By Bernard Rowan
Choi is famous for having charted a Peace New Deal in his part of Korea. Gangwon Province is home to over 1.5 million people. It includes a border with North Korea at the DMZ, two of Korea's most famous mountains (Seoraksan and Taebaeksan), rich deposits of iron, fluorite and other minerals, and wonderful local products and cultural traditions.
Choi's New Deal concerns hydrogen powered cars and opening travel routes to Seoul from the province (Yangyang Airport and the Wonju-Gangneung Railway). It will feature a new convention center and a LEGOLAND complex. It's also dedicated to regional and international peace through small steps.
Choi explained his philosophy of development and change as embracing challenges and turning them to opportunities. He's led Korea in giving stimulus payments to Gangwon residents. He's leading Korea in spreading technologies for clean energy and transport. He's also working on a new technology for Gangwon's convention center, a post-COVID, mask-free way of creating meeting spaces.
"Small steps" means aiming for peace and prosperity. As Governor Choi shared with me, peace needs patience and cultivating mutual respect. The word "PyeongChang" means peaceful prosperity! Peace wants prosperity, defined as developing economic and cultural exchanges and projects. As those who would be partners take "small steps" to common prosperity, trust opens and hostility fades.
I see in Choi's thinking a continuation of his mantra "keep heads low and increase the participation of the people." Choi's Confucian thinking about the need to help the people where it counts strikes one most clearly in conversation. His infectious smile and optimism are exactly the spirit of the times and show forth in Gangwon's accomplishments.
A member of the Democratic Party of Korea, Choi hopes the PyeongChang Forum will enliven the emerging outlines of a diplomatic approach to North Korea by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President Joe Biden. He's also given to the role of sports in creating friendship, as many of his major achievements show.
Governor Choi is famous for having seen his province host the 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in PyeongChang and for having secured the right to host the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics more recently.
He's also a proponent of economic and cultural exchanges and projects of cooperation. Choi encourages developing local government through building these types of projects in his province. Choi favors a "nonpolitical approach" but one of practical work.
While Choi has great charm and patience, he's not relying on the politics of personal diplomacy. He's relying on the energy of creative works and partnerships. This likely will have to form part of any movement past the impasses created by the Trump administration approach and the Hanoi stalemate.
Choi reminded me that Gangwon is the backbone of Korea. It suffered hardships during and following the Korean War. Emerging from this humble past, Choi's leadership amounts to nothing less than a Korean Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His New Deal for Peace has uplifted the lives and spirits of millions of Koreans and again showed how the Land of Morning Calm amounts to still waters that run deep!
Choi shared with me that developing democracy wants attention to economic development. This approach opens a space for unfolding human rights and democracy. The great leaps of this long-term strategy aren't fully possible to anticipate. It's a strategy needing patient cultivation and use of potential.
I hope that all citizens of South Korea and friends of Korea will travel to Gangwon and see the Peace New Deal for themselves. The region holds a great reserve of potential that has begun to show itself. It deserves attention from all allies of Korea as a site for development projects.
I also hope that students of local government and local autonomy will watch, study, and learn from Choi Moon-soon and his colleagues. Surely among the still too little-noticed but clear lights of Korea is this leader and his vision for humanity.
Bernard Rowan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate provost for contract administration and professor of political science at Chicago State University. He is a past fellow of the Korea Foundation and former visiting professor at Hanyang University.