[Viewpoint] Can Lee resolve Sejong City issue?

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[Viewpoint] Can Lee resolve Sejong City issue?

In Western culture, the complex procedure of building a city is called a “muddling-through process.” It’s a difficult equation that involves conflicting interests from multiple groups and the resulting power struggle.

It’s been weeks since the Lee Myung-bak administration voided the plan to relocate administrative offices to Sejong City and replaced it with a new development plan. The administration managed to issue an advance legislative notice to legalize its new plan, but since then there’s been no progress.

“Why is the project stalled?” is the same question as, “How can we resolve it?”

The roots of the conflict date back many years. For former President Roh Moo-hyun, Seoul was not a geographical concept. Presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung also were not Geojeo Island or Haui Island people. They were people of Seoul.

The two Kims were the emperors of Yeouido, and Roh once said, “It is the goal of politics to overturn Seoul politics.” To reform Seoul, he said the administration and the Blue House should be moved somewhere in the south. It was Roh’s plan to build an administrative capital.

Roh planted detonators to keep his plan from being revised. He planned to relocate public institutions and state-run companies en masse to other regional reform cities.

Under the initial Sejong City plan, a site with the ambiguous zoning name “guard training site” had been designated. This was the code name for a second presidential office. Although the Blue House cannot move, Roh himself was determined to move there.

But the Lee administration argues that a widespread dispersal of government offices will incur wasted time and money. If the government offices stay in Seoul, as Lee’s plan suggests, public institutions and state-run companies will have a reason to reject the relocation, as they can cite the same inefficiencies. This could leave the reform cities vacant, and that could trigger disturbances.

For former Grand National Chairwoman Park Geun-hye, sticking to the initial Sejong City plan appears to be the only path. After the assassination of her father, President Park Chung Hee, she lived in seclusion for 18 years, wandering around the back footpaths of history. For her, “trust” and “promise” were the highest values.

“I have seen the obsession with power and desire from people whom I had trusted,” she recalled. “Once you betray, it becomes easier to do it again the next time.”

When critics sneered at Park, calling her “the princess with a memo pad who cannot go outside,” she said, “It is a memo pad recording the complaints I have heard when meeting the public.”

During a speech at Stanford University in the United States last year, Park made a mistake when she pronounced “conduct a nuclear test” by stressing the accent wrongly. Then she repeated the phrase several times to correct her mistake.

The incident shows how rarely Park crosses a line.

Park and her aides say they have no political agenda with the Sejong City issue. It appears that she has nothing to lose by insisting on the initial plan. She is a presidential hopeful of the Grand National Party, which has only a single lawmaker from the Chungcheong region, and it is vital for her to build up her stronghold in the Chungcheong area.

According to a recent Gallup survey, 45.4 percent of the population of South Chungcheong and 52.4 percent of that of North Chungcheong disagree with the new plan for Sejong City as presented by the Lee administration.

In the same poll, 67.1 percent and 67.6 percent of the two provinces reported that they agree with Park’s position of “trust and promise.” The questions are similar, but the figures vary.

In the Jeolla provinces, 71.3 percent agree with Park’s position. With her brand image of “trust and promise,” she has already earned some extra points.

If the Lee government fails to revise the Sejong City plan before the presidential election, Park will face criticism about her political responsibility. However, she appears to be the only strong presidential contender from either the ruling or the opposition parties.

If the situation continues as it is, the ruling party will likely decide to support her simply because she is most likely to win, and everything about Sejong City will be forgotten. That’s why it will be hard to reach a compromise with Park.

In 2008, the nationwide protests against the government’s U.S. beef deal were about to calm. At the time, President Lee reportedly said to a lawmaker close to him that “Now, the Sejong City issue is in our hands. How can we relocate the administrative offices? During the election, I just mumbled and said yes, but this is a serious issue. It’s not something we should push forward.”

Lee began his career as an accountant of a construction site, and when he was the CEO of Hyundai Engineering and Construction, he collected leftover nails and components from a construction site. Lee apparently decided that the relocation of government offices to Sejong City is a national waste that may bring about the decline of the country. For this devoted Protestant, stopping dispersion of government offices has apparently become a matter of faith.

The issue is the determination of the mainstream ruling party. Officials do not seem intent on realizing Lee’s plan by removing Roh’s nails and redirecting Park’s passion. For still-unseasoned Grand National Chairman Chung Mong-joon and Prime Minister Chung Un-chan, the Sejong City issue may be too heavy.

It’s time for President Lee to step in. For the Cheonggye Stream project, Lee’s team visited store owners along the stream 4,200 times, and now Lee must repeat the practice. To appeal to the nation, he has to meet everyone from pro-Park lawmakers to opposition party members and Chungcheong residents.

Even if the Sejong City revision plan is buried in oblivion for the next presidential election, his sincerity won’t be forgotten, because the issue was next to impossible.


*The author is an editorial writer and senior political news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Choi Hoon

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