Song Do’s Financial Problems in the Wall Street Journal

Nial Moores PhD, Birds Korea, January 6th 2014

Thanks to a Birds Korea supporter for drawing attention to a piece last month (on December 6th) in the Wall Street Journal, accessible at:

Entitled “South Korea’s $35 Billion ‘Labor of Love’: Developer Struggles to Build a City From Scratch”, the Wall Street Journal article tells how:

Songdo has been a financial disappointment for its developer, a venture of U.S. developer Gale International and Posco Engineering & Construction…the developer hasn’t earned any profits for the 12 years of work it has put into building Songdo…about half of the commercial space in Songdo’s gleaming office skyscrapers is empty because the business district has struggled to attract tenants…

While unable to comment usefully on the economic “struggles” of this project, it is perhaps worth noting that Song Do is often cited domestically as the most successful of these international Free Economic Zones (which include Saemangeum and Pyeongtaek), and also that this article comes only a few months after public recognition that the Four Rivers project is a financial “bottomless pit” and a “fraud” (see:

In addition, we also felt it necessary to write to the journalist behind this article to ask for correction to the opening sentence:

About a decade ago, a huge tract of land reclaimed from the Yellow Sea west of Seoul was a barren wasteland. Today it is a city named Songdo”

This is not true.

About a decade ago, much of the land being constructed at Song Do was not “wasteland”. Rather, much of it was still intertidal wetland, some impounded, much still open to the sea. In its natural state, intertidal wetlands at Song Do supported shell-fishing communities; contributed to climate change amelioration (as tidal-flats are carbon sinks); and supported internationally important concentrations of many waterbird species, including several globally threatened species. As such, the wetlands at Song Do should have been conserved in line with pre-existing obligations to the intergovernmental Ramsar Convention.

And even now, in early 2014, internationally important intertidal wetlands are still being reclaimed at Song Do.

This reclamation at Song Do continues despite public commitments by our national government (as recently as 2008) to permit no more large-scale tidal-flat reclamation; despite the obvious irony that Song Do now houses the Green Climate Fund office referred to in the Wall Street Journal article; and despite the fact that even now, when “about half-finished”, half of the existing office space already lies empty. Why the need to keep on destroying natural tidal-flats?

As at Song Do, reclamation of Ramsar-defined internationally important intertidal wetland also continues in several other Economic Free Zones, as it does along much of the east coast of China. Why?

Intertidal wetland is not wasteland. In its natural state it has multiple values and contributes enormously to national and global economic, social and
environmental health. According to the IUCN’s special report in 2012, reclamation of intertidal wetland is resulting in “Fisheries and vital ecological services …collapsing and ecological disasters increasing, with concomitant implications for human livelihoods” (download the full report here: ttps://

Reclamation of tidal-flats does not make economic sense. In the year that our nation will host the next Convention on Biological Diversity conference, this seems an especially timely and important truth to remember.

For more on bird conservation issues at Song Do and how the area looked a decade ago, please see:

In Korean at:

And for more on the context of the 2012 IUCN report:


2 comments on “Song Do’s Financial Problems in the Wall Street Journal

  1. I think the “barren wasteland” refers to the area immediately after reclamation, rather than the tidal flats that were there before the area was reclaimed, but of course this does not alter the fact that reclamation of tidal flats is ongoing, indeed converting rich, productive mudflats to more “barren wasteland”, prior to further (uneconomic?) development

  2. Pingback: More on the Economics of Free Economic Zones and Reclamation « Birds Korea Blog

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