▲ Kang Min-cheol opposes a casino and luxury condos on his land. Photo by Darren Southcott
After succeeding in blocking a large Malaysian development in Yerae-ri, Seogwipo City, a landowner has said that now is the last chance to save Jeju from “reckless development.”
The Supreme Court ordered an end to construction at the Berjaya Jeju Resort project in April after finding Berjaya Group had misled landowners over land use at the site.
Kang Min-cheol, chair of Yerae Ecological Village, is resisting the 2.5-trillion-won project on principle, and he says it is indicative of a wider malaise in Jeju development.
“I have sacrificed a lot of time and money for this, but I will not give up. I don’t want my descendants to be ashamed of me... Jeju people need to get together and clearly understand what is going on here, “ said Kang.
As Kang shows The Weekly around beautiful gardens in Yerae-ri on Jeju’s south coast, he points to the land rising just to the east where the 74,4205 square-meter Jeju Free International City Development Center’s (JDC) core project was due to rise.
With 60 percent of the project completed, and 147 condominiums pre-sold, the Supreme Court upheld an earlier High Court ruling that the inclusion of luxury condos and a casino meant the project was an “amusement park” rather than a “residential-type complex.”
Residential-type complexes should satisfy certain public-good requirements under the National Land Planning and Utilization Act.
Berjaya nevertheless ignored the Supreme Court and continued construction before finally downing tools in July. The construction site remains half-finished and deserted to this day.
In response, a JDC spokesperson said that, although the initial plans did not include a casino, Berjaya was at liberty to add one according to the Jeju Special Law as the project was valued at more than 500 billion won.
However, by not being explicit with its land-use intentions, the Malaysian conglomerate avoided paying landowners a premium for their land. Twenty-two landowners thus resisted the project, and now only four remain — Kang the only local among them — after the others accepted increased compensation.
“The rest of them were motivated by money, and although they have now given up, I will go to the end. This development does not serve the interests of our region... Government has to return the benefits of development to the local people. In the current system all benefits go to the corporations. It is nonsense to me,” said Kang.
The case has “broken the community,” he added.
“First, they said they are going to build something for the public so they persuaded the local leaders and landowners. Then people got confused with the direction and the local community fell apart,” he said.
He claims developers used the tactic of “carrots and sweets” to push through the project, before resorting to “blaming each other” when things went wrong.
▲ The abandoned Berjaya project. Photo by Darren Southcott
Clearly impassioned, Kang said Jeju people must wise up to the danger of becoming exploited like “native islanders elsewhere,” even claiming parallels between foreign conglomerates and 13th-century Mongol occupation.
The lack of consultation regarding the inclusion of a casino in the project is particularly worrying for Kang.
“Jeju people cannot really envisage the downsides of having casinos here... they don’t realize the full implications. They are not even concerned about it. They just see a new development and think, ‘Oh, I can get some benefit from that,’ “ he said.
A recent report by the Chinese state broadcaster, CCTV, seemed to confirm his fears, exposing rampant extortion, passport theft and prostitution by agents associated with Jeju casinos.
When it comes to apportioning blame, however, Kang cites the corporations, the province and, primarily, JDC, the public-private entity in charge of most of Jeju’s large-scale projects.
“The people at JDC are not competent to direct Jeju development. I am worried that further down the line we are going to see even bigger problems. They are modeling Jeju on Hong Kong or Singapore. They will make the whole island as crowded as the five-day market. We won’t have anywhere left to live happily,” he said.
Rather than accepting the Supreme Court ruling, the province is seeking to push the project through by amending the Jeju Special Law and bringing amusement park management under the auspices of the province. The National Assembly will consider the proposals on Nov 9.
As for the current predicament, Kang would like to see the development continue — but this time to benefit all Jeju people.
“Legally, they have to destroy the buildings. But in my opinion we should come up with a different model for the project. Something that fits Jeju. However, if the government was interested in the quality of life for residents, they wouldn’t be going in this direction,” he said.
Walking in the expansive grounds of the ecological center, Kang’s face beams for the first time all morning. Clearly more comfortable in the outdoors, he talks of the fireflies of his youth as we walk beside the crystal-clear brook slicing toward the sea.
While the JDC says that the debacle represents a threat to foreign investment and Jeju’s 26 other “amusement park” projects, Kang believes it is now time to reconsider the island’s development direction.
“I would like to get rid of this screwed-up casino gambling, this is not tourism. The landscape should be the foundation for everything. We need people in charge who can see the full picture and value Jeju for its true worth,” he said.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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