figured in his 
campaign  for office in 2007.) Strategy and finance minister Yoon Jeung-hyun 
outlined the  “Green Growth Five-Year Plan”, dating only from July, whereby 
Korea “will invest  two percent of the GDP as public spending on green growth 
between 2009 and  2013.” Similarly, according to the only recently appointed 
knowledge economy  minister Choi Kyunghwan, five ‘green tech industries’ 
are among 17 ‘new growth  engines’ announced in January; the other 12 being 
in ‘high-tech convergence  industries’ and ‘value-added service industries.’
 (More on services in the  following section.) 
Minister Choi, who is also a member of the national assembly, admitted  
that he had recently expressed the fear that South Korea plans to go green too  
fast. In his view public consensus is missing. Moreover his brief includes 
being  in charge of industry, so he fights their corner. (MKE is the new 
name for what  used to be the ministry of commerce, industry and energy or 
MOCIE: arguably a  more accurate moniker than the trendy new one, with its aura 
of IT.) Kim  Hyung-Kook, who chairs the presidential committee on green 
growth, conceded that  for a country whose emissions had more than doubled since 
1990, going green  would be hard. He saw his committee as open to 
foreigners, and a ginger group to  the rest of government. 
The US$18bn Four Rivers Restoration Project (4RRP) was little mentioned,  
despite its being the most tangible project in this field as well as a major  
focus of public debate. Many view it as a covert rebranding of President Lee
’s  former ‘grand canal’ scheme, which he had pitched more for logistical 
than green  reasons (though few were convinced) and reluctantly dropped. In 
sum, despite  right-on rhetoric and good intentions, doubts remain about 
both the depth of  this new conversion to eco-friendliness, and just how green 
some aspects of it  really are. 
As participants left, they may have noticed posters and preparations in  
the Hyatt for an event next day: the 2009 International Forum for Green Growth 
 and Saemangeum Project. This is about the world’s longest sea-wall (33km) 
and  largest polder on Korea’s southwest coast, not yet complete after 
nearly 20  years and some US$7.5bn. No one agrees what to do with the site; plans 
have  altered several times, while critics claim it is bad for the 
An editorial on October 21st in the JoongAng Ilbo, Seoul’s leading daily,  
linked this to other currently planned large-scale projects under the 
headline:  “Prudent Policy, Please.” Besides the Four Rivers project, this also 
alludes to  the main hot potato of current political debate: a US$18bn plan 
to move half the  government to a new administrative city 160km south of 
Seoul. (Interestingly  this went unmentioned in the Roundtable.) Even if 
modified as seems likely into  a scientific or educational complex instead, this 
will still be an costly  distraction. 
Brief for Oxford Analytica.  Edited version published 22 May 2009. 
Some slight  updating.

