Mr. HAN Beum-Deuk Mayor of Cheongju City, ROK
TCS: Please introduce the current CJK trilateral exchange projects your organization is participating in (exchange details, annual budget amount, number of participants, etc.).
Mayor HAN: Cheongju City first established an official sisterhood relationship with Tottori, Japan in 1986 followed by Wuhan, China (1998), and Bellingham, USA (2005), in an effort to continue exchanges with other cities around the world in various forms, including the signing of sisterhood and friendship cities. Meanwhile, in 2015, Cheongju, South Korea, along with Qingdao, China, and Niigata, Japan, were selected as Culture Cities of East Asia (CCEA), and exchange projects between the three began at full throttle. Although there have been difficulties due to political issues, the three cities of Cheongju, Qingdao, and Niigata have maintained ties for the past seven years based on long-standing trust. The fore focus is on two areas: an exchange project for youths in each city and a cultural exchange project centered on performing arts groups. However, due to the COVID pandemic, for the past two years, we had no choice but to conduct contactless exchanges using an online platform instead of making visits to the respective cities. Nevertheless, 10-20 youth delegates selected from each country every year have been improving their understanding of each other's cities and building friendships in ways unique to millennials and Gen Z-ers, such as photo exhibitions and K-pop dances. In addition, art organizations representing Cheongju, Qingdao, and Niigata are continuing exchanges via performances held at local festivals, and sometimes by exchanging performance contents through videos. Cheongju City spends about KRW 140 million every year for the CCEA exchange projects. Although the budget is not very large in size, we are proud to present it as an international exchange project of Cheongju, because an average number of 100 people from each sister city - from teenagers to art groups and staff members in the fields involved - remain committed to exchange programs.
TCS: Is there a background or motive to promote the trilateral exchange projects?
Mayor HAN: It started with the 4th Korea-China-Japan Culture Ministers' Meeting held in Shanghai, China in May 2012. At that time, the three countries agreed to promote exchanges between municipalities in East Asia, and in 2014, each government selected a city that represented their traditions, culture, and art, and launched a first trilateral exchange project. The first Culture Cities of East Asia (CCEA) selected in 2014 were Gwangju in Korea, Quanzhou in China, and Yokohama in Japan. In the following year, 2015, Cheongju in Korea was selected as the second CCEA along with Qingdao, China, and Niigata, Japan. This year, Gyeongju in Korea, Wenzhou and Jinan in China, and Oita Prefecture in Japan have been selected as CCEA, and on March 25, the opening ceremony of the CCEA 2022 was held in Gyeongju, and Cheongju officials attended the event as senior CCEA delegates.
TCS: Please share if there were any difficulties in planning the exchange projects and how you overcame them.
Mayor HAN: As international exchanges are inevitably affected by global situations and issues, as mentioned earlier, cultural exchange projects are invariably contracted when important political issues related to national interests emerge. However, since such issues are of a political nature, although it may be a cause of conflict between countries, the flower of cultural exchanges between local cities has not withered. Although direct exchanges such as mutual invitations and participation in local festivals have not been immediately available, we have managed to maintain networks through phone calls and e-mails to open up opportunities to meet again in person at any time. In fact, as expected, a crisis more fatal than a political issue was the COVID pandemic; because of the spread of COVID-19, the daily life of mankind we know of came to a halt and borders around the world were closed, putting the interests and importance of cultural and artistic exchange projects on the back burner, and treating them less importantly than before, with more focus placed on quarantine and stabilizing the people's livelihoods. Under these circumstances, it was not easy to secure a budget for exchange projects.

In the meantime, Cheongju, Qingdao,and Niigata have decided to conduct online contactless exchanges. Due to the nature of being online, which is not affected by constraints of time and place, the three cities were able to meet at times and virtual places they agreed on in advance, and multiple formats of contactless exchanges were carried out where real-time video conferencing, motion picture and photo sharings, and traditional food delivery were attempted. Such efforts allowed us to enhance our understanding for and interest in each other's cultures. Although all the parties havemissed in-person engagements, I think these will be meaningful experiences and assets in that we managed to quickly switch to a new way of exchanges and made various efforts instead of giving up and suspending exchanges due to the pandemic.
TCS: What are the changes brought to the exchange projects due to the spread of COVID-19 pandemic?
Mayor HAN: Although the COVID pandemic is becoming endemic, no one can guarantee whether in-person exchangeswill be as active as before. Thus, the biggest change is the fact that the exchange projects have been and will be carried out with both online and offline scenarios drawn up. And what is encouraging is that, in terms of youth cultural exchanges, online channels have allowed more diverse communication.

