Learning from mistakesThe Korean government finally reached an agreement on the relocation and compensation plans for Pyeongtaek area residents who protested the upcoming U.S. military relocation there. Yesterday’s agreement ends a stream of disputes between the government and the residents that have captured the nation’s attention for the past two years and six months. It is fortunate that a dispute that triggered violent confrontations between residents and police has been resolved.
But one must point out the enormous economic and social costs we would have saved if the dispute had been resolved earlier. The U.S. military relocation plan is a highly significant project that ensures Korea’s military security. It was also a project approved by members of the National Assembly, which was elected by the public. That means the government had no reason for hesitating when pushing ahead with the plan. But the government lost its determination. It was swayed by anti-U.S. activist groups of only hundreds of people, while failing to enforce laws that the activists violated.
The government failed to convince the residents of the project’s legitimacy and to persuade them to follow the plan. As a result, enormous amounts of time and money were wasted while the project was delayed in the face of increasing opposition. It also had to pay billions of won to cover the destruction of property and crops.
But the social cost of recovering the government’s credibility among the public is simply too high to pay.
The dispute also helped erode U.S-Korea diplomacy. This type of conflict should never be repeated. In order for this to happen, the government first needs to show its determination in enforcing laws and basic discipline. How could it push ahead with such a significant project while violations of rules and laws are prevalent and left unpunished?
Civic groups like Tongil Yeondae (the Unification Alliance for the 6.15 Joint Declaration and Peace) should also do some self-reflecting.
They practically moved their offices to Pyeongtaek, stirring public sentiment and rolling out propaganda to residents there. They even went so far as to say the new U.S. military base in Pyeongtaek will be used to launch preemptive attacks on North Korea by the United Sates. They took advantage of the innocent farmers and area residents to push their outdated and groundless ideological agenda. They may be able to convince the public temporarily, but it will never last.