Yoon apologizes to nation for failure to host 2030 World Expo

November 29, 2023

President Yoon Suk Yeol apologized to the nation Wednesday after South Korea failed in its bid to host the 2030 World Expo, saying he would take all the blame but continue to push for balanced development across regions and contribute to the international community.

Yoon issued the apology during an address to the nation, hours after the southeastern city of Busan lost to Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh in a vote held in Paris by member states of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), the body responsible for overseeing the international fair with the potential to generate economic benefits and stimulate job creation.

The Saudi capital won 119 votes against Busan’s 29 votes, while Italy’s Rome trailed with 17 votes.

President Yoon Suk Yeol gives an address to the nation on South Korea's failed bid to host the 2030 World Expo in its southeastern city of Busan, at the presidential office in Seoul on Nov. 29, 2023. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk Yeol gives an address to the nation on South Korea’s failed bid to host the 2030 World Expo in its southeastern city of Busan, at the presidential office in Seoul on Nov. 29, 2023. (Yonhap)

“Our predictions based on the stances we sensed during contact made by the private and public sectors appear to have been far off,” he said in front of reporters at the presidential office.

“I offer my sincere apology for disappointing our people, including the citizens of Busan. It is all my own shortcoming,” he said.

Riyadh had been widely regarded as the frontrunner, propelled by a substantial marketing campaign from the early stages, despite last-minute lobbying efforts by South Korea in recent months.

Yoon was at the forefront of South Korea’s campaign, making two visits to Paris this year, including last week, and holding numerous meetings and phone calls with world leaders in an effort to rally support from the 182 BIE member states.

“Our private and public sectors truly ran hard together,” he said, noting his more than 150 meetings with the leaders of 96 nations, and the efforts of government and business leaders, including Busan Mayor Park Heong-joon, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, SK Chairman Chey Tae-won and Samsung Electronics Executive Chairman Lee Jae-yong.

“I am solely to blame as president, as I failed to orchestrate well and win the bid,” Yoon said.

While acknowledging responsibility, Yoon explained that the campaign to host the 2030 World Expo was aimed not only at helping Busan’s own development but also at achieving balanced development across regions in order to boost national growth.

Citing the example of Japan, which he said is best known internationally by two cities — Tokyo and Osaka — Yoon said he sought to raise Busan’s international profile, make the city one of two “axes” along with Seoul, and thereby drive the growth of the country’s southern regions.

“We failed to host the Expo, but our country’s balanced territorial development strategy will be pursued as is,” he said. “In such a way, we will foster Busan as a maritime, international finance, advanced technology and digital hub, and build infrastructure as planned to organically connect the southern parts of the Gyeongsang and Jeolla provinces, and ensure all economic activities can run smoothly in the southern region, with Busan as the base, even without coming to Seoul.”

Yoon recalled the promises South Korea made during the course of the campaign to return the favors it received from the international community in the decades following the 1950-53 Korean War.

“This foreign policy principle of the Republic of Korea will not change, and we will thoroughly, without fail, pursue and implement our responsible contributions to the international community under our vision for global pivotal diplomacy for the sake of the Republic of Korea’s national status,” he said.

Yoon also congratulated Saudi Arabia on being chosen as host, saying South Korea will help the “key partner nation” successfully host the World Expo by sharing its resources, experiences and assets.