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Korean Puts US Twist on a Land Apart

An activist, American-educated governor works to turn his neglected province into an economic powerhouse

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When You Jeong-keun gave up his American citizenship and returned to South Korea after 24 years away from his homeland, he had grand plans for his home province, North Cholla.

He wanted to right decades of economic discrimination and turn the province - a backward and underdeveloped region of 2 million people - into a thriving economic powerhouse. To start, Mr. You got himself elected governor.

From his new post, Governor You is pushing North Cholla to catch up with other areas favored by past rulers of South Korea, whose policies of uneven development spawned political parties that were defined by geography rather than ideology. Up against a democratic central government that still conducts its business in the same way, You is luring international investment to his province in the hopes of developing it.

His moment of inspiration came in high school after hearing the story of Alfred Marshall. The former British ethics professor, strolling through a London slum, decided that the practical discipline of economics, not ethics, was the way to help people.

South Korea was still recovering from the Korean War when You heard Marshall's story in 1960. At that time South Korea had a per capita annual income of $82, less than India's. You followed in Marshall's footsteps and studied economics, earning a doctorate in economics from the State University of New York in Binghamton. He stayed in America to teach at Rutgers University in New Jersey and was an adviser to three of the state's governors. Starting in 1984, he began spending a third of his year in South Korea, and a decade later, returned there permanently.

And although it now seems that South Korea doesn't need his skills anymore (per capita income now exceeds $10,000) his province still lags behind.

As the country developed in the years following the Korean War, the military rulers presiding over South Korea's economic miracle poured money into their hometown regions - Kyongsang and Taegu in the southeast - while North Cholla, home to the opposition pro-democracy movement, languished.

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