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Why I will vote for Jeju (but not blindly)
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승인 2011.04.23  15:02:33
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▲ Perhaps the local administration has gone one step too far when police cars become billboards. Photo by Todd Thacker

Whether you support or are ambivalent about Jeju Special Self-Governing Province’s bid to become one of the New7Wonders of Nature, there’s no denying that a lot of time, money and political capital was thrown into the education and voting campaigns.

In addition to the widespread media coverage, various prominent politicians and celebrities were brought in as “honorary ambassadors” to pitch Jeju’s strengths both at home and abroad. NFL player Hines Ward, soccer star Park Ji Sung, maestro Keum Nan Sae and even Korea’s First Lady Kim Yoon Ok joined the effort to spread the word about the vote.

A few months back on the blog “Lost on Jeju,” LoJ stated that he would not be voting for Jeju, in favor of much more impressive world landmarks. I left the following comment:

Agree with you 99%, except that when voting, one votes for seven sites, not just one. So you can throw Jeju into the mix without necessarily neglecting the Grand Canyon, Great Barrier Reef and the like. I voted for those, and Jeju, but as a Canadian can't really bring myself to vote for the Bay of Fundy (I swam there, it's nice and all, but...).

Jeju gets my vote for the uniqueness of its geology and relatively pristine state. It may get more tourists if it wins, but then again tourism is likely to increase anyway. At least as a 7Wonder it may also get more protection (in light of the attention.) I hope so.

Politically, the campaign has stirred up controversy.

There have been accusations that the provincial government has put too much time and money behind an essentially partly for-profit enterprise based in Switzerland, the New7 Wonders Foundation. According to the “Interesting Questions and Answers” page, it is “both a foundation and a commercial operation.”

“The New7Wonders organisation and movement is based on a similar structure to other major international events, such as the International Olympic Committee or FIFA, which are also very popular, with positive objectives while being commercially managed.”

In a recent press conference, Yang Won Chan, the chairman of Pan-Regional Promotion Committee for Jeju’s selection as New7Wonders of Nature, addressed questions swirling around the larger New7Wonders campaign.

“This business is a campaign, not officially qualified by a national organization,” he told journalists. “We are trying to make the world know about Jeju. Even though New7 Wonders is commercial, we are using it for our own purpose rather than being used by it.”

Asked about telephone voting charges that are passed on to citizens and civil servants who, as has been reported in the media, are told to vote 10 times a day, Yang said, “We should not be involved in the parts that are related to the communication agreement. I guess the profits will go to New7Wonders foundation.”

It’s hard not to see the cynical side to this so-called “confidence campaign” as it’s been dubbed in the Korean press. After all, the campaigns for Jeju to become a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site in 2007 and part of the Global Geopark Network in 2010 are fresh in our minds.

Whatever happens, I hope the substantial time and money invested will somehow, fortuitously, pay off for this beautiful and worthwhile cause — Jeju Island.
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