The Korea Herald


North Gyeongsang Province to boost cultural, tourism, medical and bio industries

New engine for national growth lies in provinces, governor says

By Shin Ji-hye

Published : Jan. 6, 2022 - 16:43

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Lee Cheol-woo, governor of North Gyeongsang Province (North Gyeongsang Province government) Lee Cheol-woo, governor of North Gyeongsang Province (North Gyeongsang Province government)
North Gyeongsang Province is striving to boost its cultural, tourism, medical and bio sectors that will be in the spotlight in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, said Gov. Lee Cheol-woo in an interview with The Korea Herald.

The governor stressed the need for balanced regional development, saying a new engine for national growth lies in the provinces, and that the power and capital monopolized by the central government should be shared with the provinces to boost national competitiveness. 

The written interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

The Korea Herald: What policy will you focus on in the new year?

Gov. Lee Cheol-woo: We intend to focus on and promote two things in the new year. The top priority of administration is for the people. Due to the two-year COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants, travel and leisure industries have been shut down. What is essential right now is the livelihood of the people.

When I went out on the ground, I saw a lot of difficulties. It is feared that problems in people’s livelihood will continue into the new year. We will focus all our capabilities on saving small businesses, self-employed people and small and medium-sized enterprises.

Another is to prepare for the future. The future cannot be neglected just because the reality is difficult. We will do our best to build the new integrated airport quickly and adequately. We will actively promote establishing a special local government, which is the first stage of administrative integration between Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province.
We will create new industries for batteries, vaccines and a 5G network, centering on the three major regulatory free zones and the Gumi-Pohang Special R&D zones. We will also create an environment where young people can settle in the region by supporting startups and cultural and artistic activities for youths.

KH: You have emphasized a balanced regional development. What are the challenges and what direction should be taken?

Lee: More than half of the population lives in the Seoul metropolitan area, which covers 12 percent of the country’s land area. All resources -- finance, companies, talent and jobs -- are concentrated in the area. In particular, the problem is the concentration of young people in the metropolitan area. In the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, ideas are important. Ideas come from universities, but universities in non-Seoul metropolitan areas don’t fill up their quotas. After graduation, students leave for the urban areas, and as a result, the youth population in North Gyeongsang Province decreased by 14.5 percentage points in 2020 compared to 1995.

There has been no significant decentralization despite the current government having declared a substantial decentralization comparable to the federal system. The promise to raise the national tax to local tax ratio from 8:2 to 7:3 has not yet been fulfilled. It is common for a provincial governor to go to officials of central ministries to ask for budgets. A new engine for national growth lies in the provinces. It is necessary to strengthen local competitiveness by sharing the power and capital monopolized by the central government. 

KH: The population keeps decreasing in provinces. What is the countermeasure?

Lee: The country’s population is declining. The problem is that the population in the Seoul metropolitan area is increasing and decreasing elsewhere. According to the demographic figures in 1949, North Gyeongsang Province ranked first with 3.21 million and Seoul with 1.44 million. North Gyeongsang Province ranked first in 1966, but lost the top spot to Seoul in 1970.

It’s about jobs. In the primary industrial era, North Gyeongsang Province had a large population because there were many jobs. The cause of the decline during industrialization is also people departing to cities with many jobs. In the Fourth Industrial Revolution era, cultural, tourism, medical and bio industries will be in the spotlight. Those are fields that we can do well in and prepare for. We are also creating jobs by attracting leading companies such as Coupang and Apple.

KH: What task should the next government pursue first?

Lee: To integrate the public, narrowing the gap between regions is the top priority. The active role of local governments is required. It should think of local governments as state partners and open the way for sharing roles.

We need to consolidate the provinces to create an economic zone with a population of 5 million people. Only then can we compete with global cities. There is a need for a decentralization strategy that makes special laws to support regional administration and to support them. The relocation of public institutions needs to be expanded to courts, broadcasters, universities and research institutes to resolve regional imbalances by considering areas at risk of local extinction. Not only public institutions but also institutions that actually have a ripple effect on the local economy must be dispersed in provincial areas for balanced national development in a true sense.

KH: What is the progress on the relocation of the integrated airport? What are the tasks to be solved and the direction?

Lee: Daegu City’s basic plan, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport’s preapproval on private airports, and the construction of the new airport city and transportation network are all in the final stages.

Establishing an airport-linked wide-area transportation network is also being carried out as planned. The Daegu-Gyeongbuk Line Airport Railroad, the core of airport revitalization, was reflected in the Fourth National Railroad Network Construction Plan. It was selected as a leading project for nonmetropolitan wide-area railways, and a preliminary feasibility study is underway.