This is a change that has been made possible because teenagers, unlike older generations, are used to digital environments and social media platforms from the moment they were born, and as a result, youth delegates themselves have taken charge and are not afraid to become the main agents of international exchanges, actively engaging in fun and interesting activities to find and build common bonds.

Even when in-person exchanges become possible again, there will inevitably be certain constraints on budgets and visit schedules, which is why I think that if the online channels continue to be utilized year-round in parallel, the three countries will be able to foster a more sustainable relationship with one another.
TCS: Is there any new trilateral exchange area or project that has not been done before that you would like to start?
Mayor HAN: Until now, the focus of the CCEA exchange projects has been to enhance mutual understanding of the major attractions of each city and/or the traditional culture of each country, and I believe that this goal has already been achieved mostly through the meetings and exchanges carried out so far.

As we braced for the unexpected crisis of the COVID pandemic, we tried a different approach - an online channel for exchanges, and witnessed the voluntary participation of the youth delegates, the future leaders of East Asian relations. Therefore, I think it will be a good idea to plan a project that can drive synergy by combining the two. For example, I envision holding a CCEA E-sports competition driven by games. Its goal will be to go beyond existing game-driven e-sports competitions, and to have the youths develop games themselves that incorporate the individuality and identity of the cities in which youth participants from each city - Cheongju, Qingdao, and Niigata - live and play the games they developed.

In Cheongju, various original game contents have already been developed with the Chungbuk Global Game Center as a supporting pillar and they are pioneering the global market. In addition, there is also a competition and festival held every year in which amateurs develop games within a set period of time called ‘Game Jam.’ Since the quality of such games is much higher than expected, if we try to combine those capabilities with exchange projects, we may open up a new horizon of international exchanges that are completely different from what we have performed until now. Of course, our sister cities, Qingdao and Niigata, will have to agree with these ideas before they become a reality.
TCS: If your organization uses social media (SNS) to promote CJK trilateral exchanges, what is the current status of SNS and how do you utilize it?
Mayor HAN: The use of social media has expanded due to the shifted focus on online exchanges after the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In the past, while the homepage and email of each sister city used to be the main means of communication, since the outbreak, using various online channels such as YouTube, Instagram, and China's Weibo, videos of each city's cultural and artistic contents shared in real-time has become mainstream. In addition to official exchange projects, youth delegates and art groups continuing to communicate and build friendships via personal messaging services such as WeChat and Line is also encouraging. Against this backdrop, we plan to create a new trend of online exchange in 2022 with unique video performances by actively utilizing short-form such as TikTok, which is used by teenagers in many countries.
TCS: Is there any impact of the trilateral exchange projects on the relevant cities / region directly or indirectly? (i.e. changes in perception of other citizens, number of tourists, diversification of visitors, changes in the population of study abroad students, etc.)
Mayor HAN: First of all, it can be noted that the psychological distance of Cheongju citizens to Qingdao, China and Niigata, Japan has narrowed. The same can be said about the citizens in Qingdao and Niigata as well. I think the biggest contribution to this was made after the three cities participated in the Chopsticks Festival held in Cheongju from 2015 to 2019, after the three cities were selected as CCEA. The Chopstick Festival was a festival where a variety of programs were held such as exhibitions, performances, academic events, demonstrations, and participation experiences with the motif of 'Chopsticks,' a tool used in everyday living and cultural content, that has existed collectively for a long time in the history of the three East Asian countries of Korea, China, and Japan. The event drew attention of many people with an average of 50,000 domestic and foreign visitors every year. In addition, the chopstick contents discovered through this festival were invited for showing not only in Niigata and Qingdao, which were selected as CCEA, but also in New York, Paris, Thailand, and Kazakhstan where special exhibitions were held. Although this festival will no longer be held, I think that it is also a significant achievement that the chopstick educators, who were fostered to disseminate proper chopstick culture in Cheongju, are still actively implementing relevant activities and proving its potential as cultural content. All in all, we successfully discovered another K-content related to chopsticks thanks to the collaboration of the three countries under the CCEA.
TCS: What role should the government and TCS have to support in promoting the CJK trilateral exchanges?
Mayor HAN: Because the TCS is an international organization that works towards the peace and common prosperity of the three countries of Korea, China and Japan, I think its role is very important. The international situation involves complex and multi-faceted issues that cannot be resolved with the will and efforts of any one country alone. In addition, if the international situation worsens, cultural exchanges between local cities will inevitably receive a blow. Therefore, it is necessary to build a close and strong network to ensure that cultural art and private exchanges will not falter under any circumstances, and I think TCS is the entity that can play such a role. Since the goal of TCS has been lasting peace, common prosperity, and shared culture from the moment it was established, I would like to ask TCS to become a hub that encompasses different stakeholders in Korea, China and Japan - those involved in the CCEA exchange project bring help and cooperation beyond borders to where they are needed the most.
TCS: Please briefly introduce the trilateral exchange projects planned for 2022.
Mayor HAN: Because the COVID pandemic still poses serious concerns, we plan to conduct projects with a primary focus on online exchanges. As I mentioned earlier, we plan to use the short-form sharing platform to expand the scope of youth online exchanges and broaden our understanding of our cultures and art by sharing the activities of performing arts groups in each city in video content. Above all, this year we are preparing to organize a forum with an aim to revive cultural city exchanges between Korea, China and Japan, and this will give us a chance to take stock of what we have done so far as part of the CCEA exchange project in East Asia. I am positive that this will serve as an important milestone for the three countries to set new goals going forward. In addition, if consensus between the three cities is reached so that the CCEA E-sports Competition becomes a reality, I will have nothing more I could hope for in terms of cultural exchanges planned for this year.
TCS: Cheongju City has been pursuing follow-up projects with Qingdao City, China, and Niigata City, Japan, for the past 7 years since the CCEA 2016. What is the secret? Are Qingdao City and Niigata City also active in trilateral exchanges?
Mayor HAN: I think the reason that the three cities of Cheongju, Qingdao, and Niigata have been able to maintain exchanges for the past seven years is because they all agree on the need and value of the CCEA exchange project. For this reason, since 2015, the Cheongju Cultural Industry Promotion Foundation has been at the forefront of this project making consistent efforts to promote exchanges with other cities. In Niigata City, the same official is in charge of the project since the program's inception in 2015, and although the situation is slightly different in Qingdao, CCEA exchange project’s passion is the same as when it first began.
The secret to the success is that all three cities involved are well aware of the importance of the CCEA exchange project. Above all, I think that the high satisfaction level of participating entities, such as youth and performing arts organizations, is having a positive impact, because to be able to continue promoting a program, nothing is more important as a driving force for projects than ascertaining how citizens actually feel about them.
TCS: The three cities also maintain cultural exchanges through dispatching youth exchange programs and performance groups every summer. How do you decide on the dates and events of follow-up projects of CCEA annually?
Mayor HAN: Persons in charge of the three cities discuss the basic framework and schedule of the programs via continuous correspondence and phone calls, and the direction of the following year's project is decided in detail at the end of the year. As for youth exchange programs, since each country's schools are run with different exam and vacation schedules, more careful attention is required to coordinate programs. It has been difficult for the last two years to send performing arts troupes from each city to other relevant cities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing a temporary break from running the usual projects. However, considering that each city has been promoting exchange projects in connection with their respective festivals and tourism programs, identifying relevant trends is also one of the important jobs that need to be undertaken pursuant to the exchange project. As the pandemic situation is expected to enter a turning point this year, we plan to monitor the COVID-19 status of each country and respond quickly to changing situations.
TCS: Since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, Cheongju City has been actively promoting a new method of exchanges such as online and video exchanges, what were the difficulties and lessons learned for future exchange projects?
Mayor HAN: International exchange efforts did not stop even during the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to the rapid transition to online exchanges that provided a good experience in that we have learned to promote exchanges online which are suitable to the new era, and this was a departure from existing approaches.

