April 16 (UPI) -- A South Korean politician is defending a decision to build a tourist attraction after local reports suggested the venue was a "Chinatown" that would occupy a large tract of land.
Choi Moon-soon, the governor of Gangwon Province, denied reports of plans to build a Chinese-themed cultural complex. Choi claimed the venue would showcase Korean architecture, or hanok, EDaily reported Friday.
Choi also said the reports of the construction of a Chinatown was "fake news," according to the Hankook Ilbo.
On Friday, a South Korean petition on the presidential Blue House website, calling for an end to the construction, had collected more than 566,000 signatures. The government is required to address any petition that gathers more than 200,000 in 30 days.
Local reports have said the official name of the project is "Korea-China Culture Town." The complex would occupy 300 acres of land in an area between the city of Chuncheon and Hongcheon county.
Gangwon Province had planned to complete construction by 2022, but tensions with China over Korea's cultural heritage and cuisine have triggered anti-Chinese sentiment among South Koreans.
Last year, China claimed Korea's kimchi, a spicy cabbage dish, was of Chinese origin.
Choi said the construction is not intended to be a Chinatown or a place of residence for people of Chinese origin, according to News 1.
"It is a cultural tourism [destination] for Chinese tourists, who comprise the majority of visitors to Korea," Choi said.
Choi may have provided a different explanation to Chinese state media, however.
The South Korean politician told China's People's Daily in December 2019 that he referred to the planned site as the "cultural One Belt One Road," according to News 1.
The One Belt One Road initiative is the China-centered infrastructure project linking the world. Xi Jinping has called it the "project of the century."
China's People's Daily was involved in the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Gangwon Province in 2019 in connection with the project, according to News 1.