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close this bookEmerging World Cities in Pacific Asia (UNU, 1996, 528 pages)
close this folderPart 2. Changing Asia-Pacific world cities
close this folderSeoul: A global city in a nation of rapid growth
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe determinants of a world city
View the documentThe spatial pattern of industrialization
View the documentThe primacy of Seoul and the capital region
View the documentA new perspective in spatial policy: Globalization
View the documentConclusions
View the documentReferences


Globalization is the reality of the 1990s. In the coming years, many nations will go through industrial restructuring to accommodate a new international division of labour. In consequence, there will be a large increase in international trade and in cross-border movements of labour and machinery, FDI, and other forms of international cooperation. After two decades of compressed economic growth, the comparative competitiveness of South Korean industries is being contested in world markets. During the past few years of democratization, labour costs increased far more rapidly than in Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong. On the other hand, South Korean industries are lagging behind in technological development to offset the wage hike. Major South Korean export sectors, such as textiles and consumer electrics, are losing their competitive edge to China and the ASEAN countries. After a short-lived trade surplus in the three years 1986-1989, the trade deficit exceeded US$10 billion in 1991. In these circumstances, South Korean companies are forced to search for new areas of investment (FDI) and trade partners abroad.

The growth of Seoul and the Capital region has been regarded as resulting from the compressed economic growth of the nation. The government initiated the decentralization policy for Seoul and the Capital region in the early 1960s. In spite of restrictive policy measures, population and industrial activities in the region have been growing. The economies of agglomeration in Seoul and the Capital region continue to attract various industries including producer services and high-tech and information-oriented industries.

A world city is characterized by the competitiveness of its residents. The global competitiveness of the residents makes the city global. Therefore, a global city is one with "environments" favouring the competitiveness of the residents. With Seoul's stringent regulations to control metropolitan growth, bottlenecks are created in transportation, housing supply, and other infrastructures. The quality of life has been deteriorating, especially as regards air and water pollution and severe traffic congestion. For the nation's competitiveness, the residents of Seoul should be competitive in world markets. Therefore, it is necessary to revitalize the "environments" of Seoul by modifying the spatial policy of growth control in Seoul and the Capital region.

In relation to its city size and the export orientation of the national economy, the city of Seoul is relatively deficient in terms of its international activities. But some new factors are likely to change the role of Seoul in the world system. First, South Korea became a member nation in the United Nations, along with North Korea, in October 1991. South Korea will thus participate more widely in UN-related activities. Seoul will house most of these activities and their office space. With the liberalization of services under United Nations agreements, an influx of various service activities is expected from the advanced nations, especially in producer services such as banking, insurance, communications, and professional services. With the increasing trend towards regional cooperation in the Pacific Asian countries, Seoul will become a major centre of regional cooperation in the Far East.

The long-standing government policy of decentralization for the Seoul-Capital region has obviously been ineffective in controlling the further agglomeration of Seoul. Although the signs of a population "J" turn from the region have very recently been detected, especially in manufacturing activities, the concentration of producer services and information in Seoul is increasing. At the same time, Seoul's role as a central city is increasing.

The restructuring of various spatial policies seems to be inevitable. The new emphasis of planning in Seoul and the Capital region should be on restructuring the functions of the area more efficiently. With globalization, the management of the growth of the region became important. Therefore, the growth control policy in Seoul and the Capital region should be coupled with growth management to enhance the efficiency of the spatial system of the region and the government's efforts to develop large cities in the provincial areas.