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Pres. Park should resolve intra-party conflict over new airport

Pres. Park should resolve intra-party conflict over new airport

Posted June. 21, 2016 07:25,   

Updated June. 21, 2016 08:25


In his speech at a meeting of parliamentary blocks on Monday, ruling Saenuri Party floor leader Chung Jin-seok said, “The (new) airport should be constructed into a world-class airport to follow suit of Incheon International Airport. If we are responsible politicians, we should not instigate regional conflict on site,” in urging metropolitan city mayors and provincial governors to control themselves. Soon after Chung’s speech, however, Busan Mayor Seo Byung-soo said, “There is suspicion that consulting service to eval‎uate the sites for the new airport, whose results will be announced on Friday, is moving in a direction in favor of a certain region,” reaffirming his plan to resign as mayor if he fails to attract the new airport to Busan's Gadeok Island. It reflects the reality at Saenuri where leadership’s requests are faced only with deaf ears.”

“If a wrong decision is made on a 100-year plan for the nation, we cannot afford to accept," Seo said. "I will make concerted efforts with Busan citizens to correct the outcome by mobilizing whatever we have in our disposal.” He even mentioned Busan citizens’ campaign to resist. Five mayors and governors in the southeastern region, who claim the new airport to be constructed in Gadeok Island and Miryang in South Gyeongsang Province, agreed last year that they would not engage in competition to attract the airport until the results of site assessment come out. Seo’s comment on his possible resignation is clear violation of the agreement, while mayors and governors of four other metropolitan cities and provinces also strongly criticized Busan’s violation of the agreement’ last month. The five regions have long been home turfs for the ruling Saenuri Party, and all mayors are governors are affiliated with the ruling party. The Saenuri Party, which have engaged in protracted, disgusting factional strife between the pro-Park Geun-hye and non-Park Geun-hye factions, are poised to be divided into two regions -- Busan and South Gyeongsang Province versus Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province -- over policy issue, driving the party to nowhere.

The Busan mayor suggested a measure of "co-existence," which calls for construction of a regional airport in Daegu and North Gyeongsang if it is decided that the new airport will be built in Gadeok Island. However, the new airport issue should not be resolved through a "give and take deal" to create a bad example. There are already a number of airports that lack passengers and are wasting taxpayers’ money. Only one, be it Gadeok Island or Miryang, should be picked as the site for an airport for the Gyeongsang region and developed into the best hub airport after Incheon Airport. If passengers and government support get divided, chances are high that both of them will fail to distinguish themselves and end up becoming headaches.

President Park Geun-hye is hugely responsible for the escalation of the new airport into a major pending issue that causes national divide. Former President Lee Myung-bak made an election promise to construct a new airport during his presidential campaign, and dropped the plan all together even by making a public apology in 2011 when regional conflict intensified. In the following year, however, presidential candidates Park and Moon Jae-in pledged to construct a new airport while scrambling to win votes.

The president promised that the airport site would be picked in a way that anyone can agree upon in line with international standards, without giving political consideration, but the Busan mayor, a member of the pro-Park faction himself, is mentioning potential resistance to a decision. After making strong pledge during her presidential campaign and neglecting the issue until it reaches a tipping point, the president just left pro-Park candidates unchecked even when they mentioned “president’s gift,” right before the April 13 general elections. President Park is urged to address internal conflict within the party, as someone who is originally and ultimately responsible.

박제균논설위원 phark@donga.com