Sun, 05 Nov 2000

Pusan not content to be second best in South Korea

Under the sponsorship of the Jakarta administration, a group of the capital's journalists covering city issues made a weeklong visit to South Korea's major cities. The Jakarta Post reporter Novan Iman Santosa recounts the recent trip in the articles and photos below.

PUSAN, South Korea (JP): Pusan, located on the southeastern tip of the country, is not only renowned as a seaport.

Koreans consider it a center for intellectuals because many of the country's leaders came from the area.

The largest city in the country after Seoul, its area of 749 square kilometers and population of 4 million gained administrative autonomy from the central government on Jan. 1, 1995. The move was part of the wave of reform and democratization which swept South Korea in the 1990s.

Pusan's director of planning Shin Taek Kyu said the city would establish new businesses for the future.

"In preparing for the new millennium, we plan to develop Pusan as a tourism destination as well as a center of information technology and trade activities," he said.

The city's vendors are already in high gear for the 2002 Asian Games and the soccer matches which will be held in the city for the World Cup the same year.

Pusan, or Busan according to the new Roman alphabet spelling issued on July 7 this year, has 16 ku (districts) and 239 dong (subdistricts) under their own jurisdiction.

The area began to take shape as a city under the name of Dongnae-bu in 1876 when the seaport was opened. Its name was changed to Pusan-bu in 1910; it was promoted into a Pusan-shi (city) in 1949.

It was designated Pusan-Jikalshi, meaning a city directly controlled by the central government and independent of any province, in 1963.

It is one of the country's seven metropolitan cities and nine provinces, namely Kyonggi-do, Kangwon-do, Ch'ungchongbuk-do, Chungchongnam-do, Chollabuk-do, Collanam-do, Kyongsangbuk-do, Kyongsangnam-do and Cheju-do.

Adviser to the mayor of Pusan for international relations, Sung-Yup Kim, said the port city was an important link between the Eurasian continent with the Pacific Ocean.

"Pusan will gain more importance when the railway linking both (South and North) Koreas is reopened after the reconciliation process is completed," he said.

"Not only does Pusan seaport handle most of South Korea's export-import activities, it's also the country's center of industry. There are footwear, textile, automobile, and chemical industries here.

"And don't forget our fisheries, which are the country's largest."

Data show that Pusan is home to some 80 footwear manufacturers and 1,265 enterprises that produce fiber, clothing and furs.

Samsung Motor Inc. is also based here; its plant in the Shinho-dong area has a production capacity of 240,000 cars per year. Hanjin Heavy Industries, the country's first shipyard established in 1937, is also located here.

As an autonomous city, Pusan administration has its own authority to manage the area.

"We must ensure the plan goes along with plans of the neighboring regions because South Korea's regional planning is inseparable. We must also conform to long-term planning drafted by the central government," Shin said.

He cited the construction of highways as an example of the division of authority between both administrations.

"We have a classification stating which sections are national highways and which sections are under the authority of the regional administrations. Most of inner city highways, including bridges, flyovers, and tunnels, are under our control," he said.

"We finance the construction with loans provided by domestic companies through a management agreement. It can be through a build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme so developers can collect money from motorists.

"We shared the financing of the subway construction equally but the central government will be responsible for all losses until 2007 according to a deal signed in 1988," he said.

In the fiscal sector, the central government receives 60 percent of all tax revenues while the regional administration gets the remaining 40 percent.

"The tax sharing is not fair for us. It should be the other way around, that's why we are trying to get a larger share of taxes.

Just like the Jakarta administration, Pusan is also struggling to have the authority to directly control its international seaport.

"The central government said it would hand over the control next year by setting up an independent institution to manage the seaport," Shin said.

"But we still want the seaport to be under our direct control which we'll continue to strive for."

The Pusan container seaport is the largest in South Korea and the fourth in the world, with an annual total handling capacity of some 1 billion 20-foot equivalent units (TEU) containers.

Hyundai Marine Merchant Co. Ltd. was granted the right to operate and manage the port over an international bid for 20 years since July 1 last year under a privatization program.

"We also have the option to extend it for another 10 years," said Hyundai Busan Container Terminal general manager Weon Yang.

"Currently, we are operating 12 container cranes and another three will be in service next year," he added.