A shameful cancellation
The government’s plan to drop its project to establish a state-run center to cater to tourism for the Dokdo Islands has been met with fiery criticism. The government came up with the idea after Japan claimed sovereignty over the uninhabited group of rocky islets in the East Sea in 2008. The project was allocated 3 billion won ($2.74 million) from this year’s fiscal budget and the government last month advertised public bidding for the construction of the center, then suddenly called it off.
Prime Minister Chung Hong-won headed a cabinet meeting on Nov. 1 in which it was decided that the plan would be nullified, but the decision was not disclosed. The government only admitted that it called off the bid due to safety and environmental concerns after media reported on the issue. The Foreign Ministry was opposed to the plan because it would allow Japan to win favor with the public by arguing that construction on the islet could pollute the sea.
The problem lies in the botched policy-making procedure. The Dokdo center must take into account an array of issues - sovereignty over the islets, public opinion and the safety of tourists, and the Korea-Japan relationship. Cancellation of the plan also indicates a shift in a policy made by former administration under President Lee Myung-bak. Yet the government has been neither thorough nor transparent about the reversal of the decision. It did not bother to coordinate opinions of government offices.
It raises the question of whether the budgeting and construction bid had gone through proper government procedures in the first place. Despite its potential diplomatic ramifications, the project appears to be entirely led by the Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries. If the plan was according to proper government procedures, it could not have been dumped suddenly in a meeting. The Japanese government issued a statement calling the cancellation the fruit of its diplomatic endeavors. Worse, the process has not been explained to the public. Sovereignty over Dokdo is a sensitive social issue because it touches on anti-Japanese sentiments. The government should have clearly explained the matter to the public and sought understanding before the cancellation.
Unity is important to waging a strong case against another party. The government cannot have the public’s support if it hides things. It is embarrassing that our public policy on Dokdo has been leaked this way. The government must get its act together and stop looking unorganized and incompetent to its people. JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 8, Page 30