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Jeju’s ’sister island’ in eastern Russia pays a visit

A Russian delegation has come to study Jeju Island. Sakhalin Island, a “sister city” to Jeju, is located off the eastern coast of Russia in the northern Pacific Ocean and the site of a territorial dispute between Russia and Japan for much of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Four women leaders of Sakhalin – Vice-Chairman Irina Trutneva, Deputy Minister Marina Tachmatova, Minister of Culture Irina Gonyukova, and Secretary to the Vice-Chairman Elena Saushina – have come “to see and experience Jeju,” according to the vice-chairman.

“We want to learn about Jeju's culture, social service and welfare, parks system, and tourism infrastructure,” Trutneva explained.

“First, we develop the social relationship, getting to know each other's culture and educational systems, for which we must meet often,” she continued. The other members of the delegation emphasized that this strategy is the vice-chairman's specialty.

The partnership, as the Russian contingency prefers to call the relationship between Sakhalin and Jeju, is ultimately intended as one of commerce and trade. Sakhalin, with an agricultural season of less than 100 days per annum, could benefit from the importation of Jeju's agricultural products. Jeju is considering the importation of product from Sakhalin's strong fishing industry in return.

In addition, Yu Ji-eun, Jeju Provincial Government's ambassador advisor for International Relations and the primary facilitator of such “sister-city” arrangements, reported that several major Korean conglomerates – including Korea Gas Corporation and POSCO, among others – are studying the possibility of oil, gas, and steel importation from Sakhalin. He emphasized that this is not yet confirmed but under study.

Sakhalin is Jeju's only Russian partner to date. Significantly, Jeju Governor Woo Keun Min, in an earlier term [Note: this is his 5th non-consecutive term as governor of Jeju province], signed a 1992 agreement with Sakhalin – just two years after Russia and Korea opened relations with one another.

In a meeting between Governor Woo and the Sakhalin delegation, the governor placed emphasis on a friendly and cooperative relationship between the two islands.

“We are in the same region and share many similar cultural and ecological features as well as concerns,” Trutneva declared, “and we would like to build toward a set of agreements in various areas, in order to develop this cooperation.”

Sakhalin Island is a much larger land mass than that of Jeju; however, the population of the two islands is remarkably similar. Sakhalin historically and presently has a large Korean population as well, and the visiting deputy minister, Marina Tachmatova, shared that she is of Korean descent.

Before their arrival on Jeju Island, the delegation spent several days in Seoul. There they visited a Russian-Korean community in Ansan, people who came to Korea during the Japanese invasions of Sakhalin. The delegates also attended an orchestral concert performed by Russian-Koreans, a cultural exchange initiative.

When asked in what ways the two cultures are alike, Minister of Culture Irina Gonyukova responded in detail regarding the past 10 years of Korean art and cultural exhibitions on Sakhalin. A Korean department has been established in a secondary-level art school and has had many projects, while relevant museums and historical monuments have also been built.

Last year, a group of students from Sungshin Women's University in Seoul visited Sakhalin. Gonyukova described the cultural exchange between Sakhalin Island and Korea as “dynamic, promoting understanding.”

As to what this delegation would like to tell Jeju residents about Sakhalin, they admitted that it is difficult to describe their island in just a few words.

“Come and visit us,” Vice-Chairman Trutneva exhorted. “We will warmly welcome you.”

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