Campaign News from 2004

  • 30 September 2004:

    Too many grains, not enough truth? The following opinion piece appeared in the Korea Times, 29 Sept 2004. It is important to remember that the catastrophic reclamation project has been endlessly justified because of the need to boost food production:

    "With another record harvest expected, this should be the happiest time of the year for domestic rice farmers. In reality, however, some angry peasants are crushing the fruits of their yearlong labor with tractors in protest to what they call the "triple troubles" - declining rice consumption, the influx of cheap foreign rice and the additional market opening. There seems to be no easy way out for Korean farmers from the current dilemma, in which they can neither sit idle nor work hard.

    Over the past 10 years, Korea has been exempted from a full market opening allowing only minimum market access (MMA) for foreign rice. Starting in 2005, however, the country will either have to "tarrificate" rice imports - opening the market completely under high tariffs - or almost redouble the MMA. In any case, the imports will sharply increase, further eroding the farmers' income. Seoul will have to complete tough negotiations with nine rice-exporting countries by the end of this year.

    Worse still, the government will be forced to phase out the state purchase of rice by gradually lowering the purchase prices, under a World Trade Organization rule that calls for the reduction of state subsidies for agriculture. The government's position is to extend the delay in "tariffication" but the negotiating strategy has its own problems, as the exporters demand not only increased MMAs but also lifting the restriction on imported rice for direct competition with homegrown rice as well as other concessions.

    Seoul might opt for a full market opening under extremely high import duties of, say, about 400 percent, as the domestic rice is almost four times as expensive as imports. The problem of tariffication, however, is the nation should dramatically lower the duties over a short period of time. These all mean the government negotiators will have to attain the dual goals of both minimizing further market opening and better control of domestic rice distribution to protect the interests of farmers.

    Trade theoreticians of comparative advantages call for bold concessions in agriculture in return for gains in second or third industries. In Korea, however, rice farming has meant much more than just economy. Besides the psychological importance of rice in this agricultural country of 5,000 years, rice is the key to guaranteeing food security. Maintaining a certain proportion of rice paddies is also essential for environmental reasons and the proper preservation of national land.

    Probably, the country could learn from the lessons of Japan, which has overcome the full market opening with good pricing and distribution policies as well as scaling up rice farming and focusing on specialized varieties. In the negotiations over the next few months, the officials should maintain a transparent channel of dialogue with the representatives of farmers, while coming up with better policies in order to supplement their income.

    (times.hankooki.com/lpage/opinion/200409)

  • 21 September 2004:

    Kunsan to Become Model Company Town. The following report appeared in the Korea Times, 21 Sept 2004 (NB Kunsan (Gunsan) is the city nearest to - and most supportive of - the Saemangeum Reclamation Project):

    "Kunsan in North Cholla Province and Yongam in South Cholla Province are expected to become model company towns.

    The government will present a special law to the National Assembly next month and promote the company town project in earnest, aiming at launching construction of the town by the end of next year.

    The Ministry of Construction and Transportation (MOCT) said Tuesday it will hold a public hearing session Wednesday in Yoido, Seoul, regarding the project and the special law, which includes alleviation of restrictions on total amount of shareholding of other companies and ease of granting of credit binding.

    The government will discuss with the ruling Uri Party and submit the bill to the Assembly.

    The four types of company towns, namely industry and commerce, knowledge-based, travel and leisure, and innovative cluster, will be built across the nation, as part of measures for balanced national development, the MOCT said.

    A company will be able to propose a town project by itself or jointly with a local government.

    The MOCT said two regions are arranging preparatory works to begin establishment of company towns specializing in travel and leisure as soon as the law is passed. It is highly probable that the Kunsan-Saemangum region in North Cholla Province and Yongam in South Cholla Province will be named model company towns within this year, an MOCT official said, on condition of anonymity.

    Although no concrete agenda have been made, the MOCT aims to draw up enforcement ordinances by the end of March next year and designate sites for the projects by next July to begin construction at the end of 2005.

    The government is positively mapping out schemes beneficial to companies, such as excluding a significant amount of investment in social overhead capital by a company for the town project from the current restrictions on total amount of shareholding of other companies, the MOCT said.

    The government plans to partially alleviate the limit on granting of credit for the investment in the project, asking Financial Supervisory Commission chairman to rule out the town project from the application of the granting of credit binding.

    For foreign companies planning to invest in the company town, a tax reduction and advantages will be given based on laws of the free economic zones.

    But the government has not been in agreement with itself regarding the regulation ease, as the Fair Trade Commission and other ministries are against mitigation of the restrictions.

    Firms building company towns will also be given the right to forcibly acquire land in the area of construction, if it succeeds in purchasing more than 50 percent of a town project's site.

