SEOUL: The South korea wanted of shipping bulk cargo to Europe via the Arctic Ocean or by rail across the Russian land mass is more than a phantasmagorical fantasy.
It’s the real-life goal of Korea’s East Coast Free Economic Zone, the smallest, newest and possibly most visionary of the eight free zones that South Korean leaders see as the next great leap for the Korean economy.
Whether the dream can possibly come true would seem to depend on reconciliation with North Korea and negotiations with Russia. No matter what, however, promoters of the zone see the port of Donghae on South Korea’s northeast coast as some day ranking along with Busan and Incheon as one of Korea’s top three ports.
“Now we are fourth or fifth,” says Kim Yong-koog, director for investment promotion for the East Coast Free Economic Zone, headquartered in Donghae but also covering one of Korea’s most scenic beaches, a smaller port a few miles up the coast and the important east coast city of Gangneung. “If we connect from South to North Korea, the Trans-Siberian railway will connect from South Korea to Germany.”
Short-term, meanwhile, the East Coast FEZ, formed early last year, foresees dramatic expansion of the Donghae port, now capable of handling 50,000-ton vessels, to a major facility with room for 170 ,000-ton ships. That’s pivotal to making the zone competitive with Busan on Korea’s southeast corner and second-ranking Incheon, across the peninsula on the west coast.
But how can the dream come true when development has yet to begin in any of the zone’s four distinct districts – Donghae, the lesser Okgye port, Gangneung city, and Korea’s longest, best beach, between Okgye and Donghae?
Like Korea’s seven other free economic zones or FEZ’s, this one, across the low-lying craggy mountains that run down the spine of Korea, is built on boundless energy, wild hopes and a deep-seated faith that the Korean miracle will somehow prevail. True, no foreign investors have agreed to build, buy, invest or lease anything, but that’s not stopping this zone from crashing ahead with elaborate plans.