Almost Secret: China’s Extensive Belt and Road Initiative, Nearly 30 Chinatowns in South Korea – East Asia Research Center
eastasiaresearch.org · by · April 10, 2020
2020-4-10, Tara O
When discussing China’s Belt and Road Initiative, often, nothing is shown on the map for South Korea in major press reporting; however, China’s Belt and Road Initiative projects are active and wide-spread in South Korea. South Korea developed extensive infrastructure decades before China, thus China is not building roads and bridges in an infrastructure-poor country. Instead, China is building enclaves, some of them massive, in South Korea.
A massive Chinatown is being built in a large area in Chuncheon City and Hongcheon County in Gangwon Province (east of Seoul), South Korea, as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. (0:06) The land area of this “China Cultural Complex Town” is 1,200,000 square meters (=129,166,923 square ft = 297 acres = 168 soccer fields), which is inside the La Vie Belle Tourism Zone (라비에벨관광단지). (0:07) It is 10 times larger than the Chinatown in Incheon, where the oldest Chinatown (and also the only one in South Korea for decades until recently) is located; it has expanded greatly in the last decade or so. (0:15)
Massive “China Cultural Complex Town” in Chuncheon City and Hongcheon County, South Korea, part of China’s Belt and Road InitiativeAccording to the Gangwon Provincial office, Governor Choi Moon-soon (최문순) went to Beijing to attend the launching ceremony of the Chinese Cultural Complex Town creation project, and on December 6, 2018, signed an agreement with the People’s Network (人民網), Kolon Global Co. [코오롱글로벌(주)], Internal and External Residents Co. [㈜내외주건], and Korea Wushu Association to build a Chinese Cultural Complex Town in Gangwon Province. The People’s Network is a subsidiary of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) mouth piece, People’s Daily.
The estimated project cost is ₩600,000,000,000 (~$90 million), and the Internal and External Residents Company is to raise funds, and Chinese capital will likely play a key role. (0:43) This is in line with China’s Belt and Road deals, which involve China lending vast amounts of money to other countries for ventures and infrastructure projects. The People’s Daily and People’s Network will be in charge of developing the project planning, “cultural content,” finding Chinese investors, promotion, and advertising of the cultural complex project. (1:26)
Gangwon Province Governor Choi Moon-soon visiting ChinaGovernor Choi Moon-soon is in the ruling party, the Deobureo Minjoo Party (Democratic Party of Korea), which has signed an MOU with the CCP. Choi has stated he is “glad to attend the meaningful ceremony officially announcing the “China Cultural Complex Town,” China’s only “One Belt One Road” project in South Korea” [it turns out there are more] and described the Chinatown as “a little China in Gangwon Province, the Republic of Korea.” (0:51) Although the South Korean government has not officially stated it is participating in the “One Belt One Road” project, the Chinese official website on One Belt One Road stated it as such as well. (2:47) Choi will provide licensing, visas, and other administrative support for the project. The governor’s office expects increased tourism.
National security experts, however, are expressing strategic and security concerns. Less than 10 minutes away are numerous military installations, including one for the 11th Division (Reserves). (1:01) Professor Park Hui-rak stated there are reserve forces in Hongcheon, and these reserve forces are even more important than the active duty in some ways, and he expressed concern that a country that views South Korea as a vassal state is so near the military facilities and forces important to South Korea’s national security. (1:15) Nearby is also one of the key combined training ranges for the South Korean and U.S. militaries. Many local residents were not aware that such a huge Chinatown is being built in the region. (1:38)
In addition to the “China Cultural Complex Town,” a 15-story luxury hotel for Chinese tourists is also under construction in Jungdo (Middle Island), a different part of Chuncheon City. This is at a historical site where they discovered over 10,000 historical artifacts, making it one of the world’s largest prehistoric artifact sites. (1:55) Gangwon Province pressed ahead with the construction, despite the opposition of the civil society organizations for preserving artifacts and the site.