However, no matter how many advantages online we may have, I do not think they can surmount the benefits of inperson exchange programs where you can see, hear, feel, talk and experience what occurs before your eyes. Due to the special nature of the cultural and artistic exchanges, there is a limit to the exchange programs which are carried out exclusively online. In addition, we encountered many trials and errors when conducting online exchanges due to reallife issues of different Internet speeds and networking system conditions in each city.

Nevertheless, since the COVID-19 pandemic still poses a threat and situations where offline exchanges are not available may reoccur at any time, I expect that the experience and lessons we have garnered so far will be useful assets for us to promote an on/offline integrated exchange approach in the future.
TCS: Any suggested role of TCS for continuous development of the CCEA project and its follow-up projects?
Mayor HAN: As I said earlier, a close and solid network platform between Korea, China and Japan needs to be further solidified so that the cities that have been selected as CCEA and those that will be selected in the future can continue international exchanges without being affected by political or economic variables. At the same time, as TCS has in place a strong trust and cooperation system with domestic and foreign media outlets, it should become an avenue with which the value and importance of the CCEA exchange project at home and abroad will continue to be promoted. I think that by doing so, the trilateral relations and ties between Korea, China, and Japan will be further reinforced. I also hope that TCS will continue to take interest in CCEA exchange projects in the future and create an environment where many local municipalities in Korea, China, and Japan can organically connect and grow together.