    However, the MOCT has prepared measures to prevent companies from utilizing the project for speculation. A company has to fill up more than 25 percent of the total expenses for its town with its own capital and to use a minimum of 30 or 50 percent of the land developed depending on the company town types.

    Construction of a 16.5-million-square-meter company town needs to 28 trillion won worth of investment in three years and generate 200,000 jobs, the MOCT estimates.

    Thus, only few companies will be eligible for the project. Currently, conglomerates like Hyundai Motor, Kumho and Hanjin are showing strong interest in the project, while nine regions, including Wonju in Kangwon Province, Pohang in North Kyongsang Province, Chinju in South Kyongsang Province and Soguipo in Cheju Province, are seeking their investment, according to government sources.

    The company town project was first proposed by the Federation of Korean Industries last year, using the example of the Silicon Valley in the United States and Nice in France.

    (Bae Keun-min, Staff Reporter, Korea Times)

  • 18 September 2004:

    Massive Golf complex planned for Saemangeum.

    After months of official silence about Saemangeum, the Korea Times has just carried the following editorial.

    "Change of Saemangum Project: Construction of Golf Range Should Be Prohibited

    The Saemangum reclamation project is again drawing concern because its original purpose is likely to change, to the apparent detriment of the environment surrounding the region.

    Holding jurisdiction over the area being reclaimed, North Cholla Province plans to build the world's largest golf complex there with 540 holes in order to increase its tourism revenues. The provincial government, which has already forwarded the plan to the central government, is confident in its ability to increase its wealth with the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and the 2010 Shanghai Expo.

    But the construction of the golf complex is certain to invite strong resistance from not merely environmental activists but also an increasing number of the general populace as the entire reclaimed area will be polluted from toxic chemicals used to protect the golf course lawns.

    Environmental and other civic activists have resisted the Saemangum project as the construction of a 33-kilometer breakwater connecting the two counties in the province will destroy nature around the area.

    Because of their protests, the project was suspended in July last year by a lower court's ruling. But the Seoul High Court allowed the project to resume in January.

    The government launched the mammoth reclamation project in 1991 in a bid to create a large amount of arable land and a huge reservoir to help increase the incomes of residents living in the two countries and their surrounding areas.

    The project is scheduled for completion by 2011 at what the government estimates will cost some 3.5 trillion won. But many critics of the project contend that the total expenses will reach more than 6 trillion won.

    The provincial government is set to start building the golf complex as soon as the entire dyke is constructed in 2006. The last 3 kilometers are now being built for the completion of the world's longest breakwater.

    As situations have changed from the start of the project, the central government is considering using the reclaimed land for purposes other than the original one such as building an environmentally friendly high-tech industrial estate which will further increase the incomes of the people in and around the region.

    Strictly speaking, taxpayers have more of a right to decide how to use the reclaimed tidal land than the provincial government because the project is being financed with their precious money.

    There is no reason to construct the golf complex, which will further destruct the environment around the region. Against this backdrop, the provincial government ought to drop the controversial plan immediately." (Korea Times Editorial)

    (The story was also reported on the BirdLife International website under the title "Golf complex will drive shorebirds out of bounds" on 22 Sept. Go to birdlife.net/news/2004/09/saemangeum_golf.html.

  • 22 April 2004:

    Gunsan Council to "restore" Okku salt-pans. In a dramatic u-turn forced by local NGO pressure, Gunsan City Council has stated that the conversion of the Okku salt-pans into shrimp ponds has been stopped, and that they want to reverse the work that has been done. It is not clear at this stage how they will do that; and when. Whilst of course welcoming the decision it has to be hoped that any work will not be done during the spring high tides....

  • 19 April 2004:

    "Der Spiegel" publishes article referring to Saemangeum. A 2-page article "Zug ohne Wiederkehr" (migration without return) was published in "Der Spiegel" 17/2004 (publication date 19 April 2004): 198-199. "Der Spiegel" is Germany's major weekly news magazine with an importance equal to the importance of Time Magazine for the US. The paper mentions explicitly Saemangeum and its importance for Spoon-billed Sandpiper (and there's a photograph by Chris Schenck).

    (With thanks to Axel Braunlich for the information).

  • 10 April 2004:

    Okku saltpans being developed. Terrible news that part of the high-tide roost at Okku - immediately adjacent to the tidal-flats - has been bulldozed: the section known as Hankuk, which supports relatively small numbers of shorebirds, is being converted into a golf-course, the more important Okku salt-pans are being destroyed to create shrimp ponds. We will post more details soon, but in the meantime, Birds Korea's Nial Moores has commented: "It seems to be no coincidence that this work was done now: one practical way to try to get international protests (and with it the need to address obligations concerning biodiversity) to dwindle away: why? Because as the Government has already said, there are no birds there...."

