Democratic Party convenes first meeting of team for relocating capital

Posted on : 2020-07-28 15:12 KST Modified on : 2020-07-28 15:34 KST
Effort to achieve balanced national development requires combination of decentralization and job creation, experts say
Kim Tae-nyeon, floor leader of the Democratic Party, during the first meeting of the “administrative capital completion pursuit team” for relocating the country’s capital at the National Assembly on July 27. (Kim Gyoung-ho, staff photographer)
Kim Tae-nyeon, floor leader of the Democratic Party, during the first meeting of the “administrative capital completion pursuit team” for relocating the country’s capital at the National Assembly on July 27. (Kim Gyoung-ho, staff photographer)

The Democratic Party held the first meeting of its “administrative capital completion pursuit team” on July 27 to make preparations for the relocation of South Korea’s administrative capital. In declaring its plans to see through the national agenda of “balanced development of the national territory,” it has said it intends to hold a full range of discussions, up to and including the construction of a second set of “innovation cities” and strategies for development in regions outside the greater Seoul area, or the Seoul Capital Area (SCA). Experts are suggesting that the attempt to relieve overcrowding in the SCA and achieve balanced national development through an administrative capital can only succeed through a combination of local decentralization efforts and a job-linked development strategy.

“The ultimate goal of completing the administrative capital is the balanced development of the overall South Korean national territory,” said Democratic Party floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon in a meeting at the National Assembly at 2 pm that day.

“We need to devise an efficient and rational plan so that it can be completed before the presidential election rather than being dragged out until then,” he urged.

At the same meeting, Democratic Party lawmaker Woo Won-shik, who heads the pursuit team, noted that the city of Sejong had “already acquired land for the Blue House and National Assembly,” adding that a “basic design has also been produced.”

Core of capital relocation is relocating Blue House and National Assembly

“We intend to pursue this quickly rather than waiting until the presidential election,” he stressed.

The party’s emphasis on a specific “pre-presidential election” table on top of its forceful prescription with the National Assembly and Blue House’s relocation appeared to reflect a determination that Sejong cannot truly fulfill its role as a multifunctional administrative city without those two institutions’ relocation. Shin You-ho, an adjunct professor of public administration at Dankook University, said, “It is undeniably true that inefficiencies are occurring in the policy production process.”

“These irregularities in [Sejong’s] functioning at a city can be rectified if the top decision-making bodies -- namely the National Assembly and Blue House -- are relocated,” he suggested.

Sejong as a control tower for development outside Seoul area

Even if the finishing touches are put on Sejong’s role as the administrative capital, that significance would be largely undercut if it becomes another gravitational center swallowing up its periphery like Seoul. It was along these lines that former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon posted a Facebook message on July 24 reading, “If the Blue House and National Assembly are relocated to Sejong, it will become a predator and black hole, setting the surrounding regions on a path to collapse and extinction.” As an alternative, he proposed “creating a special metropolitan region of smaller cities in the North and South Chungcheong region within an hour’s distance from Sejong and concentrating administrative functions there.”

Lee Min-won, a professor at Gwangju University and former chairperson of the Presidential Committee for Balanced National Development, said, “If they want to avoid accusations of trying to relocate the capital as a way of resolving the issue of housing prices in greater Seoul, they’re going to need to also come out with real estate measures for Sejong and measures for balanced national development, including the additional relocation of public institutions.”

“They can’t allow Sejong to become another Seoul,” he stressed.

“For the administrative capital to succeed, they’re going to need support from regions like Gyeongsang and Jeolla Provinces in addition to greater Seoul and the Chungcheong Provinces, as well as a greater cause in terms of seeing through balanced national development,” he said.

Kim Jin-ai, an Open Democratic Party lawmaker and expert on cities, “Sejong had originally been expected to function as an administrative control lower, but it’s been an incomplete entity, with only a portion of administrative functions relocated there.”