Prehistoric artifacts from a historical site in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, South KoreaKim Jong-moon, the representative from Chuncheon Jungdo Prehistoric Artifacts Preservation Headquarters, expressed yet another concern–China’s attempt to rewrite the history of the neighbors with its Northeast Asia Project, which covers Manchuria and northern Korea with a claim of a multi ethnic unified state of greater China. With China’s claim over Gojoseon (ancient Joseon), Goguryeo (prior to Koryo, from where the name “Korea” was derived), and Balhae as part of its history, it sparked a conflict between South Korea and China in the early 2000s. Mr. Kim said the prehistoric artifacts in Chuncheon destroy China’s claim that ancient Korea was part of Chinese history, and by creating a China Cultural Complex Town in Chuncheon City and Hongcheon Country, China completes its invasion of history. (3:02)
Chinatown in Jindo
The China Cultural Complex Town in Chuncheon and Hongcheon are not the only Belt and Road Initiative projects of China in South Korea. Even more massive is the Chinatown under construction in Jindo (Jin Island), South Jeolla Province (전남 진도 차이나타운). Jindo, with a population of 30,000, is South Korea’s third largest island connected to the Southwestern tip of the peninsula by a bridge, and is across the strait from Jeju Island, where there also are numerous Chinatowns. Whereas the massive Chinatown in Chuncheon and Hongcheon is 297 acres (1,200,000 square meters), the one in Jindo is 8,169 acres (10 million Pyeong), nearly 28 times bigger. Jindo County confirmed the signing of an MOU with BP Group for the development, but refused to share the MOU, stating there are not many details in the MOU. According to Sisa News published in September 2018, the BP Group, a Korean firm in Hong Kong, signed an MOU with China Railway Construction Corporation Ltd., and Jindo County to invest ₩17 trillion (~$150 billion) in the Jindo area. China Railway Construction Corporation, owned by the Chinese government, is planning to build various projects in Jindo, including resorts, port development, electric vehicles, bio medical, beauty, and university(s). According to the World Bank website article dated June 5, 2019, China Railway Construction Corporation was debarred from the World Bank projects due to falsifying information in the procurement of a highway project in Georgia.
South Korea-China Belt and Road Initiative Business Association Chairman and BP Group Chairman Lee JoonSisa News also stated, “Chinatown is also one of the projects that China Railway Construction Corporation considers very attractive. If a large-scale China town is built in Jindo, many Chinese people may migrate, and there may be a new style of culture by fusion of Korean and Chinese culture.” It further states that the most important project is to build a South Korea-China university to send Chinese students to South Korea as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, which is not just building infrastructure, but extending China’s influence and control.
To support China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the South Korea-China Belt and Road Business Association, which is a council of Korean and Chinese companies, was founded in August 2017, and the first chairman of the company is the chairman of the BP group, Lee Jun (이준). Lee generously donated ₩1 billion ($891 million) to the Association, impressing many of the attendees. It is unclear where the $891 million came from or how BP raises funds. In fact, it is unclear exactly where BP Group is located or how it can be contacted. When an investigative reporter at Chosun Monthly tried to contact BP Group in Hong Kong and its branch office in Korea as listed on its website, he could not establish communications with the BP Group as the phone continuously beeped and the emails sent were bounced back. When he called the building management office at the branch office in Seoul, the manager said there is no such business in the building, and that said name never moved into the building. It is puzzling that a company that handles projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars does not list correct addresses, phone numbers, or the emails of its business on its website.
The Belt and Road Initiative in Jindo is little known to South Koreans, but has alarmed those who became aware of it, prompting them to petition the Blue House to stop the projects. The petitions include “Please stop the construction of Jindo Chinatown” posted on December 23, 2018 and “Please stop constructing 50,000 Chinese cities in Jindo, South Jeolla Province” posted on December 25, 2018.
The first petitioner expressed his/her extreme concern regarding a large-scale Chinese investment, citing that other countries that accepted Chinese capital as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative were essentially becoming China’s vassal states under China’s economic pressure.
The second petitioner explained that “The reason why I petition is not that I hate the Chinese. And I am not a racist. However, I’m asking (you to) prevent repeating the same history as the 1919 Japanese annexation of Korea,” expressing his/her concern about South Korea becoming a colony of China.
29 Chinatowns in South Korea and counting
The building of such large Chinatowns in South Korea is surprising. Also surprising is how many Chinatowns there are in South Korea. The following is a list of Chinatowns spread out all over South Korea, including another massive Chinatown in Pyeongtaek (2,320,000 square meter or ~573 acres) next to Garrison Humphreys, the largest U.S. military base in South Korea and Chinatowns on Jeju Island, where a key South Korean naval base is located. There could be more.
