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[Herald Interview] Gangwon governor defines 23rd games as ‘cease-fire Olympics’

By Kim Yon-se

Choi hopes to see 2nd inter-Korean park via 2018 peace message to world

  • Published : Feb 9, 2018 - 18:35
  • Updated : Feb 9, 2018 - 18:54
Gangwon is the only province that lies both South and North of the Korean Peninsula. And Cheorwon and Goseong counties in the province have also been split by the two Koreas for more than six decades.

In that context, Gangwon Province and its regional government officials are pinning great hopes on the 23rd Winter Olympics, which kicked off in PyeongChang in the nation’s eastern province, Friday. North Korea’s participation in the games are estimated to have doubled the excitement of many officials and residents.

“The biggest worry (for us as the host of the Olympics) had been security and safety matters,” Gangwon Gov. Choi Moon-soon told The Korea Herald.

“North Korea’s participation could resolve the concerns at a stroke,” he said. “We believe that the PyeongChang Olympics will be recorded as a historic best, which fostered peace and harmony beyond a sports event.”

Gangwon Gov. Choi Moon-soon (Provincial Government of Gangwon Province)

Choi said he would like to call the games on the peninsula a “Truce Olympics,” adding that it is shameful for some people to make remarks describing the event as the “Pyongyang Olympics.”

“A significant duty of a provincial governor is securing the life and wealth of residents,” he said.

Choi also mentioned the necessity of operating another inter-Korean industrial complex at a district in Gangwon, expressing hopes for fast resumption of the Kaesong industrial park operation.

Gangwon has already gone into research, in coordination with the central government, on the site suitability of preferred candidate Cheorwon County, a border district.

Concerning the post-Olympics plan, the governor cited a project, dubbed “Dream Program,” organized by Gangwon. The program, which has more than a decade of history, is a supporter for teens from warm countries that do not experience snow.

“We would continue the program as the biggest legacy of the 2018 Olympics,” he said.

Gangwon Governor Q&A

The following are excerpts from interviews.

Korea Herald: The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games has finally kicked off. What are your thoughts, since you put in so much effort into organizing the Olympics?

Choi Moon-soon: There were many obstacles when preparations should have been in full swing, with the corruption scandal of Choi Soon-sil, impeachment of former President Park, presidential elections and North Korea’s nuclear tests. I am glad that we have now kicked off as a peaceful Olympic Games, with North Korea’s agreement to participate.

Gangwon Province has continued its relationship with North Korea through sports even when official inter-Korean talks were stalled. We thought that the youth football tournament which was held in Kunming, China, last December would be our last chance to persuade North Korea to participate in the Winter Games. So I made a request at a meeting there with North Korean officials.

KH: You referred to the PyeongChang Winter Games as a ‘cultural Olympics’ and a ‘high-tech Olympics.’ Could you tell us the reason?

Choi: First, it’s a cultural Olympics because we prepared programs that could best present the aspects of Korea and Gangwon Province during the Olympic Games. Locals can take part in cultural programs which are held every day. We worked hard to organize the programs as something that could be passed on as a cultural legacy. Some examples are K-pop performances, hanbok festivals and welcoming events for athletes and visitors.

Organizing a high-tech Olympics is also important. The 2018 PyeongChang Games will be the world’s first Olympic Games to provide a 5G network. Internet of Things technology makes a range of services accessible via smartphones during the Olympics, including services regarding transportation, touring, accommodation, shopping and medical aid. The PyeongChang Olympics also provides ultra-high-definition broadcasts and artificial intelligence services such as automatic interpretation and AI call centers.

KH: How did locals in Gangwon Province respond to North Korea’s participation in the Olympics?

Choi: People in Gangwon Province generally welcomed the North’s decision to participate and hold joint practices with South Korea. When we had just taken a step toward a peaceful Olympic Games, talk about “Pyongyang Olympics” and such was shameful. As it is my duty to protect the people in Gangwon Province, I will work hard to secure the Olympic Games as a peaceful event. Depicting ourselves (the two Koreas) to be in conflict is unfavorable in the eyes of the global community as well.

KH: What policy measures did you adopt to bring in foreign visitors?

