[OUTLOOK]Development needs direction

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[OUTLOOK]Development needs direction

People call the administration under former President Park Chung Hee a “development dictatorship,” the term conveying a criticism of the administration’s single-minded pursuit of growth according to President Park’s will, which ignored the opinions of the public. During his administration, trees on mountains were removed to make way for highways and farmlands were bulldozed for industrial complexes. We also saw the signs urging people to “save the environment” at the foot of mountains whose forests had been cut down.
But after a quarter of a century, people do not deny that they owe something to the achievements of the administration. Our mountains are green with trees, the envy of other nations, and our industrial complexes are full of factories that have grown up to become international enterprises.
The current government is made up of a group of people who detest the development dictatorship. They have sworn with their blood that they would put an end to the dark days under Park Chung Hee, when the lives of laborers and farmers were crushed in the name of development.
Those working for the new administration champion human rights, ecology, the environment and peace instead of development, and open the doors of politics wide for the public’s participation. They appeal to the people by saying they will make the country a “normal state” by restoring it from the corrupt developmental dictatorship. And they ask the people to wait with patience and have a long-term view, even though there is a little bit of pain in this process. This in itself is quite refreshing.
However, recent scandals make it hard for people to get rid of doubts that the government’s work is actually about “normal state” projects. The scale of policies actively pursued by the administration is much larger than those pursued under the so-called development dictatorship, and this in turn brings about concerns about the results.
Now we know that Project S is a large-scale project that will cost 50 trillion won ($50 billion), and includes a plan for turning the southwest coastal area into a major leisure complex. On top of that, innovative cities and industrial clusters are being planned in rural areas here and there, and the government recently finished picking around 190 public organizations to move to the countryside.
As for the new administrative city, it has finished the planning process and is now about to go into the stage of land purchases.
I wonder what other large-scale plans will come up in the future. Thanks to the government, which stimulated the rural areas with development projects while ignoring urgent problems such as the Saemangeum tideland reclamation project and the construction of a nuclear waste disposal facility, land prices have risen all over the country. Even people in rural areas have high hopes of profiting from all this development.
It seems as if the real estate prices in Gangnam, southern Seoul, are just laughing at the government’s incompetence as it tries to cool the market.
The government tries to counter the public’s criticism with its theory of “balance and decentralization,” but we have to wonder whether Project S, which is said to be highly regarded by the president, really reflects the hope of the people in the region, and whether it will help realize the goal of making Korea the hub of Northeast Asia.
The project was only recently publicized so there is no way the residents of the region could have known about it, and it is questionable whether the leisure town complex will save Muan, Mokpo and Haenam, which are situated along the southern coastline. No matter how many times I read about it, the fact that a 40-year-old businessman with an opaque background, Kim Jae-bok, is leading the Haengdamdo development project sounds like the makings of a comedy.
The suspicion stemming from a failed Russian oil development project makes me think that a willful young politician is being fooled by a skilled fraud. Perhaps the government that hates “development dictatorship” has ventured into a “development drive,” justifying its projects with the principles of “balance and decentralization.”
I also wonder whether the government will make the mistake of “developmental recklessness” in its haste to see results before its term ends. Development in preparation for the future is a must, but we have to consider the following three points on how development should occur.
First, do we have scientific grounds for pursuing the current model of national development? If we do, the question is whether we are going to continue to pursue economic growth or not.
If we create a golf course and construct dozens of seafood restaurants on Haengdamdo island, the central idea of Project S, will this be good for the economy?
What about the new administrative city? Anyone can plainly see that the only reason for building an administrative city near Daejeon is politics. What relation does “political land development” have with human rights, ecology and growth?
Second, is it cost efficient to have a development plan that virtually encompasses the whole country? The development dictatorship did result in some production. However, the current development is focusing on leisure, administration and relocation ― things that do not have much to do with production.
This plan costs too much and will have only superficial results. This is why the national debt will exceed 200 trillion won in a few years even if we raise taxes.
Third, the way the projects are carried out is still “closed.” Powerful committees affiliated with the government often turned out to be meeting places for the same kind of people. If they become commanding posts instead of advisory organs, there is the possibility that projects will be decided by “committee politics.” If so, does this administration have the right to judge a developmental dictatorship?

* The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Song Ho-keun
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