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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Herald on June 13)

All News 07:48 June 13, 2016

Ugly sectionalism
Politicians fuel contention over new airport

The strife between two candidate cities for a new airport in the south of the country testifies to the chronic social illness in Korea – extreme sectionalism fanned by politicians.

The contention between Gadeokdo Island in Busan and Miryang in South Gyeongsang Province is so intense that there could be serious fallout whichever side wins the airport project.

Given the benefits that will come from having an international airport in the neighborhood, local residents may well cling to the project. It may also be understandable -- to a degree -- for politicians in the candidate sites to do what they can do to win the major infrastructure project.

But some local administrators and politicians bent on retaining their seats do not hesitate to fan antagonism against their rival districts and the central government.

Busan Mayor Suh Byung-soo is a point in case. In response to the rumors that the selection process is going in favor of Miryang, Suh said that there were "invisible hands" at work.

Suh was apparently referring to President Park Geun-hye, whose hometown is close to Miryang, and her associates in the ruling party and government. It is ironic that Suh himself was a member of Park's inner circle in the ruling Saenuri Party. It seems that Suh -- he even said he would stake his post on the airport project -- is willing to turn his back on the president in order to retain his mayoral seat.

While the mayor deserves criticism for taking such a provocative position, Park's loyalists cannot avoid responsibility for providing a basis for such an argument.

For instance, Rep. Cho Won-jin, a key Park loyalist elected from Park's hometown Daegu, said in March that the president was "preparing a package of gifts" for the region. It was about one month before the parliamentary election and the lawmaker's comment was widely regarded as indication that the Park administration would prefer Miryang as the site for the new airport.

With the next presidential election to be held in 17 months, presidential politics is also weighing heavily on the issue. Some -- like Moon Jae-in of The Minjoo Party of Korea -- are going all out to take advantage of the issue to strengthen their support bases.

Visiting Gadeokdo Island in Busan, his hometown, Thursday, Moon said that the selection process seemed lacking objectivity, fairness and transparency. He added that Busan citizens may not be able to accept the decision.

This is not first time that Moon, who hails from Busan where his liberal party has a weak base, has tried to exploit the airport project for personal political gains. During the campaign for the April 13 parliamentary election, Moon, a leading potential presidential candidate, said his party would bring the airport to Busan if voters in the city elect no less than five Minjoo candidates.

As it turned out, five – a record number -- of the 18 seats in the city went to the Minjoo Party, which might have emboldened Moon to raise his voice further. Moon may think that his active campaign for the airport may get him some more votes from Busan, but what is more certain is that he will lose a more precious thing -- credibility as a national leader who should not be tied up by selfish sectionalism.

South Gyeongsang Gov. Hong Joon-pyo, in a Facebook comment, said he had never insisted that Miryang, which is in his province, should win the airport project. He added that the decision should be made in view of national interests and that politicians should not interfere with the decision. It is obvious who – of Hong or Suh and Moon – should be called a responsible politician and who a mere demagogue.

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