Choi: The years 2017 and 2018 were designated as the years to ‘Visit Gangwon Province.’ We have promoted the 25th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Korea and China, the 2018 Olympics, Hallyu and so forth as a means of promoting Gangwon Province. We have also collaborated with the Korea Tourism Organization, Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and others. Our marketing targets have become more diverse, from China to Japan, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

So far, we held five road shows overseas, conducted familiarization tours, did joint marketing with Olympic partner tour agencies from 45 countries, and participated in the Korea World Travel Fair.

KH: Gangwon Pronvince has become more widely known thanks to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. What will you do to attract visitors, both from Korea and overseas, to come back after the Olympic Games?

Choi: We have organized a ‘dream program’ since 2004 for teens from warm countries that don’t have snow. After the Winter Games, we plan to continue the program as the biggest legacy of the 2018 Olympics. President Moon Jae-in also emphasized the significance of the dream program in his addresses in foreign countries. He has shown great will about passing on the legacy of the 2018 Olympics to future generations as well.

KH: What progresses have you made as governor of Gangwon Province?

Choi: The international cruise industry in Gangwon Province is making full progress. We finished building an international passenger terminal in Sokcho Port, which allows entry of 100,000-ton cruise vessels, on Sept. 21, 2017. There were 11 of 50,000- to 70,000-ton cruise ships coming in to the port until now, and we expect the number to reach 100 in 2018. We plan to let in even larger ships in 2018.

Also, Yangyang International Airport diversified its air routes to Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries, while it had previously centered on China-bound flights. Currently the establishment of an airline company with Yangyang International Airport as its mortgage is under way.

Meanwhile, the number of foreign visitors have topped 2 million for four years in a row, from 2014 to 2017. Some middle- to large-scale international conferences were also fostered by Gangwon Province, including the first PyeongChang Forum which is to be held in February in Seoul.

KH: On the other hand, what could you have done better?

Choi: The corruption scandal of the Park Geun-hye administration and North Korea’s missile launches deterred enthusiasm of the Winter Olympics from spreading nationwide. We also were not able to secure a sufficient government budget for the management and usage of Olympics facilities after the Winter Games.

What is most unsatisfactory is that Gangwon Province could not secure enough funds for new SOC (social overhead capital) projects, except for 200 million won for a feasibility study on building a new highway from Namyangju of Gyeonggi Province to Chuncheon of Gangwon Province.

KH: Is there anything you would like to add regarding the PyeongChang Winter Games?

Choi: PyeongChang’s Olympic stadium facilities have already been acknowledged as one of the best in the world through a test event conducted last year. I am confident that the Olympic Games will be carried out successfully as well.

Also, all stadiums and facilities where competitions are to take place can be reached within 30 minutes from the PyeongChang Mountain Cluster, which is where PyeongChang Olympic Stadium is located, for the convenience of athletes and spectators.

KH: What do you wish to achieve for Gangwon Province in 2018?

Choi: I wish the Olympic Games could make Gangwon Province appealing to people from around the world, giving them a reason to come back. I also hope to provide a firmer base for locals’ income by developing new technologies in the region such as electric-powered vehicles, carbon and hydrogen technologies, big data technology and digital health care.

Moreover, I hope a better relationship with North Korea could help establish a new industrial complex in Cheorwon, resume tours in Geumgang and develop a “world peace park” which stretches from Seorak to Geumgang. I am also pushing toward the designation of Gangwon Province as a ‘Peaceful Special Self-Governing Province’ to institutionalize peaceful relations between the two Koreas. One of the regions in Gangwon Province, Goseong-gun, is separated by the border, thus is governed both by the North and South. I have already made a proposal to the South Korean government to designate Gangwon as a special self-governing province.

[Profile]

2014: 37th Governor of Gangwon Province

2011: 36th Governor of Gangwon Province

2011: Member, Democratic Party‘s Special Committee to Support PyeongChang’ Bid to host 2018 Olympic Winter Games

2009: Democratic Party Deputy Floor Leader

2008: 18th National Assemblyman

2005: CEO, MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation)

2000: The 1st Chairman, National Union of Mediaworkers

1984: MA in English Language and Literature at Seoul National University

By Kim Yon-se (kys@heraldcorp.com) and Cho Yun-myung (yunc39@heraldcorp.com)