By Jung Da-min
Concerns are being raised over possible regional economic crises in cities near the inter-Korean border as they are seeing a considerable population outflow with military units in the region having been or set to be withdrawn or unified in the near future. This is in line with the country's overall Defense Reform 2.0 troop drawdown plan.
Under the five-year plan announced by President Moon Jae-in last July, the military is seeking to be smaller but "smarter" to counter the demographic cliff the country is facing. The combined number of troops in the ROK Armed Forces ― the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines ― is currently 618,000 but the government is planning to cut this by 118,000 by 2022.
Out of the eight corps currently being operated by the Republic of Korea Army, two ― VI Corps in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province and VII Corps in Yangyang, Gangwon Province ― will be disbanded, while the number of Army divisions will also see a reduction from 39 to 33, according to military sources.
The 26th Mechanized Infantry Division in Yangju, Gyeonggi Province has already been integrated into the 8th Mechanized Infantry Division in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province as of last December, while the other five divisions in Gyeonggi and Gangwon Provinces ― the 30th (Pocheon) and 20th (Yangpyeong) Mechanized Infantry Divisions and the 28th Infantry Division (Dongducheon) in Gyeonggi Province, and the 27th (Hwacheon) and the 23rd (Samcheok) Infantry Divisions in Gangwon Province ― are set to be amalgamated or disbanded.
The 2nd Infantry Division in Yanggu, Gangwon Province will also be disbanded while a smaller division of a rapid reaction force will be newly created.
As merchants in small-populated border regions mostly target soldiers as their main sources of income, the ongoing or planned moves by the military is causing a heavy backlash among them.
Yanggu and Hwacheon in Gangwon Province are likely to lose 4,000 or more "residents" each, once the soldiers in the divisions to be disbanded and their family members leave.
The current populations of Yanggu and Hwacheon were 23,248 and 25,084 as of late June.
Gangwon Province Governor Choi Moon-soon and the mayors of Hwacheon and Cheorwon in Gangwon held a meeting with officials of the Army's Ground Operations Command, June 28, to discuss any possible measures to minimize the effects of the outflow of the military population.
No results came from the meeting; but Ground Operations Command chief Lt. Gen. Nam Yeong-shin said the military will be "reviewing the expansion of soldiers' going out and sleeping out."
Governor Choi said the local government will explore a "win-win model" in collaboration with the military, adding that the fundamental solution is to reduce shop owners' dependence on them.
"We will make efforts to foster autonomy by invigorating peace tourism-related projects and improving the landscape," Choi said referring to tourism projects he has been promoting capitalizing on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the concept of inter-Korean peace.