Yoon apologizes for Busan’s Expo bid failure; Mayor open to 2035 rebid

President Yoon expressed his appreciation for the all-out efforts of those involved in Busan's bid, which had been ongoing since June 2022.

Son Ji-Hyoung

Son Ji-Hyoung

The Korea Herald


President Yoon Suk Yeol delivers a speech to the nation in his office in Seoul on November 29. PHOTO: YONHAP/ THE KOREA HERALD

November 30, 2023

SEOUL – President Yoon Suk Yeol on Wednesday extended an apology for the South Korean port city Busan’s failure to host the World Expo 2030.

“I feel that we greatly missed our prediction target, which was based on what we’ve felt from meetings (to ask for support for Busan’s bid),” Yoon said in a 10-minute speech to South Korean citizens at his office. “The blame is all on me.”

Yoon expressed his appreciation for the all-out efforts of those involved in Busan’s bid, which had been ongoing since June 2022.

“But I was not in good command, and could not win the bid,” Yoon said. “It’s all my fault as the president.”

This came as Busan suffered a landslide defeat in a secret ballot vote to select a host country for World Expo 2030 in Paris on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia’s capital city Riyadh won 119 votes out of 165 — winning more than two-thirds of Tuesday’s votes from the members of the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions — eliminating Busan and Rome in the first round out of the potential two rounds. Busan gained 29 votes in the first round.

Park Heong-joon, mayor of South Korea’s port city Busan, said immediately after the outcome that he was open to the possibility of submitting a new bid for the 2035 World Expo.

“We will reasonably consider Busan’s bid for the 2035 World Expo through discussions with the government and Busan citizens,” Park said.

“Busan’s outstanding aptitude, competitive edge, and huge potential for growth have garnered recognition from across the world. … Busan will move on to strive for a better future for humanity.”

South Korea has a history of nabbing the host title for mega international events upon rebidding. For example, the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018 came to fruition in its third straight attempt.

But in the case of the World Expo, not all consecutive bids have led to a candidate’s triumph. Yekaterinburg in Russia, for example, submitted bids for the global event in 2020 and 2025, but conceded to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Osaka in Japan both times.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, who led the delegation, said he “humbly conceded defeat” in response to the outcome. However, some among the South Korean delegations expressed criticism over the BIE’s selection of Riyadh.

Kim Yi-tae, professor of tourism and convention marketing at Pusan National University, claimed that a “vote buying” by Riyadh may have hampered a fair host selection process when asked about the reason behind Busan’s loss.

“To win the World Expo bid, Saudi Arabia promised an astronomical amount of development loans and aid to developing countries,” he said, “So we can conclude that vote buying has occurred.”

Mayor Park echoed such views, saying, “It was challenging to counter a competitor with strong ‘oil money’ backing,” apparently referring to Riyadh.

Busan was bidding to host the World Expo 2030 for a six-month run between May 1 and Oct. 31, 2030, under the theme of “Transforming Our World, Navigating Toward a Better Future.” The final presentation for Busan on Tuesday featured former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

South Korea was outspent by competitors in its World Expo bid. According to the Ministry of Economy and Finance in April, a total of 574.4 billion won ($445.2 million) in government budget was allocated to the bid campaign in the past two years, compared to Saudi Arabia’s spending of $7.8 billion, according to its Ministry of Investment.

World Expo events, held every five years under the auspices of the BIE, were initially aimed at highlighting technological and architectural wonders. Nowadays, such events are considered a chance for the host city to put itself on the global map, while participating countries race to showcase their achievements.

Busan’s World Expo organizing body earlier had estimated that some 34.8 million visitors would have come to visit the port city, generating a total potential revenue of 61 trillion won. Busan also estimated that over 500,000 jobs would have been created.

South Korea has been a member state of the BIE since 1987, but has yet to host a World Expo.

South Korea has hosted two specialized expos, one in Daejeon in 1993 and the other in the coastal city of Yeosu, South Jeolla Province in 2012.

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