[Viewpoint] Time running out for Sejong City

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[Viewpoint] Time running out for Sejong City

It’s clear how Chungcheong residents feel about the change in the functional role of the new municipal district under construction in the southern part of their region. But what exactly motivates their disappointment and anger is more difficult to figure out. A clamorous crowd chanting, “Stick to the original plan,” recently threw eggs at the prime minister and lawmakers from the ruling Grand National Party visiting the construction site for the city, to be named after King Sejong.

Their boisterous welcome suggests they want the new city to function as an administrative district hosting key government ministries and agencies, as originally outlined in 2007. But why they cling to the administrative city design is beyond comprehension.

Are they really unconcerned about the potential fallout - an unpopulated urban hybrid housing a few hundred employees of the government? Or do they believe the government will provide after-service measures to enliven the city, making it more residential and self-contained once government employees move in? That would be more than naive; it would be recklessly childish.

The South Chungcheong governor has urged people to fight on “to uphold the spirit and pride of the Chungcheong people.” If the regional people are against any modifications to the original plan because of their pride, we cannot help asking - what about people elsewhere? The bulk of the billions of won to fund the city’s construction comes from the pockets of people living elsewhere across the nation. But we don’t hear any rallying cries or clamor about the regional plan outside Chungcheong.

I don’t believe Chungcheong people to be selfish and inconsiderate. Yet the masses remain die-hard devotees of the earlier vision for a semi-capital. They are immune to economic and efficiency concerns. All they want and care about is for more than 10 government offices to move in as initially planned.

This is a pork barrel urban project, not a fight for democracy or independence that calls for grandiloquent rhetoric like “the spirit and pride of the people.” Grandiose and inflammatory rhetoric employed to advocate mundane matters often masks simple self-interest. There can be only two reasons behind the regional support for the original design.

One is it feeds the political interests of legislators from the region. The second derives from the shrewdness of Chungcheong people, capitalizing on the political debate and controversy for their own advantage to win an even better city on their soil.

Politicians’ opposition to any adjustment to the plan is as plain as day. They want to win votes from this important electoral base. For those who care only about winning elections, the prospects of self-sufficiency, waste in public spending and inefficacy in government administration are of no concern. They are prone to using vain words like “principle” and “pride” because they lack sincerity behind their protests.

The voters’ opposition to any change in the plan may be more multilayered and strategic, aimed to squeeze as much as possible from the government. Their passionate battle cry to resist new designs is understandable if they are really only after the best for the new member of their regional family.

But whether the motives are political or strategic, no one will gain if this dispute goes on too long. President Lee Myung-bak has been trying hard to solve the problem as reasonably as possible. He has no other agenda but to prevent administrative disruption and find a workable and competitive option. But if he feels too cornered and his sincerity is misunderstood, despite his efforts to apologize and persuade, he may stop trying altogether.

The people of Chungcheong and politicians should not take lightly the president’s recent comment, “There is no other way if sincerity and persuasion don’t work,” or those of Prime Minister Chung Un-chan: “All or no government offices can go.” Playing with fire for too long is dangerous.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Kim Jong-soo
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