[VIEWPOINT] We need to rethink Sejong City

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[VIEWPOINT] We need to rethink Sejong City

Protest banners crying out “No to the New Plan” and “Let’s Unite to Save the Administrative Capital” along with old placards declaring “Happy Sejong City” parade on both sides of the road from the base of Jochiwon in Yeongi County. The small towns leading up to the planned site of Sejong City, located between Yeongi County and the city of Gongju in South Chungcheong, had up to now been free from animosity and turmoil. The Geum River idly flowed by meadows lined with hills and valleys in this picturesque and peaceful land. But the land has now been marred by unmanned dump trucks and cranes abandoned on the side of the roads.

There is a room where a video plays showing this dream city under construction. For the most part, the room sits empty.

Rage swells. Is it really necessary for politics to be so destructive? Does the capital really have to be moved to Sejong City? Is it worth splitting up administrative functions to satisfy old campaign pledges? Who benefits? Is it all really for balanced regional development? If so, why exactly is this the right spot? Can authorities, to please themselves, use a magic wand to transform a glazed field into a city of everybody’s dream? This is more a display of arrogance than of politics.

Like the mythical con man Bongi Kim Sun-dal who sold water from the Tumen River as if he owned it, politicians have pulled off a big sting. They cared little about the future, but indulged in the immediate gain of power. Naive Chungcheong residents joined in. They dreamed of soaring land prices and becoming instantly rich. So they marked their ballots for the promise of a gold mine. Few stopped to ask what would happen to the rest of the country if the capital moved to their backyard. Of course, they are not at fault. They were just utterly misguided. A former president who floated the idea in the first place confessed he had “fun with capital relocation talk.”

I stepped into a real estate office. Workers were playing cards with cash on the table. They all had broad shoulders. They looked up and one of them impassively said, “Land here is offered in units of 600 pyeong [1,980 square meters] or 800 pyeong. We start from between 400 million won [$354,800] and 600 million.” I wonder if ordinary Chungcheong residents had gained in any way from this real estate frenzy.

It is hard to find where to start cleaning up when a land is polluted by politics. The land is swept up in an unrelenting tug of war between those insisting on the original outline of a second administrative capital and those championing a new plan for a business and scientific center. Each side maligns the other. One side says that a revision is necessary for the country’s future. It may be right. But the opposing side suspects ulterior motives. That too is understandable. For a revision to be justified, it needs support from the same party. The revisionists thrust forward a new figurehead. If the new idea succeeds, so would its patron. It is no wonder the conventional group has its own leader to oppose the new plan. The latter argues it will defend the original plan even if the Chungcheong people want a change. A fierce power battle has ensued.

The ruling party should have consulted with conservative figure Park Geun-hye from the beginning. It is no wonder that her side suspects a double cross when called upon to follow the party line without any prior explanation or debate.

The tragedy of the “Happyland” is not a departure from the original blueprint. No, it stems from its transformation into a battle for political power.

The strategy has already been set. If those favoring revision lose, they turn into lame ducks. And if the Park Geun-hye camp loses, the ticket to the next presidential candidacy is also lost. From the current standpoint, the revision cannot be approved by the National Assembly. The land here has already become an off-limits zone. People can no longer farm here because it is contaminated by politics.

Standing on the field blanketed with snow, I close my eyes and envision the land’s future.

The scene of politicians cutting off their hair to protest the revision comes to mind. What motivated their action? Was that for power as well?

For a land soiled by greed to revive, we need to wait for the greed to subside. Land is forever and cannot be taken away. Once the last soil of political contamination is cleansed, we must rethink the land’s function.

Instead of making companies move their operations by coercion and cajolery, we should let the land rest a while until the entire population agrees on its new function.

The law doesn’t say when Sejong City must be completed. There is only an administrative schedule for the construction. The money already spent mostly went to buy land. We could finish initial construction and then wait until the politicians regain their senses.

Weeds may sprout at the construction site. They will be the yardstick to measure our political progress. And for the rest of the population, the land will provide an expensive lesson in democracy.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Moon Chang-geuk
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