[Viewpoint] Compromise overdue on Sejong City

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[Viewpoint] Compromise overdue on Sejong City

The Sejong City project has become the hottest topic in Korea this fall. Former Grand National Party chairwoman Park Geun-hye announced her support for the “original plan.”

Even if Park had taken sides with the president, revising the law on the Sejong administrative unit relocation project would have been 10 times more difficult than passing the media law, since it involves the properties and livelihoods of working-class citizens. Now that Park has drawn a clear line, the administration finds itself in an even more awkward position.

With Park Geun-hye declaring her position, the alliance of the Democratic Party, the Liberty Forward Party and civic groups supporting the Sejong project is growing stronger. Local leaders already went on a hunger strike to protest the original plan. President Lee Myung-bak and the ruling party are entering a dark valley, and the Republic of Korea is sweating over Sejong City.

Nearly every country in the world has the main administrative functions of the state in one location for security and efficiency. In the United States, the president and the vice president both work in the White House and discuss state affairs many times throughout the day.

If the president remains in Seoul and the prime minister and the cabinet members move to Sejong City, it would be like the U.S. president remaining in Washington while the vice president and secretaries work in New York. It would be like the Israeli prime minister staying in Jerusalem while key ministers move to a coastal city by the Mediterranean. It is an absurdity that a reasonable nation would never consider. The challenge is to establish a highly functional administrative city while preventing such absurdity. The advocates of the original plan argue that companies and people will not move there unless the ministries relocate first.

How would King Sejong solve the problem?

What if the Chungcheong region made a concession and the government provided national assistance to the region in return? The locals might feel that a deal would be risky and unfair. They would argue, “We never asked for an administrative city, and it was the nation that promised to establish one. Why should Chungcheong initiate the change?”

However, the Chungcheong provinces have a historic opportunity. Geographically, the Gyeongsang, Jeolla and Chungcheong provinces are the three pillars of the Republic of Korea. These three regions have always led the nation.

The people of Gyeongsang changed history with the Feb. 28 Daegu student movement in 1960 and the Busan-Masan democratic movement in October 1979. These two events were the beginning of the torrent that toppled Korea’s autocratic rule. The Feb. 28 student movement was followed by the March 15 Masan protest, both of which led to the nationwide April 19 student revolution. The Busan-Masan democratic movement pulled down the Yusin dictatorship.

The people of the Jeolla provinces initiated historic change with the Gwangju anti-Japanese student movement of November 1929 and the Gwangju democratic movement of May 1980. The people of Jeolla stood against oppression and cried out for liberty and democracy. Gwangju was the heart of the nation in 1929 and 1980.

Chungcheong is no less important than Gyeongsang and Jeolla when it comes to patriotic spirit. The Tomb of Seven Hundred Patriots there enshrines the bodies of 700 volunteer soldiers who fought against the Japanese invaders. Whenever the nation was in jeopardy, Chungcheong locals stood up to fight.

Seventeen of the 33 signers of the Declaration of Independence came from the Chungcheong region. But unlike Gyeongsang and Jeolla, Chungcheong has not been the center of Korea’s history in the mid- and late 20th century. It was simply never the right time. So rethinking Sejong City might be a great opportunity for Chungcheong.

In the 21st century, with no war and no dictator, the patriot is not the volunteer soldier or democratic fighter. It is truly patriotic when you put the nation before your region. If the people of Chungcheong offer a helping hand first and wipe the sweat from the forehead of the nation, the nation will be indebted to the region. Then other citizens would do their best to come up with a plan to make Sejong a functional city. There will be a way if we work hard. The “Saving the nation and Sejong City” movement will contribute to history as much as the Busan-Masan movement or the Gwangju struggle. The time is now for patriotic Chungcheong.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin
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