Rivers  restoration project rekindles canal controversy 
SUBJECT: The Lee Myung-bak  administration’s environmental infrastructure  
SIGNIFICANCE: Critics claim the government’s ideas are  environmentally 
unsound, and a ploy to resurrect the president’s dream of a  nationwide canal 
network via the back door. 
ANALYSIS: On April 27 President Lee  Myung-bak presided at the launch of an 
interim plan to upgrade South Korea’s  four major rivers: the Han, Nakdong, 
Geum and Yeongsan. This is to be finalized  by end-May, with work starting 
in September after the rainy  season. 
The four river restoration project (4RRP) is a core part  of a 50 trillion 
won (37 billion dollar) ‘Green New Deal’ announced earlier this  year. 
Costing 14 trillion won, the 4RRP aims to: 
* Provide more and better water. Two new dams and 13  reservoirs are to 
store an extra 1.25 billion cubic metres of fresh water by  2012. 
* This, and dredging the river beds, are also meant to  improve control of 
seasonal flooding. The latter has worsened since the 1970s,  possibly 
because of the effects of industrialisation. 
* Amenites will include 1,411 kilometres of new cycling  paths, sprucing up 
cultural relics near the river banks, and general riparian  beautification 
for leisure and tourism purposes.  
* It is hoped thereby to create some 190,000 jobs  directly and more 
indirectly, boosting local economies along the rivers and  contributing to more 
balanced regional development. 
* New photovoltaic and small hydropower plants on or near  the four rivers, 
as well as larger green spaces, are supposed to reduce carbon  emissions by 
100,000 tons annually. 
Canal redux? On February 26 prime  minister Han Seung-soo said “there 
should be no more controversy over this  project,” calling it “the backbone of 
our Green New Deal plan.”  
However, this has not silenced claims that the 4RRP is  essentially a 
covert bid to revive Lee Myung-bak’s pet project for a ‘Grand  Korean Waterway’ 
(GKW): a 540 kilometre cross-country canal linking Seoul to the  port of 
Busan in the southeast, costing 16 trillion won. 
Mountainous and densely populated, South Korea has high  logistics costs. 
But few experts supported the GKW, fearing rather a white  elephant and 
ecological harm. Yet Lee persisted,  until forced to drop the idea last June  
amidst a deepening political crisis caused by protests against US beef imports  
and complaints that he was riding roughshod over public opinion. 
Water shortage. Among the varied aims  of the 4RRP, water shortage is a 
growing problem. Though South Korea’s yearly  rainfall of 1,274 millimetres is 
30% above the global average, its dense  population means per capita water 
supply will fall to 1,199 cubic metres by  2025; the UN regards 2,000 as the 
safe minimum. Yet daily consumption per head  at 397 litres is the highest 
in OECD, suggesting a need for action at the demand  as well as the supply 
Protest. Environmental NGOs are  influential in South Korea. Their record 
* Holding up for several years construction of the  world’s longest seawall 
(see below). 
* Delaying the last section of the KTX high speed rail  link from Seoul to 
Busan, now set to open finally in 2010. On April 23 the  Supreme Court 
convicted Venerable Jiyu, a Buddhist nun, for obstructing this;  most famously in 
a 120-day hunger strike in 2005 against a planned 13 kilometre  tunnel near 
her monastery, said to threaten the habitat of a rare salamander.  
Green? Ecological NGOs are predictably  sceptical of the 4RRP and its green 
* Birds Korea (BK) claims that the plans to dredge rivers  and build dams, 
weirs and bicycle paths will breach obligations under the  Convention on 
Biological Diversity and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands, to  both of which 
South Korea is a signatory. 
* BK also argues that vegetated riverbanks, appropriately  supported, would 
be stronger and cheaper to maintain than concrete, as well as  more 
attractive for biodiversity and recreation. 
* Or again, silting and stagnation from dams will harm  rather than help 
water quality. Tap water potability has become a public concern  in recent 
years; bottled water sales have soared despite official insistence  that mains 
water is safe to drink. Water quality and quantity and flood control  alike 
would be better guaranteed by restoring natural flood-plain  wetlands. 
* Conversely, a construction-focused approach will  disturb and restrict 
water flows, destroy natural river beds and edges, reduce  biodiversity and 
risk long-term ecological damage. 
Bulldozer. Relatedly, critics query the  underlying perspective and 
priorities of this project: 
* President Lee is a former CEO of Hyundai’s construction  arm. Nicknamed ‘
bulldozer’, he is viewed as espousing an old-school view of  development as 
covering nature with concrete. 
* The construction sector, accounting for nearly 20% of  GDP, is suffering 
in the downturn. This affords an excuse for public works  projects as 
Keynesian stimulus, and for job creation. On this basis the 4RRP,  like the GKW 
before it, is popular in most of the localities affected, with  hopes of 
regeneration and new employment outweighing environmental  concerns. 
* In Lee’s favour, his controversial removal of a raised  motorway to 
restore a long-hidden stream while mayor of Seoul is now applauded  as much 
improving the capital’s amenities. 
Exempt? There is disquiet that no full  feasibility studies have been done. 
Indeed, a 1999 law mandating such a survey  for all projects costing over 
50 billion won was recently amended to exempt  works for “natural disaster 
prevention” – as the 4RRP is classified – from this.  
Canal reduced. Similar unease affects  another canal project, predating the 
GKW and still going ahead. On May 6  President Lee visited the site of the 
18 kilometre Gyeongin canal. By 2011 this  will connect the Han river in 
Seoul with the port of Incheon on the Yellow  (West) Sea for cargo ships of up 
to 4,000 tons. 
Conceived in the 1990s, this idea was abandoned five  years ago amid doubts 
that it could be economic. In 2003 the Board of Audit and  Inspection (BAI) 
criticised officials for fudging a cost-benefit analyis by the  Korea 
Development Institute (KDI) to make it look viable. Lee revived the 2  billion 
dollar project, but doubts persist and KDI’s study remains  unpublished. 
Green growth. More broadly, on May 12  the Presidential Committee on Green 
Growth said 12.6 trillion won will be  invested by 2013 in green 
technologies, to create half a million jobs.  4.2 trillion won will be spent on  
Internet infrastructure, green IT products, and low-carbon transit systems,  while 
R&D into other various green technologies, such as high-efficiency  solar 
batteries and hybrid vehicles, will receive 8.4 trillion  won. 
Seawall saga. If precedent is any  guide, two relevant cases point in 
opposite directions: 
* Confounding early scepticism, upgrading of the Han  river in Seoul – 
initally for the 1988 Olympics – has been a success. The river  now is far 
cleaner and more attractive than before. 
* However, the main recent precedent for large-scale  nature-remaking is 
discouraging. At 33 kilometres, Saemangeum on the southwest  coast is the world
’s longest seawall, infilling an estuary and adding 400 square  kilometres 
of reclaimed land. This remains controversial: 
* Begun in 1991, the wall was not finished  till 2006. Environmentalists 
opposed it, saying it would destroy some of East  Asia’s most important 
wetlands, crucial for migratory birds. In 2007 the RSPB, a  British bird 
protection body, reported that seabirds were starving there. 
* Conceived mainly to boost and placate the neglected Jeolla region,  which 
complained at missing out on major development projects, Saemangeum’s  
precise purpose has never been agreed or clarified. Talk variously of industrial 
 or agricultural uses has come to little so  far. 
* Last year the area was designated a free economic zone (FEZ), again to  
no visible effect.  
* In March the central and provincial governments agreed to make Saemangeum 
a “model green vacation spot”, international tourist resort,  or even “a 
Korean Dubai”. This latest twist appears no better thought out, nor  more 
likely to succeed, than its many predecessors. 
* - as witness that by October the state-run Korea Rural  Community Corp. 
(KRC) was touting the wholly different concept of an  “eco-friendly 
manufacturing hub.” 
CONCLUSION: Lee’s river restoration plan is ambitious and far-reaching.  
Confidence that it will actually achieve its diverse goals would be higher if  
feasibility studies had preceded it. If this goes ahead but proves to have  
little or negative impact, especially on the environment, this will only 
cement  the president’s reputation for bulldozing projects without 
consultation, and  could work against the ruling party in 2012’s presidential and 
parliamentary  elections. 

In a message dated 1/7/2010 18:42:09 GMT Standard Time, rank at mailbox.co.uk  

If  you're interested in development vs conservation, "cities of the 
future"  and "ecological doubletalk" in Korea you may be interested in  


Michael  Rank

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