[INTERVIEW] Busan mayor confident that city can beat Saudi Arabia in World Expo vote Busan Mayor Park Heong-joon speaks at his office in Busan on Oct. 25. [BUSAN METROPOLITAN CITY] Busan Mayor Park Heong-joon remains unwavering to the end in his steely determination for the southern port city of Busan to win its bid for the World Expo 2030 ahead of today’s final host vote in Paris . “It’s not over until it’s over,” Park told the Korea JoongAng Daily in a recent email. Park believes that Korea has a shot at defeating formidable competitor Saudi Arabia, and compared the competition to a game of Go. “In terms of Go, It’s like a ‘game to the end,’ meaning that the competition stays neck and neck between both participants in the game. In the expo bid, the two players are Saudi Arabia and Korea, and they are playing with only a one-point difference.” True to his word, the mayor has been on his toes overseas for the latter half of this month. Since Nov. 13, he has met up with Southwest Asian member states of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) in a last-minute spurt to promote the city’s candidacy. Park then traveled to Paris on Nov. 20, where he continued to attend various seminars and international events until today, when the 182 BIE member states will elect World Expo 2030’s host city via a secret ballot vote. According to the Busan Metropolitan City, Park has traveled the distance of 238,504 kilometers (148,199 miles) since he began promoting the Expo bid — equivalent to having circled the globe six times. He has met 393 BIE delegates from 135 countries while in Korea, and 104 delegates from 51 countries while overseas. In total, Park has personally met with 497 individuals from 143 countries, hoping to sway them to the side of Busan. Busan Mayor Park Heong-joon virtually participates, from Paris, in an event in Busan promoting the city’s bid to host World Expo 2030 on Nov. 21, a week before the final vote by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) takes place in Paris on Tuesday. [NEWS1] The strategy that the mayor took on laid in “tailored cooperation.” He hoped that the member states could be rationally persuaded to vote for the city if they saw realistic benefits they could gain from the cooperation. Korea’s economic growth from an impoverished nation to an advanced one is an impressive feat to flaunt to others, Park says. “Korea is a country which showed unprecedented growth after the 1950-53 Korean War, propelled by the support and cooperation of the international society,” Park said. “The ultimate reason that we want to host World Expo 2030 is that we can reciprocate all the help that we received from the rest of the world. “I wholeheartedly believe that we can secure this bid if the other nations feel our sincerity. Until the last moment before the vote ends on Nov. 28, we will humbly give all our energy on retaining more votes without jumping to hasty conclusions.” Park gave detailed explanations of his visions for the Expo, as well as road maps into his promotional activities for the bid and the projects the city has been undergoing in preparation to host the event. The following are excerpts of the interview, which have been condensed and edited for clarity. Q. You recently revealed your strategy for the second-round voting, which will be necessary if no country secures two-thirds of the votes. Are you confident that Busan will make it to that stage? A. Although Rome is also a major contender with powerful diplomatic power and has prior experience hosting the expo, the consensus reached by the majority is that Busan and Riyadh are the leading candidates who will make it to the second round of votes. Saudi Arabia has the upper hand against Korea for the first round of votes because it started promoting the bid a year earlier than us and therefore had more time to persuade the countries to their side. Plus, regions from the Middle East do tend to favor Saudi Arabia over us, driven by Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud’s active networking and promotion of the bid. Meanwhile, Korea’s strategy is multifaceted, as the entire nation is unanimously working together, utilizing all sorts of networks from the government, Busan city, companies and citizens to host the expo. We are focusing on one-on-one communication with each individual country to convince them of what medium-to long-term benefits that they can actually gain by cooperating with Korea. The two countries are in a neck-to-neck race here, and I predict that no one country will be able to secure the majority of the vote in the first round. So we’re working on strategies to bring the victory over to us for the second round. We’re trying to meet as many individual countries as we can, one-on-one, to persuade them to be on our side in the second round. BTS performs during its free concert “BTS 〈Yet To Come〉 in Busan” on Oct. 15, 2022, at the Busan Asiad Main Stadium. [BIG HIT MUSIC] Team Korea has used soft power elements such as calling BTS fans around the globe and hosting this year’s 2023 Invest KOREA Summit at the southern port city to promote the bid. Looking back, what do you believe was the most effective way to promote the city? Countless government-led Expo events have been hosted here, but the one that clearly incorporated Busan Expo’s vision was the World Climate Industry Expo 2023 that wrapped up in May. If Busan does host the expo in 2030, that is the year when, hopefully, the sustainable development goals adopted at the United Nations summit in New York in September, 2015, will be realized. This year’s World Climate Industry Expo came with higher importance to showcase to the world that Busan and Korea are already active, as responsible members of international society, to resolve the climate crisis. At the climate expo, the city announced the start of the “Busan Initiative” project, in which the city will draw on its experiences achieving spectacular economic growth and developing technologies to come up with tailored solutions for each country’s environmental problems in water and food shortage, energy, climate change and health. You may have received this question countless times, but let me ask this once again: If you had one last chance to persuade the BIE member states, what would you say distinguishes Busan from Riyadh and Rome? Busan is a city with infinite