No more political engineeringA longstanding regional feud over the construction of a new airport in the southern region of the country has been revived after the government assigned the Prime Minister’s Office to reexamine the project. The conflict — which was eased by the former Park Geun-hye administration’s announcement to expand the existing Gimhae International Airport in South Gyeongsang, instead of building a new one in other parts of the country — has been rekindled by the Moon Jae-in administration. After a meeting with Land and Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee, the three elected heads of Busan, Ulsan and South Gyeongsang Province — all from the ruling Democratic Party (DP) — issued a statement that they would respect the Prime Minister’s Office’s findings on a possible new Gimhae airport.
The Daegu city government and North Gyeongsang Province both condemned the move that could stoke a regional conflict. Rep. Kim Boo-gyeom, a DP lawmaker from Daegu, also warned of huge repercussions if the Prime Minister’s Office breaks off the previous agreement and tilts towards the idea of building a new airport in Gadeok Island, as proposed by the Busan city government and South Gyeongsang Province.
The option of expanding the Gimhae airport was a solution to end the decade-old contest over two locations — Gadeok Island near Busan and Miryang, which is closer to Daegu and North Gyeongsang. The three gubernatorial heads from the ruling party are out to upset the compromise which was finally reached by the five heads of the cities and provinces in the region to settle the dispute. President Moo Jae-in in February ordered the Prime Minister’s Office to look into the affair again.
Busan and South Gyeongsang Province, which are led by DP politicians, were awarded 6.7 trillion won ($5.8 billion) worth of fast-track infrastructure budgeting projects in January, while Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province were each given just 1.5 trillion won. Many suspect that the government is going to sweep the votes in the Busan and South Gyeongsang regions during the next general election by pushing ahead with the proposal of a new airport near Busan.
An airport is a concern of not just national competitiveness and regional balance, but also national safety. The Prime Minister’s Office should be able to provide clear answers on safety, noise and economic questions from the planned expansion of the Gimhae Airport. The government would face strong public backlash if it places political priorities ahead of national interests.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 24, Page 30