[Viewpoint] Three viewpoints on Sejong City

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[Viewpoint] Three viewpoints on Sejong City

I may simply be adding more noise to already steady clamor over Sejong City. But as a social and political science scholar, I cannot keep silent on the raging controversy.

The dispute hit a climactic point after the government officially overturned the original plan and unveiled an alternative blueprint last week.

At this point, few can tell how this will develop. It’s muddled by political and policy struggles and divisions between central and regional governments.

All national and social conflicts fall into two categories - conflicts of interest and values. Conflict of interest mostly occurs when different economic interests clash, such as in labor disputes.

There is also a clash between opposing values such as those involving environmental issues.

The Sejong City controversy is a combination of conflicts of interest and values. Because it is a composite conflict, finding a solution may be just that much more difficult.

The intricacies of the Sejong City problem involve three opposing views. The first is about economics. Few would debate the inefficacy of moving nine ministries and four government agencies from the capital to a planned city 120 kilometers (74.6 miles) away from Seoul.

The argument on economics centers on the problem of efficacy and we can dub it as President Lee Myung-bak’s economic logic.

The second view is political.

Politics prioritizes principles and mutual trust. Creating a second administrative capital and christening it as Sejong City had been agreed upon after months of negotiations between ruling and opposition parties and was finally passed as a special law in 2005.

The process and its outcome were promised to the people and therefore should be highly regarded. This is the logic of former Grand National Party leader Park Geun-hye.

The third issue is social.

The argument focuses on a balanced development of the country through decentralization. Capital concentration must be dispersed in order to attain a balance of wealth and development in the country. To do so, relocating administrative offices to a regional area may be essential.

As this logic accentuates equal social development, we’ll call it former President Roh Moo-hyun’s sociology.

We have schools of thought, interests and beliefs all at odds. It is no wonder the Sejong predicament is difficult to solve.

Values on administrative efficacy, principles and trust, and balanced land development clash.

Whether it be the original or revised plan, the pursuit of interests differs between the population of the capital and Chungcheong and also between Chungcheong and other regions.

A power struggle between the past, present and future also adds fuel to the fire.

Further, a policy decision is mingled with political strategy and interests to complicate the equation. The solution to the equation will likely impact the June gubernatorial elections as well as general and presidential elections two years later.

No political expert can offer a definite answer to this problem, including myself. But one thing is clear.

There is no solution that can satisfy the sociological, economic and political logic used by past, present and potential future leaders.

Not one of the issues - balanced prosperity, administrative efficacy, political principle - is less important than the other.

We just need to take a step back and try to put ourselves in the place of those on the other side of the issue.

Since the floor is open for debate, we should do so, but we should try to find common ground as quickly as possible to prevent further waste and damage from pernicious fighting.

I do not suggest that compromising on the idea of moving a smaller number of government offices is the best answer. But as often in resolving conflicts, there is no better solution than to choose the best possible option.

Personally, I believe political and social logic should win over political argument regarding Sejong. But this is my opinion.

Unless the future of Sejong City is put to a public referendum, the National Assembly must solve it. It should prove to the entire population why the legislature exists in our society.

But as a voter, I would like to ask legislators to place public and national interests before their political goals. The owner of this country is its people. I sincerely hope lawmakers will keep that in mind.

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

by Kim Ho-ki
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