“If they can finish relocating administrative functions and link it to related service industries in the surrounding area, then it could serve as a control tower for balanced national development beyond greater Seoul, creating shared growth for North Jeolla Province, Daegu, and North Gyeongsang Province, areas that are geographically close to Sejong,” she predicted.

Some observers are arguing for the long-term pursuit of development strategies for individual regions. The idea is that these strategies will be necessary to prevent the base city from “hollowing out” its surrounding region. Speaking on July 27, Kim Tae-nyeon said, “We need to transition toward a multipolar system, rather than a unipolar system consisting solely of the greater Seoul area.”

“The southeastern ‘megacity project’ for Busan, Ulsan, and South Gyeongsang Province and the administrative integration of Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province represent new approaches toward a multipolar, multiregional system,” he said.

Decentralization rather than dispersal

Analysts also said the effects of relocating the administrative capital would be limited if the centralized administrative system remains in place. Kim Hyeong-gi, a professor at Kyungpook National University and a permanent representative of the group Citizen Action for Amending the Constitution for Decentralization, stressed that “decentralization is more important than dispersal.”

“We need the simultaneous pursuit of a decentralization strategy that gradually assigns centralized legislative, financial, personnel-related, and organizational authority to local governments so that they can establish metropolitan economic areas that combine multiple regions into one zone, along the lines of a ‘Daegu-North Gyeongsang special self-governing province’ or a ‘Daejeon-South Chungcheong special self-governing province,’” he said.

Park Won-seok, who chairs the policy committee for the Justice Party, said that “balanced national development needs to be predicated on local devolution.”

“We need to change this budget structure where funds come down from the central government with a ‘label’ attached so they can only be used for certain purposes,” he explained.

But some observers maintain that dispersal needs to be hastened, if only as a step toward decentralization. According to this view, autonomous decentralization is a goal to be achieved as a result of dispersal. Hwang Hee, a Democratic Party lawmaker who holds a doctorate in urban engineering, said, “The provinces need to gain power first to form the conditions for sharing central government authority.”

“Before decentralization happens, regions need to be revitalized and tax revenues need to increase. Physical dispersal represents a means of achieving that,” he said.

Combined role of administrative capital and innovation city

In addition to the relocation of the administrative capital, the Democratic Party is also naming a second set of “innovation cities” as part of a two-track approach to achieving balanced development. The key issue ultimately has to do with jobs. Ma Kang-rae, a professor of urban planning at Chung-Ang University, said, “The most important thing in urban development is a supply of businesses and jobs where people can engage in economic activities as they live in those places.”

“Beyond the distribution of institutions among regions, [this approach] needs to be rooted in industry policies that are linked to jobs and private businesses within those regions,” he insisted.

Lee Du-yeong, president of the Citizens’ Forum for Balanced Development, similarly suggested that “we will only see a real effect in terms of balanced development if major universities and businesses also relocated to the provinces in addition to things like public institutions, the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, and the Korean Broadcasting System.”

For a second round of public institution relocations to generate effects in terms of balanced development, the experiences of the first group of Innovation Cities will need to be closely analyzed. Experts pointed to the Bitgaram Innovation City in Naju, South Jeolla Province, as a success story. Home to the relocated Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), Bitgaram had over 430 related businesses related there in just over five years. Industry-academia activities have also borne fruit with the finalization of plans to establish a “KEPCO Institute of Technology.” Active job programs have also been established in coordination with national universities in the region, including Chonnam National University.

“There was a clear effect in terms of dispersing population from the greater Seoul area during the period from 2012 to 2017 when Sejong and the first group of innovation cities were established,” said Kim Tae-hwan, director of the balanced national development support center at the Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements.

“If a second group of innovation cities are attempted, the focus is going to need to fall as much on building self-sustaining, efficiency-centered cities as on distributing public institutions for the sake of equity among regions,” he stressed.

By Noh Hyun-woong, Jung Hwan-bong, staff reporters, Choi Ye-rin, Daejeon correspondent, and Oh Yoon-joo, Cheongju correspondent

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