Gov't Eases Development Restrictions Near Military Bases

中央日報
South Korean soldiers patrol along the border with North Korea in this undated photo.

The government on Wednesday eased development restrictions hundreds of millions of square meters of land near military installations after the Defense Ministry made the decision late last month.

A total of 337 million sq.m of land has been opened for development, the largest chunk in 24 years. The Defense Ministry will also make it easier for civilians to pass through military-controlled areas.

Gangwon Province accounts for 63 percent of the newly opened land and Gyeonggi Province surrounding Seoul for 33 percent. In Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, around 200 million sq.m of restricted land has been opened for development, slashing the proportion of military reserves in the area from 64 percent to 42 percent. In Gimpo west of Seoul, 24.4 million sq.m of military reserves have been opened for development along with 14 million sq.m in Dongducheon north of the capital.

The military will let local governments manage some 24.7 million sq.m near military installations including Seoul's Eunpyeong and Mapo districts as well as Goyang north of the capital, so they can decide whether to ease building height restrictions and engage in other negotiations with locals.

The Defense Ministry also decided to set up radio-frequency identification (RFID) systems at all military checkpoints across the country. Until now, they were used only in certain military installations due to cost concerns, and the change will make it much quicker for civilians living near military bases and visitors to pass through.

The ministry said the restrictions were lifted to improve coexistence with local residents while maintaining defense readiness. But critics accuse the government of trying to win votes for the ruling party in the 2020 general election. Military insiders worry that easing restrictions around key defense installations could lead to security problems.

Cities surrounding Seoul like Pyeongtaek, Yangpyeong and Pocheon are home to key U.S. and Korean military installations, and easing restrictions there could make it easier for North Korean forces to invade.

Cheorwon and Goseong in Gangwon Province are home to many artillery bases. One former officer who served in Cheorwon said, "The latest measures could make it difficult for artillery units to conduct operations. If there are no problems, why didn't they ease restrictions sooner?"

Recently, the ministry also decided to remove 68 percent of barbed-wire fences that had been set up on beaches and river banks across the country to prevent North Korean infiltration.

But locals welcomed the move since it could stimulate regional economies and boost property prices. Expectations were especially high in the huge satellite cities of Paju, Gimpo and Goyang north of Seoul. Real estate prices north of Seoul have been rising since President Moon Jae-in came to office, fueled by hopes of improving cross-border relations.

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, land prices in Paju rose 8.14 percent on average in the third quarter of this year compared to the nationwide average of 3.3 percent. In Goseong, Gangwon Province they rose 6.51 percent.

One estate agent in Munsan north of Seoul said, "We have been getting more and more inquiries about property since this spring, and most people who had land to sell have already done so. Now land owners who haven't sold their property are holding on to their assets because they hope for prices to rise."

But skeptics say development will not progress as rapidly as locals hope. Prof. Shim Kyo-eon at Konkuk University said, "Most of the land where development restrictions have been eased is in areas with practically no demand. There's still a long way to go until development can actually start."

One local government official said, "Real estate developers are buying up land in which local residents have no interest and are selling them at a profit to buyers from Seoul."

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