MB punts on airport campaign promise

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MB punts on airport campaign promise

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Park Chang-ho, left, head of the evaluation committee, announces yesterday at the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs that neither of the two final sites for a new international airport are suitable. Leaders of the ruling Grand National Party, right, look grim yesterday during a meeting at party headquarters in Yeouido, western Seoul, as they contemplate political backlash from scrapping the long-touted new-airport project, especially among voters in the southeast. [YONHAP]


President Lee Myung-bak’s vow to build a new international airport in the southern part of the country crumbled to dust yesterday after the government decided it was more cost effective to expand an existing airport in the region.

The announcement infuriated the two places competing for the massive infrastructure investment - Gadeok Island off the city of Busan and Miryang in South Gyeongsang - and Lee’s ruling Grand National Party braced itself for fierce political blowback from the Gyeongsang region.

“I apologize to Yeongnam residents and the people as the airport project promised by the government can’t go forward anymore,” said Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik after an evaluation committee decided that neither proposed site was suitable for a new airport.

“But necessary complementary measures will be made to efficiently handle flight demands of the Yeongnam region.” (Yeongnam refers to North and South Gyeongsang, Busan and Daegu.)

Although Kim didn’t specify which airport would be expanded, senior GNP officials hinted to the JoongAng Ilbo earlier this week that the military could be transferred out of Busan’s Gimhae International Airport and civilian passenger and cargo capabilities expanded. Currently, the military uses 30 percent of the airport.

President Lee was briefed by the prime minister about the airport decision yesterday afternoon. “I feel heavyhearted,” Lee was quoted as telling Kim by his spokesman. “Please explain well to the people that the decision was unavoidable for the sake of the nation.”

Lee will address the nation soon to explain the decision and the government’s next steps, according to the Blue House.

The evaluation committee announced that the two competing sites came out neck-and-neck but neither was considered economically feasible. “In three categories [of economic, environmental and airport management feasibility] Miryang received a combined 39.9 out of 100 points and Gadeok received 38.8 out of 100,” said Park Chang-ho, head of the evaluation committee. “We reached the conclusion that both candidates were unsuitable for the new airport because their geographies would lead to excessive costs for the project and damage to the environment.”

The announcement immediately set off fury from the southeast region - a traditional GNP stronghold - and the party is holding its breath over by-elections scheduled for April 27.

Both the ruling and opposition parties are watching the by-elections to presage voter sentiment leading up to next year’s general and presidential elections.

“As the governor of South Gyeongsang, I’m very regretful to stand here with disappointing results,” Governor Kim Du-kwan said at a press conference. “The government made a decision that breaks its promise and betrays the trust of the people. And an important basis of managing state affairs is public confidence, and it’s now collapsed.”

Busan Mayor Hur Nam-sik said that the evaluation committee’s decision was “unacceptable” and that he’s not giving up. He said he will push for Gimhae International Airport to be relocated to Gadeok Island.

“The new airport was Busan’s most coveted project, and we envisioned a safe airport that’s free from the noise and safety problems we’ve witnessed at Gimhae International Airport,” Hur said. “The new airport should be able to operate 24 hours a day, and I want to reiterate that Gadeok Island is the best site.”

The southern airport plan dates back to December 2006 when the Roh Moo-hyun government proposed building a new airport in the southeastern region.

Roh proposed to construct a 6.6 million square meter, 10 trillion won ($9 billion) airport by 2025 with a capacity of handling 10 million passengers annually. It was to be Korea’s second international hub after Incheon International Airport.

President Lee pledged to construct the new airport in the Gyeongsang region during his 2007 presidential campaign, and the project provoked ferocious competition. A total of 35 proposed sites were reviewed and the competition eventually narrowed down to Gadeok Island and Miryang. Both North and South Gyeongsang were pushing for Miryang to be selected.


By Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]
공약과 국익 사이 고뇌 … MB “마음 몹시 무겁다”
청와대 “대통령, 국민 이해 구할 것”

30일 오후 4시 청와대 본관 이명박 대통령의 집무실. 김황식 국무총리가 “동남권 신공항 추진이 어렵게 됐다”고 보고하자 이 대통령은 한동안 가만히 있다가 “마음이 몹시 무겁다”고 말했다 한다. 배석했던 홍상표 청와대 홍보수석은 “대통령이 한 공약을 지키지 못하고 국익 차원에서 이런 어려운 결정을 하면서 (대통령의) 고뇌가 매우 큰 것 같다는 느낌을 받았다”고 분위기를 전했다.

 이 대통령은 신공항 백지화 결정과 관련해 조만간 직접 입장을 밝힐 예정이라고 한다. ‘대통령이 지역을 찾는다거나 의원 또는 지역단체장들을 만나 설득할 계획이 있느냐’란 기자들의 질문에 홍 수석은 “그런 것까지 포함해 국민과 지역 주민에게 이해를 구하기 위해 할 수 있는 일을 마다하지 않을 것”이라고 답했다.

 신공항 건설 문제는 2006년 12월 노무현 전 대통령이 검토를 지시함에 따라 관심을 끌었다. 이 대통령은 2007년 대통령 후보 시절 신공항 건립을 공약으로 내걸었다. 이 대통령은 이듬해 2월 취임했으나 이 문제에 대해선 결론을 내리지 못한 채 3년을 보냈다. 그 사이 영남권은 양분됐다. 자존심을 건 싸움이 가열됐고, 갈등도 심화했다. 그런 가운데 이 대통령은 경제 논리를 내세워 백지화라는 결론을 내렸다. 그런 그의 결정은 공약과 국익 사이에서 고민한 결과다. 욕먹을 각오로 공약을 버리고 국익을 선택했다 할 수 있다.

 이와 관련해 중앙대 장훈(정치학) 교수는 “이 대통령이 신공항 건설을 백지화한 것은 정치적 비용을 감수하고서라도 경제적 타당성을 택한 것”이라며 “캠페이닝(campaigning·선거운동)과 거버닝(governing·통치행위)에는 차이가 있는데 캠페이닝 과정에서 들어온 합리적이지 못한 주제가 거버닝의 합리성에 의해 걸러진 것”이라고 말했다. 옳은 결정을 했다는 얘기다. 친이명박계이면서도 이 대통령의 국정운영을 종종 비판해 온 한나라당 김용태 의원도 “여건 변화에 따라 공약을 일부 수정해서 국가 정책으로 만들어나가는 작업은 해야 한다”고 말했다.


 하지만 이 대통령이 결론을 내기까지 국정운영의 에너지와 예산, 시간을 너무 낭비했다는 비판도 나오고 있는 실정이다. 정부는 당초 2009년 9월 신공항 입지를 발표하기로 했지만 그 후 발표를 두 차례 연기한 끝에야 ‘없던 일’로 결정했다. 그러는 사이 지역 간 갈등은 커졌고, 대통령에 대한 불신도 높아졌다.

 친이 직계로 분류되는 한나라당의 한 의원은 “이 대통령은 논란이 커지기 전에 신공항 추진 과정에서의 착오와 문제점 등을 진솔하게 국민에게 설명했어야 했다”며 “대통령이 타이밍을 놓쳤고 소통 노력도 부족했다”고 지적했다. 친이계의 또 다른 의원은 “이 대통령은 과학비즈니스벨트 공약과 관련해서도 ‘공약집에는 없다’고 하는 등 공약을 다루는 문제에서 진정성이 부족하다는 인상을 준다”며 “이번 결정과 관련해 이 대통령이 국민을 납득시키지 못하는 한 그는 신뢰의 위기를 맞게 될 것이며, 결과적으론 레임덕(권력누수)에 빠질 가능성이 크다”고 주장했다.  

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