Gangnam criticized for comments in ongoing feud

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Gangnam criticized for comments in ongoing feud

The governor of Gangnam District has come under fire for suggesting the Seoul Metropolitan Government grant it autonomy, part of the latest in an ongoing feud concerning an unfolding city development plan.

“Have you ever considered liberating Gangnam District or suggesting to the central government the establishment of the Gangnam Autonomous District?” Gangnam Governor Shin Yeon-hee, 67, wrote in a letter earlier this week to Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon.

The move was the latest barb traded in the dispute between Gangnam and the city, which ignited in June over development plans for land bought by Hyundai Motor Group.

Hyundai bought the property in Gangnam in September 2014, after winning a bid worth 10 trillion won ($8.4 billion), and has been in talks with city officials since February over a detailed construction plan for its new headquarters.

The group donated 1.7 trillion won to the city government in June so it would loosen regulations on the headquarters, which resulted in a feud between the city government and the district office over where to spend the money.

Gangnam claims the funds should be put toward the district since its residents will have to suffer the inconvenience from the construction, a stance many in Gangnam support.

Another letter penned by Shin in July to Mayor Park read, “It’s anachronistic to share with others when we are living in a liberal democracy that accepts limitless competition.”

In April, before the amount of Hyundai’s contribution was finalized, Gangnam residents formed an emergency countermeasure committee in support of the district office’s argument seeking autonomy.

The group collected signatures for a petition to bring the money back to the district and hung up more than 50 banners protesting the Seoul city government. “We’re unfairly criticized by people living in other districts just because we live in a rich area,” a committee official lamented.

Shin’s comments were the source of immense backlash, particularly online, especially when considering that the district has the highest ratio of fiscal self-reliance among all 25 of the capital’s districts.

“[Gangnam’s residents] seem to have forgotten that loads of money from districts north of the Han River was put toward the development of Gangnam District,” one commentator posted on an online forum. “How can they consider becoming an autonomous district when they are nothing more than nouveau riche?”

But even after months of dispute, the city has remained firm.

“Gangnam District Office seems to have forgotten its sense of duty,” a city official said, “and [Shin] is recklessly criticizing the city government, which just doesn’t make sense.”

BY CHO HYE-KYUNG, KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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