Gangwon Province will be given greater autonomy to develop protected natural areas like forests and farmland and instead foster the high-tech industry after rebranding itself as Gangwon Special Self-Governing Province on Sunday.
Gangwon Province will become the second province to be designated as a special self-governing province, after Jeju Island in 2006. In 2012, the de facto administrative capital of Sejong was also given the same status by becoming a special self-governing city.
Up until now, Gangwon has maintained its status as a province for over six centuries.
But under new set of rules, the provincial government for the next three years will be to place itself on par with the central government to serve as one of the decision-making entities in impact assessments of projects led or approved by the local governments in the region, with regards to the environment, landscape, climate change and human health.
The provincial government will also be partially given the autonomous power to use forests, farmland and land occupied by military forces, to transform them into residential areas, recreational areas for tourists, and high-tech developments.
The special law to change Gangwon's status was enacted in June 2022, but came into effect in May of this year after the passage of a parliamentary revision, and will be in effect tentatively from 2024 to 2026.
The designation is expected to loosen "unnecessary mid-tier regulations" related to national security and the environment in the province, according to President Yoon Suk Yeol. Over 80 percent of Gangwon is covered by forests, while about 3 percent of the province is protected as the fresh source of water. Its economic growth averaged 2.5 percent for 10 years until 2021, slightly less than the nation's overall figure of 2.6 percent and Jeju Island's 3.3 percent.
"Gangwon, which has a wonderful natural environment and abundant resources, will now develop dramatically based on advanced science and technology,” Yoon said in a congratulatory speech during a ceremony at Kangwon National University to celebrate Gangwon's designation as a special self-governing province.
"To achieve this, Gangwon should be able to deregulate itself and embark on development projects," according to Yoon. "This is in line with the balanced development strategy supported by the central government based on allowing each province to determine competitive industries on their own."
Yoon also pledged to sustain the central government's support to foster the growth of high-tech industries in Gangwon.
Backed by such support, Gangwon will prosper as a hub for next-generation mobility technology using hydrogen, with Gangneung a candidate for a national biotech industrial complex, Yoon said.
Gangwon's push for development is not new. Construction of a new railway connecting inland Chuncheon and Sokcho near the shores of the East Sea has been underway since last year. Moreover, a 3.5-kilometer-long cable car system on Seoraksan Mountain gained central government approval in February after a four-decade wait.