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Opposition split over new airport, as ruling party rushes to alternative

Ruling Democratic Party lawmakers with constituencies in Busan, Ulsan and South Gyeongsang Province call for legislation to fast-track the construction of an airport on Gadeokdo, an island that is part of Busan, at the National Assembly on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Ruling Democratic Party lawmakers with constituencies in Busan, Ulsan and South Gyeongsang Province call for legislation to fast-track the construction of an airport on Gadeokdo, an island that is part of Busan, at the National Assembly on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
The decision to review plans for a new airport in the country’s southeast is sending ripples through the political arena, with the ruling bloc pushing for a quick conclusion while the opposition appears divided.

On Tuesday, the government effectively scrapped plans for expanding Gimhae International Airport in Busan, reigniting hopes for an airport on Gadeokdo, a small island also within Busan, connected by bridge to the mainland.

On Wednesday, ruling Democratic Party of Korea lawmakers with constituencies in Busan, Ulsan and South Gyeongsang Province called on main opposition People Power Party lawmakers from the three areas to co-propose a special bill on building the airport on Gadeokdo.

“Let’s work together on the ruling and opposition parties co-proposing the special bill on construction of Gadeokdo airport and for making (the plan) People Power Party’s official position,” the ruling party lawmakers said at a press conference.

The Democratic Party lawmakers, including former South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Du-kwan, also called for bipartisan discussions on the issue.

The ruling party lawmakers’ press conference is the latest move to add momentum to the Gadeokdo plan from the Democratic Party, which appears to have made preparations in advance.

Immediately after Tuesday’s announcement, the Democratic Party held a party meeting and launched a committee on building a new airport in the southeast. The party also revealed that it has prepared a special bill that would fast-track the airport’s construction.

The party completed drafting the bill, which calls for Gadeokdo to be chosen as the site of the new airport, ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, and it is expected to be proposed within the month.

At the meeting, ruling party Chairman Rep. Lee Nak-yon, who leads polls for potential presidential candidates, reiterated his support for Gadeokdo.

“I have been expressing support for the new airport on Gadeokdo for a long time,” Lee said, adding that the party will get behind the plan.

The People Power Party, which has strong supporter base in the southeast, appears divided, as lawmakers with North Gyeongsang Province connections condemn the decision and those with South Gyeongsang Province connections express support for Gadeokdo.

“As it was announced today that Gimhae airport plan needs fundamental review, announce tomorrow that the new airport will be built on Gadeokdo,” Rep. Suh Byung-soo, People Power Party representative for a Busan constituency, said Tuesday. He added that the president must make a decision for the future of Busan.

Other People Power Party figures, however, expressed strong opposition. People Power Party Floor Leader Rep. Joo Ho-young accused the decision to scrap the Gimhae airport plans of lacking transparency, and hinted that he may request an audit.

Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin claimed the decision is groundless, and that plans for building a new airport in the southeast should be started from the very beginning, saying “Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province never agreed to a new airport on Gadeokdo.”

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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