The social inequities evident in the suburbs of Seoul are another significant factor going against its stature as a global city. For example,
“South of Inchon lies the suburb of Chun-An, some 40 miles from downtown Seoul. Chun-An has lured financing and facilities from Korea’s financial giant to the East. Japanese manufacturers, especially electronics producers, have settled in the Chun-An Industrial Estate. Korea Industrial Complex Corp. (Kicox), which runs the 25 largest industrial parks across the nation, requires manufacturers who want space in that Industrial Estate to maintain at least a 30% foreign stake” (Shin and Timberlake, 2004).
Despite the impressive array of industries set up in the suburbs of Seoul, the lifestyle and incomes of residents there have remained stagnant over the last two decades. For example, just twenty miles south of the city is the information technology region of Suwon, which boasts of hosting leading foreign technology manufacturers in the world. But, this evidence of technological advancement loses its shine when seen in light of the highly populated residential complexes surrounding Suwon, where the socio-economic conditions are very ordinary (Shin and Timberlake, 2004).
While the economic aspects of Seoul, marked by the increase in size of its manufacturing and design industries is a sure sign of the city’s advancement into the global stage, certain anomalies associated with this condition undermines this status. For example, the whole of Korea hosts a fifteen billion dollar manufacturing and design industry, with Seoul being the epicenter of all this activity (Shin and Timberlake, 2004). With more growth slated for the immediate future, Seoul’s claim to be a global city seems quite legitimate. But competition from other prominent cities in East and South-East Asia is proving to be a formidable challenge to overcome. For instance,
“Seoul isn’t alone in seeking to boost its global standing through design. Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Yokohama all hold ambitions to be design centers. Then there’s global competition from cities like London, Paris, Milan and New York, with many decades as leading arbiters of design. Yet design industry leaders insist there’s big potential in Korea. For one, Seoul beat some 20 rivals, including Singapore and Dubai, to be named ICSID’s first World Design Capital to be chosen through competition.” (BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, 2008)
The volatile and unpredictable relations between and within the North and South Korea has disrupted the growth pattern of both economies. This is no insignificant factor to consider in the process of classifying Seoul as a truly world class city. After all, Seoul is not just the economic capital of South Korea, but also its political capital. And the implications of political instability to the economic scenario are only too well known, as the stark empirical documentation of their relation shows. The diplomatic efforts on part of both neighbors are bound to have a crucial impact on the future prosperity and stability of Seoul. In this context, the recent negotiations between the respective premiers to resolve some longstanding issues are a good sign. But to remind the international community of the delicate nature of North-South relations, the meeting was disrupted by protests from some prominent labor unions (BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, 2008). Ironically, the demands of the labor are as old as the nations themselves and any agenda of negotiation that does not pay heed to the concerns of the working class will only be an incomplete one. The social realities of this self-proclaimed global city are best captured from the following passage:
“More than 700 disputes continue to fester following a rash of strikes that first broke out in July. At a Hyundai Heavy Industries shipyard in Ulsan, where walkouts resumed after wage talks collapsed, a striker died and three others were seriously injured when a driver, whom they had beaten, got back into his truck and ran them over. Some 13,000 strikers occupied the yard, smashing windows, setting fire to cars and battling riot police. Late in the week police raided Hyundai and a second occupied plant and dragged away 200 strikers. Alarmed by the disturbances, Kim and Roh vowed to push for revision of South Korea’s labor laws, which largely favor management” (Hieyeon, 2000).
What we gather from the above description is a typical case of oppression of the working classes. Consistent with a Marxian view of the world, the legislative climate in Seoul is loaded heavily in favor of vested corporate interests, undermining democratic progress. Until such social inequalities are addressed earnestly, Seoul’s image to the world community will remain tarnished and any pretences of being a truly global city will only be such (Hieyeon, 2000).