  • 03 April 2004:

    BBC Online reports on Saemangeum.Following an interview with Nial Moores in Seoul, the BBC's Alex Kirby has today posted a report on Saemangeum. (Go to news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/.)

    Whilst not doubting the sincerity and support of Alex in any way, unfortunately the report does carry statements from Ramsar's Gen-Sec Peter Bridgewater in which he says that the reclamation is now all but "inevitable".

    We've posted an open letter that was sent to researchers/scientists, and to the OB listserver in response: Go to Birds Korea Letter.

  • 03 March 2004:

    Birds Korea post report of Korean visit to the UK. A full report looking at the visit to the UK by three of Korea's leading spiritual leaders and two environmental activists to perform the "samboilbae" is posted.

    For details go to Samboilbae for Saemangeum.

  • 10 February 2004:

    Sierra Club send "Saemangeum Protest" letter. Michele Perrault, International VP of the Sierra Club has written to Korean President Roh and to US Secretary of State Powell to re-state the concers that the Sierra Club has about the Saemangeum reclamation, and to warn again of the damage that will be done to Korea's international reputation if the reclamation is not halted. For full text, go to Sierra Club Protest Letter.

    For more about Sierra Club, go to Sierra Club.

  • 08 February 2004:

    Tim Edelsten letter published.Tim Edelsten, a regular contributor to Birds Korea, had a letter to the Korean Times about Saemangeum published:go to times.hankooki.com/lpage/opinion.

  • 08 February 2004:

    Samboilbae performed in Italy. In Italy, the anti-hunting group LAC held a "samboilbae" on February 1st and attracted about 300 people. Whilst the protest (quite rightly) concentrated mainly on the appalling slaughter of migratory birds in Italy, the day was linked to the "samboilbae" in Korea and the UK, and the Italian media were informed about Saemangeum.


    The samboilbae in Italy, organised by LAC.

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  • In Switzerland, Werner Mueller, the Director of Schweizer Vogelschutz (SVS, BirdLife International's Swiss partner), generously provided funds to enable Birds Korea's KIM SuKyung to travel to Zurich, with the Rev SuGyung and MA Yong-un, to take part in a "samboilbae" and wetland celebration which took place at La Sauge, Lac Neuch√Ętel on February 7th.

    Over 50 people took part, and the day was considered a great success.


    The samboilbae in Switzerland, organised by SVS

  • 02 February 2004:

    "Save Saemangeum" Petition Now Closed:

    THANKYOU TO THE 12,025 PEOPLE WHO SIGNED

    The petition was handed in to the Korean Ambassador to the UK on 02 February

  • 01 February 2004:

    Samboilbae performed at Upo Wetland Centre.An event celebrating wetlands and protests about Saemangeum was held at the Upo Wetland Center on February 1st, with a "samboilbae" involving about 50 people taking place between 10 a.m - 12 a.m.

  • The samboilbae in Korea, organised by Upo Wetland Centre.

     

  • 31 January 2004:

    Samboilbae performed in the UK. In the UK a Birds Korea organised "samboilbae" was held at the RSPB's Snettisham Reserve (located just north of King's Lynn in Norfolk) on January 31st. This was the first time that the "samboilbae" was performed in the UK - and representatives from the RSPB, Birdlife, and the Oriental Bird Club were on hand with other concerned birders to both witness the event and to take part.


    The samboilbae at Snettisham, organised by Birds Korea.
    Led by Revs LEE (standing with ceremonial gong), SU-KYUNG (leading the bow), and DO-BEOP (second in the line). Photo © Birds Korea.

  • 29 January 2004:

    Korean court rules that reclamation can continue.

    According to the South Korean Daum news website and other news agencies, a higher court in Seoul announced earlier today (January 29) that the decision last July to suspend the Saemangeum reclamation project has now been over-ruled, following the appeal of the Ministry of Agriculture.

    The court ruled that Mr. Choi-Yul, the former Gen-Sec of KFEM, and the main plaintiff in the case first heard in July, has no legal basis to participate in the court process - as he is not from the actual area being directly affected by the reclamation his concerns can not be formally recognised. Lawyers opposed to the reclamation who are contesting the case have vowed that they will appeal the case to a higher court still.

    This retrogressive but unsurprising decision (considering the power of money politics domestically) comes at a time when 3 of South Korea's leading spriritual-environmentalists and two respected wetland activists are visiting the UK, to raise awareness of the issue and to participate in a ritual "samboilbae" (three-steps-and-one-bow) walk at Snettisham RSPB Reserve on January 31st.

  • 27 January 2004:

    Korean delegation arrives in the UK. Three of Korea's most influential spiritual leaders, the International Campaigner of KFEM, MA Yong-un, and Birds Korea's KIM SuKyung arrived in the UK to take part in the Birds Korea organised "Samboilbae for Saemangeum".