|Gwangju Mayor Lee Yong-sup, right, and South Jeolla Governor Kim Young-rok hold an agreement for administrative integration during a ceremony in Gwangju, Nov. 2. Yonhap|
Administrative mergers gain momentum for tackling low growth, population crisis
By Do Je-hae
Governors and mayors are rushing to merge with adjacent cities for economic benefits as well as administrative effectiveness.
The trend is highlighted by a series of discussions on administrative integration by cities and provinces that have been struggling particularly with low population and lack of jobs. This includes the ongoing discussions to merge Daegu and the adjacent North Gyeongsang Province, Gwangju and South Jeolla Province and some cities in the interior Chungcheong region.
The heads of local governments have underlined the need to integrate with neighboring cities and provinces to enhance their competitiveness by increasing their population and economic size for survival in the face of the ever-growing Seoul metropolitan area. As of last year, more than 50 percent of the nation's population resided in Seoul and the adjacent Gyeonggi Province and Incheon, surpassing the 50 percent mark for the first time in the nation's history.
The integration of Gwangju and South Jeolla Province has been gaining momentum after an agreement signed by Gwangju Mayor Lee Yong-sup and South Jeolla Province Governor Kim Young-rok earlier this month. "The agreement is a very meaningful step in opening a new era of Gwangju and South Jeolla," Mayor Kim said during a press conference.
The two local government chiefs agreed during a ceremony at the Kimdaejung Convention Center in Gwangju, Nov. 2, to launch discussions on the administrative integration, starting with a one-year study by the Gwangju Jeonnam Research Institute in Naju, South Jeolla Province, on the necessary measures and procedures.
In the agreement, the two local government heads said: "We agree that discussions on the administrative integration of Gwangju and South Jeolla Province are needed to strengthen the political, economic and cultural capacities of the two regions and promote balanced regional development. The discussion on the integration should take place amid harmony and communication between citizens of Gwangju and South Jeolla Province residents."
If Gwangju and South Jeolla Province are integrated, they can create a bigger economy with a population of 3.28 million and gross regional domestic product (GRDP) of 116 trillion won. Based on the integrated population, the regional government and politicians are hoping to gain influence over the central government's policy-making on regional development and budgetary decisions. Through the merger, they also hope to secure conditions to proactively respond to immediate challenges such as the rising industrial competitiveness in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The concept of administrative integration is also popular among citizens. In a recent survey by Mudeung Ilbo based in Gwangju, 51.4 percent of the respondents said they agreed on holding discussions for integration.
Daegu, once an industrial center of the country with its booming textile business and tourism, has long been looking for breakthroughs for an economic revival. In this regard, it has shown a high level of enthusiasm toward a proposed administrative merger with North Gyeongsang Province. The two are aiming for achieving the integration by July 2022. They jointly launched a taskforce in January and a committee to discuss integration in September.
In addition, South Gyeongsang Governor Kim Kyoung-soo has also joined the trend for an administrative integration between his province and Busan.
There is also an active discussion among cities in the Chungcheong region regarding administrative integration, such as Daejeon, the nation's science and IT research hub, and Sejong, the adjacent city which partly serves as the nation's administrative capital housing most of the government ministries.