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Lee offers apology for Sejong issue in live TV debate

President seeks people’s support for the decision to redraw the blueprint

Nov 28,2009
Lee Myung-bak
President Lee Myung-bak issued a public apology live on TV late last night for backing the initial plan of relocating government offices to South Chungcheong for political reasons ahead of the election two years ago.

In the 100-minute program hosted by MBC, he asked the country to understand his decision to redraw the development blueprint of Sejong City.

Lee addressed the controversy surrounding Sejong City and other major issues such as the four major rivers restoration project in a debate with three experts: Kim Jin, an editorial writer at the Joong-Ang Ilbo; Kim Ho-ki, a professor of sociology at Yonsei University; and Kim Yun-hee, head of the management consultant firm Bain & Company.

Lee also answered questions from the 100-strong audience and also three celebrities who had been invited to join the discussion.

The Sejong City controversy was the first question asked by the special panel. In his reply, Lee told the nation why he had to change his position from supporting the initial Sejong City plan on the eve of the 2007 presidential election to revising it. Opposition parties and even Lee’s rivals inside the Grand National Party have condemned him for the flip-flop, saying that he had pretended to back the initial plan for Chungcheong votes.

Lee admitted yesterday that he had done so because of the election. Lee, however, emphasized that he believes it is wrong to move some government functions to another location and thereby split the capital’s administrative base.

“The world is in an economic war,” Lee said, stressing that Korea cannot afford to have a split government when trying to maintain its position in global trade. “Now I am embarrassed for having supported the initial plan, and I also regret it,” Lee said.

He also said he could have allowed the nation’s capital to be split between Seoul and Sejong City for the sake of “political comfort” but he could not allow it for the sake of the nation’s future.

Yesterday’s TV appearance was Lee’s first public address to the nation regarding the Sejong City controversy in two years. The last time he spoke about the issue publicly was at a media conference in November 2007 as a presidential candidate.

First proposed as an election pledge by then-presidential candidate Roh Moo-hyun in 2002, the project has been highly divisive. Even after it was approved by the National Assembly, the plan to relocate the country’s administrative capital to South Chung-cheong was ruled unconstitutional in 2004. The blueprint was redesigned in 2006 to build an administrative hub city called Sejong and groundbreaking took place in July 2007.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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