[EDITORIALS]Let businesses build in Seoul

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[EDITORIALS]Let businesses build in Seoul

There are signs that foreign companies with large-scale investment plans may postpone or cancel their projects because of delays in the easing of restrictions within the Seoul area. Korea 3M Corp., which planned to break ground in late May for a plant in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi province, has postponed the plan indefinitely. Japan’s NHT and NEG have reduced their planned investments to one-third and one-tenth of their previous targets, respectively. A German and a British company that promised to invest $200 million each in the first quarter of this year now says it may be difficult to sign a contract.
This is outrageous. However important it may be to pursue balanced development in Korea ― the reason for development restrictions in the capital ― how can a government drive away foreign companies that want to make major investments? Every country in the world is eager to attract foreign investment. Our government has pledged many times that it would do so by making Korea business-friendly. The government has also said that it will ease development restrictions in the Seoul area once the transfer of administrative institutions to the provinces becomes a reality.
But the government abruptly changed its position when criticism arose that easing those restrictions would contradict the principle of balanced development and when local governments reacted badly. Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan said, “The government must accommodate the requests that pour in from local governments and the presidential candidates.” But it is absurd that matters related to attracting foreign investment should be driven into a corner by demands from local governments and presidential hopefuls.
The foreign businesses kept out of Korea by regulations in Seoul will find other destinations. There is no reason for foreign companies to follow the logic of balanced development. We can’t urge them to build in a particular location. Reverse discrimination against big domestic companies is a problem too. Keeping them from building in Seoul does not result in investment in the provinces. Businesses will build wherever it is most convenient and affordable. Domestic investment is sluggish, but Korean companies’ overseas investment has increased rapidly. If domestic investment does not improve, it is a loss to the nation as a whole. Easing development restrictions in Seoul should be discussed in terms of international competitiveness and growth potential, not by the logic of balanced development.
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