Chinatown in Incheon, since 1883 where 2nd and 3rd generation Chinese Koreans liveLuxury Chinatown in Pyeongtaek, Geyonggi Province, near Garrison Humphreys, relatively newSeoul (서울):
- Chinatown, Jayang-dong, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul (광진구 자양동 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, Singil-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul (영등포구 신길동 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, Daerim-dong, Yeondeungpo-gu, Seoul (영등포구 대림동 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, Garibong-dong/Guro-dong, Yeondeungpo-gu, Seoul (영등포구 가리봉동/구로동 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, Doksan-dong, Geumcheon-gu, Seoul (금천구 독산동 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, Bongcheon-dong, Gwanak-gu, Seoul (관악구 봉천동 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, Heukseok-dong, Gwanak-gu, Seoul (관악구 흑석동 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, Myeongnyun-dong, Jongro-gu, Seoul (종로구 명륜동 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, Yeonhui-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul (서대문구 연희동 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul (마포구 연남동 차이나타운)
Incheon Metropolitan City (인천):
- Chinatown, Incheon Metropolitan City (인천 차이나타운)
Gyeonggi Province (경기도):
- Chinatown, Ilsan-gu, Goyang City, Gyeonggi Province (일산 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, Pyeongtaek City (평택시 차이나타운), Gyeonggi Province, 2,320,000 square meters (~573 acres), 600,000 Chinese moved there (중국인 60만명 이주)
- Chinatown, Paldal-gu, Suwon City, Gyeonggi Province (수원 팔달구 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, Wongok-dong, Ansan City, Gyeonggi Province (안산시 원곡동 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, Jeongwang-dong, Siheung City, Gyeonggi Province (시흥시 정왕동 차이나타운)
Gangwon Province (강원도):
- Chinatown, Jeongdongjin-ri, Gangdong-myeon, Gangneung City, Gangwon Province (강원도 강릉시 강동면 정동진 차이나타운 개발중….)
- Chinatown, Chuncheon City and Hongcheon-gun, Gangwon Province (강원도 춘천시 와 홍천군 차이나타운), 1,200,000 square meters (~297 acres)
- Luxury Hotel for Chinese, Jungdo-dong (Jung Island), Chuncheon City, Chinatown (강원도 춘천시 중도동 차이나타운)
Daegu Metropolitan City (대구):
- Chinatown, Jung-gu, Daegu Metropolitan City (대구 중구 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, Dalseo-gu, Daegu Metropolitan City (대구 달서구 차이나타운)
Busan Metropolitan City (부산)
- Chinatown, Busan Metropolitan City (부산시 차이나타운)
South Jeolla Province (전라남도 or 전남 for short):
- Chinatown, Jindo (Jin Island), South Jeolla Province (전남 진도 차이나타운), 10,000,000 Pyeong (~8,169 acres); ₩17 trillion (~$150 billion) investment; under construction) (천만평 땅에 17조원 투자해 건설중)
- Chinatown, Yeosu City, South Jeolla Province (전남 여수 차이나타운) (전략적으로 확보)
- Chinatown, Gwangyang City, South Jeolla Province (전남 광양 차이나타운) (전략적으로 확보)
제주도 (Jeju Province and Jeju Island; Jeju is an island province)
- Chinatown, Sinjeju City, Jeju Province (제주도 차이나타운) (신제주 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, Seogwipo City, Jeju Province (제주도 서귀포 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, the foot of Mount Halla, Jeju Province (제주도 한라산 자락 차이나타운)
- Chinatown, Sangga-ri, Aewol-eup, Jeju City, Jeju Province (제주도 애월읍 상가리 차이나타운), 340,000 Pyeong (~278 acres), under construction (건설중)
The Moon Jae-in government, which has taken a pro-China stance since its inception, has not officially stated it is participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon (이낙연) met with the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) Premier Li Kequiang on Hainan Island in March 2019. After the Hainan meeting, the PRC Foreign Ministry stated that South Korea wants to actively participate in the Belt and Road Initiative and that South Korea wants to cooperate with China in various fields, which caused a controversy in South Korea. (2:45) The Moon administration then flatly denied it. (3:03) In May 2019, however, Jang Ha-sung, South Korea’s ambassador to China told Xi Jin Ping that South Korea wanted to “actively participate” in the PRC’s Belt and Road Initiative, which was captured on China’s state television CCTV.
It is strange that such massive and wide-scale commercial building and Chinatown construction projects involving Chinese capital in South Korea are hardly reported, domestically or internationally. Based on the sheer scale of these China-funded construction projects in South Korea and the volume of Chinatowns in South Korea, it is clear that the South Korean government indeed is actively taking part in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, despite the Moon administration’s denials, South Korean citizens’ trepidations, and South Korean national security concerns.
eastasiaresearch.org · by · April 10, 2020