Busan’s Missed Opportunity: A Closer Look at the World Expo 2030 Bid
Busan’s Missed Opportunity: A Closer Look at the World Expo 2030 Bid
  • Reporter Kim Yu-jin
  • 승인 2024.01.01 19:36
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▲A promotional video for the World Expo 2030 Busan / Koreaz
▲A promotional video for the World Expo 2030 Busan / Koreaz

  Busan’s attempt at hosting the World Expo 2030 was in vain. This news would have been a surprise for many South Koreans, as the government and the media were confident that Busan would narrowly take the win with the final vote. With high hopes, they anticipated that they would narrowly beat Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, in the second round of voting. But the overpowering gap of votes in comparison to Riyadh, 119 versus 29, tells us otherwise. 
  Did we stand a fair chance at all, in the first place? South Korea might have a higher GDP and more technologies, but when it comes to diplomacy, we do not have the upper hand. The current South Korean Government’s diplomatic policies and the influence that Saudi Arabia has amongst not only Middle Eastern countries but also worldwide are both not at all in favor of Busan. 
  First, the current government’s diplomatic actions are rather isolated, with a lack of interactions with countries besides the U.S. and Japan. 182 member countries of Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) have qualification for votes on the hosting country for the Expo, many of which are developing countries. Considering this, it is no wonder that the result of the voting came out as it did; South Korea cannot offer these countries what they need the most. The frosty relationship with China, which has a strong influence over African and Latin American countries, does not make the situation any better.
  The South Korean Government has made many efforts, such as President Yoon Suk Yeol meeting 96 heads of state of BIE member countries, ministers dispatched across the globe, and CEOs of multinational corporations based in South Korea promoting Busan. Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and Chey Tae-won, the chairman of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) launched the Bid Committee for World Expo 2030 Busan to promote the Expo by Public-Private Partnership. Despite these efforts, only 29 countries were in favor of Busan. This is because heads of state do not make their moves just by friendly meetings and flattery. Especially in these kinds of voting events, the votes strictly move under the rule of quid-pro-quo. South Korea offered countries with sharing trade secrets to achieve rapid economic growth, transfer of technology, and collaborations in several needed fields. This might be helpful for developed countries, but this is not something developing countries need right now. 
  Compared to South Korea, Saudi Arabia made more tangible offers. Recently, on Nov. 10, the first Saudi-Africa Summit was held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia proposed 10 billion USD to finance Saudi exports and another 5 billion USD for development in African nations. Saudi Arabia also offered debt relief to several African nations such as Ghana, and resolution for conflicts and terrorism. These proposals of substantial support are hard to win with only hopeful solutions that may or may not work for African nations’ economies.
  The final miss was the promotional videos for the Busan Expo. The video was rather concentrated on K-Pop and the overall cultural achievements of South Korea such as award-winning movies and shows, instead of concentrating on the city itself. The video failed to properly introduce Busan, a dynamic coastal city with its distinct architecture, history, and culture. 
  There are many points where the South Korean Government could have done better, but the most shameful part of this defeat is that no one detected something was off about the promotion process. People holding the ship’s rudder covered their eyes, facing away from reality. The absurd remark made by an official mentioning terms such as “oil money” as the reason for the result is a clear example. Observers outside of South Korea have been predicting this result all along, but nobody opened their eyes to accept the current situation, nor did anyone speak up to turn the handle. 
  Now, the South Korean Government is planning to bid for the upcoming Expo 2035. But winning the bid will not fix the fundamental problem at hand, if not anything. The real problem to tackle is South Korea’s diplomacy, intel, and strategy in approaching these kinds of international events. Winning the bid is something that comes consequently from resolving the big problem. We are no longer the “hermit country” of the 1800s. We are living in a world where we cannot survive by ourselves, and South Korea’s diplomacy should evolve in step with the world’s changes. We are no longer followers. We cannot take the next step ahead if we stick to the ways of other countries like in the past when we were overwhelmed just to keep up. It is time to pave a new path that suits us best.