By Lee Hyo-sik
Jeju Island has a geographical advantage and other competitive merits over its rival cities in Northeast Asia in becoming a free international business hub, according to the head of the state-run firm in charge of developing Korea's southern resort island.
In an interview with The Korea Times, the chief director of Jeju Free International City Development Center (JDC) Byon Jong-il said the nation's most popular tourist destination has everything it needs to become a human-friendly business center that offers high standards of living.
``I have been working hard over the past year to promote Jeju here at home and abroad for its potential to emerge as a global business town. It has a superb natural environment, with many of its tourist attractions having been designated as UNESCO world heritage sites. Additionally, we can fly from the island to Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo and Shanghai within two hours,'' Byon said. The island has recently become a popular tourism destination not only for Koreans, but also for Chinese, Japanese and other Asian tourists.
He said, thanks to its geographical proximity to major metropolises in the region, Jeju is in the perfect location to become premium tourism, medical and educational hub in Northeast Asia. ``Through our strenuous efforts to promote Jeju on the global stage, we have begun producing achievements as many international investors and companies have shown interest in investing here.''
JDC was established in May 2002 to transform Jeju into a free international city at a national level under the Jeju Free International City basic plan and the special act on Jeju self-governing province and free international city.
In order to compete with Hong Kong, Singapore and other internationalized cities in Asia, Byon said Jeju should take advantage of its clean natural environment in becoming a truly human-friendly international city.
``We will emerge as an ethnically and culturally diverse global town. To achieve this goal, we are making an all-out effort to implement a range of development projects as planned. Additionally, Jeju residents need to become more global-minded and friendly toward foreigners,'' the chief director said.
The center is currently working on six major strategic projects; an English education town, a healthcare town, a science-technology complex, a resort complex, an eco-friendly park and a shopping district.
``Among six development projects, we are currently placing top priority on creating an English education town. Since June 2009, we have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a number of international schools, including St. Albans School of the United States, to set up a branch school in the designated area. We plan to open three international schools here by September 2011,'' the chief director said.
JDC will also recruit students for the planned schools toward the year's end and hire highly qualified teachers from home and abroad, who can conduct classes in English.
Byon then said the center will create a healthcare district to attract foreign patients in cooperation with the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine and the Korea Tourism Organization. ``We will build a comprehensive healthcare theme park where patients and their family members can enjoy both leisure and medical services in one place. To attract foreign investors, we are exempting them from paying corporate and income taxes for the first five years. They also do not pay property taxes for 15 years. Those who invest more than $500,000 and reside here for five years will be given permanent residency,'' he said.
Touching on the envisioned science-technology complex, it has attracted online portal operator Daum, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and 32 other companies and research institutes since its launch in March.
``They will receive a 100-percent exemption from corporate tax for the next three years. For the following five years, they only need to pay 50 percent. Additionally, their property acquisition and holding taxes will be exempted as long as they stay here. Moreover, we will offer a range of support programs to help them do business,'' Byon said.
The JDC plans to create a large resort complex, an eco-friendly park, and an aerospace museum to make Jeju a more attractive tourist destination. ``We have secured a $1.8 billion investment from Malaysia's Berjaya Group to complete the resort complex by 2015. For an eco-friendly park, we signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with MSC Korea, the local operator of an envisioned MGM theme park, in March for an $880 million investment,'' Byon said.
He said JDC signed a business agreement with the Smithsonian Institute of the United States last year to construct a space museum in 2011, adding it will build a world-class luxurious shopping center to cater to shopping needs of both local and foreign visitors.