attractions. Historically, Busan served as the primary gateway through which foreign civilizations entered this region. The city was at the heart of Korea’s transformation into an economic powerhouse, with its prowess in technology, from an impoverished country. It is the perfect location to host the World Expo 2030, with its distinct personalities of tolerance, openness and uniqueness and its history of modern development. Due to its experience and history, the city is flexible to cooperate on all levels of business matters from manufacturing to digital and new industries, and I sincerely believe the city will serve as the most suitable platform for countries, organizations and companies to exhibit their advancements, ideas and solutions to global challenges. The foreign visitors who had the chance to see the city through international events hosted to promote the expo bid adored the place. The city is surrounded by the sea, with nightscapes even more beautiful than Hong Kong’s, clean air, convenient public transportation and top-notch security measures that make the city safe. It also habitually holds festivals and leads with global soft power. As I’ve said it before, the potential and charisma that the city holds are infinite. Busan Mayor Park Heong-joon makes an opening speech at the 2023 Invest KOREA Summit in Busan on Nov. 7. [YONHAP] What economic and cultural effects could this mega-event bring to citizens of Busan and Korea? Will they feel that they benefit from all these efforts that have been put into expo promotion? The Busan metropolitan government’s ultimate dream is to turn the city into a global hub for all, a city that one wants to be born into again, a city where its residents can be truly happy. Korea’s first bid to make Busan the host of World Expo will be a game changer to turning this dream into reality. The city is making considerable headway on its projects that were spurred by the expo bid, such as the construction of the Gadeokdo New Airport and the redevelopment of North Port. Hosting the expo is not only a mega-event for Busan. I truly believe that hosting the expo could improve life quality for Busan residents, provide bases for the future generation to settle down in the city and resolve capital-centric problems. Thus, the projects that the city is committing to are part of a process to set the appropriate atmosphere, culture and global environment as the host city. If Busan can successfully host the event, it will bring about massive ripple effects in industry and propel new growth engines, as the city becomes the groundbase for all sorts of global cooperation and business partnerships. Busan Mayor Park Heong-joon speaks at his office in Busan on Oct. 25. [BUSAN METROPOLITAN CITY] Based on your firm conviction and belief that Busan will win, I perceive that you have already started planning out the next step. What is the overall road map that you have planned for the city until the lead up to the global mega-event? Two of our front line projects, Gadeokdo New Airport and the redevelopment of North Port, are well under way. The blueprint for the new airport will be announced next month, the organizing committee will be finalized by April next year and we will break ground for construction to begin by December 2024. It is scheduled to officially open by December 2029. This part of our infrastructure is crucial to the city, not only for travel purposes, but also as a global logistics hub. The feat that we like to flaunt is that the activities we’ve undergone to promote the World Expo gave us free passes to fast-forward the opening of the airport ahead by six years, and, overall, accelerated Busan’s growth by 10 to 20 years. We’ve already surpassed our record-high number in securing corporate investments of 3.9 trillion won ($2.9 billion) by the end of October, and promising companies in logistics, finances, blockchain and semiconductors are flocking to Busan seeing the city’s bright potential. Our plans for these projects will stay on place and be executed accordingly, as will the relocation of the state-run Korea Development Bank to Busan. We will also push forward to create the city’s unique cultural tone and tourism-related ecosystem in arts, workcation, food and coffee, and establish the needed infrastructure to become the “15-minute city,” where a person can reach any destination within 15 minutes. The city will continue to its journey to becoming a global hub, and it will transition itself from a city that youths once fled to a city where youths can dream and realize their goals. All in all what did Busan and Korea gain from their 2-year-long journey bidding for World Expo 2030? This whole process became an opportunity to present Busan to the world in aspects of its culture, industry and tourism, not as the secondary city [after Seoul] of Korea. The president, prime minister and heads of conglomerates roamed around the world to promote the city, and many, many VIPs came to see Busan in return. Busan ranked No. 19 globally among 75 cities in London’s think tank Z/Yen Group’s latest ranking of cities with a focus on digitization, even surpassing Seoul. On “The Global Liveability Index 2023” published by Britain’s Economist Intelligence Unit, Busan ranked No. 6 among Asian nations. Busan was the only Asian city to be picked by National Geographic magazine as one of the “top 25 breathtaking places and experiences for 2023.” Travel platform Trip.com named the city a “rapidly popular travel destination” and voted it a “top two” destination for 2023 alongside Vienna. The city also secured a record-high investment figure of 8.6 trillion won across 101 deals made over the last two years. For the nation itself, Korea had the opportunity to expand its diplomatic relations with regions from Africa, Central America and South America, with which it hadn’t had as much contact before. Korea already has a high international status as the one and only member to have been elevated from the emerging group of nations to the advanced category by the UN Conference on Trade and Development. Promoting the expo became a window of opportunity for Korea to actively propose our own unique solutions to global challenges, and it set up a foothold to propel the country forward to become a global key player. BY LEE JAE-LIM [lee.jaelim@joongang.co.kr]

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