[FORUM]A lot to think of in capital moveControversy is raging over the proposed transfer of the capital from Seoul to another city somewhere south of here. The government proposes to decide on the location by next fall and to start building the necessary infrastructure in 2007 before moving in 2010. Even the Grand National Party, which had opposed to Roh Moo-hyun’s proposed move during the presidential election, has changed its mind. Grand National legislators from the Chungcheong provinces, where the proposed new capital city would be, have even demanded that the precise location for the new administrative capital be decided sooner than proposed. All this, of course, has led to the skyrocketing of real estate prices in the Chungcheong provinces. There is also criticism that what should be a national decision may be decided more on the basis of what is good for the legislative election next year than for the long-term general good of the people.
An important decision such as deciding on a new capital should not be left to the administration alone but must be based on a national consensus. But opinions differ on just how this consensus is to be formed. In a normal situation, the representatives of the people would discuss the matter at the National Assembly and make the final decision; that would be the most cost-efficient and thorough way of doing the job. But with the recent changes in political circles and with legislators’ minds focused on next year’s general election, it is doubtful that the National Assembly could make a responsible decision and represent the interests of the Korean people as a whole.
Some claim that Mr. Roh’s victory in the presidential election is proof enough that the majority of the people have consented to the move of the capital. Mr. Roh proposed the move during the campaign. Poll surveys conducted by several organizations suggest that such may not be the case. In a JoongAng Ilbo survey on December 14, two days before the presidential election, 46 percent of the 1,044 participants opposed the move, compared to the 45 percent who approved. Mr. Roh’s approval rating surpassed that of his rival Lee Hoi-chang at the time, so the support Mr. Roh received should be not interpreted as an approval of the transfer of the capital city.
This is all the more clear when we look at the support Mr. Roh got in the capital area of Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi province. In this area, Mr. Roh beat Mr. Lee in the election by a wide margin of 6 percent, but over 50 percent of the participants in the survey said they opposed the move while less than 40 percent approved of it. This means that there were many people who cast their votes for Mr. Roh and still opposed the relocation of the administrative capital.
Considering all this, it is certainly desirable that the transfer of the capital should at least be put to some sort of national vote before being decided. Of course, the government and the experts should have sufficient time to have their say on the sensitive matters such as the effects of the move on the present capital area, whether the new capital city must be located in the Chungcheong provinces or whether it could be relocated further south in either the Yeongnam or the Honam regions. Then the issue could be put to vote.
Even if the people approve of the transfer, the government must be cautious in pursuing the transfer plan. Should the timing of the transfer of the capital and the repositioning of U.S. bases coincide, it could leave the old capital area feeling very abandoned and nervous. In an effort to calm surging real estate prices, the government intends to announce the two candidate cities next month and to let pre-construction sales of apartment buildings start in 2006.
Several development projects are expected to get under way in Seoul and its surrounding areas in relation to the plans to turn Seoul into the business center of Northeast Asia. Just how much the transfer of the capital would alleviate the congestion in Seoul and its vicinity is still a debatable issue.
The strain of so many large projects to be undertaken almost simultaneously at a time of high government fiscal deficits is also a reason for concern. There is also the possibility that we would have to look for yet another new capital should we be reunified in the future.
Utmost caution should be used concerning the decision on the transfer in consideration of international politics, national security, the government deficit and movements in the financial and real estate markets in order to prevent public unrest and a waste of government money.
* The writer is director of the JoongAng Ilbo Economic Research Institute.
by Ro Sung-tae