As expected, flames of anger have flared up in Busan and Daegu following the government’s decision on Wednesday to scrap President Lee Myung-bak’s election pledge to build an international airport in the southeastern part of the nation.
In Busan, infuriated lawmakers of the ruling Grand National Party resolved to promote the relocation of Gimhae International Airport to Gadeok Island on their own. In Daegu, which competed with Busan, city officials and GNP lawmakers vowed to draw up a new plan in cooperation with their alliance members ― North and South Gyeongsang provinces and Ulsan City ― who all want to have a new airport built in Miryang, a city between Daegu and Busan.
Fueling the backlash is Rep. Park Geun-hye, the undisputed frontrunner in the race to become the next president. The former GNP chairwoman visited Daegu, her home turf, on Thursday and criticized the government for breaching its promise to the public.
Stressing the need for politicians to keep their word, Park said she would make the airport project her presidential campaign pledge because the nation would need a new hub international airport other than Incheon International Airport in the future, if not now.
She cited a forecast by the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs that around 2025, passenger and cargo traffic at the Incheon airport would go beyond its capacity even if the third phase of expansion is completed as planned.
It is difficult to argue against the strong emphasis that Park has consistently placed on the virtue of government officials and politicians to stick to their word. To make Korean society more predictable, it is essential that policy makers deliver on their promises. This means they need to be prudent in making pledges, refraining from writing the checks that they cannot cash.
But there are times when politicians’ election campaign pledges turn out to be detrimental to national interests. In these instances, the right course of action for them is to ditch the pledges and apologize to the public for their misjudgment. It would be foolhardy to press ahead with such promises simply because promises are made to be kept.
According to the panel that has conducted an in-depth feasibility study on the airport project, the two candidate sites ― Gadeok Island and Miryang ― both earned very low scores in the category of economic viability ― 12.5 and 12.2 out of 40 points, respectively. This means the project is basically a non-starter. Promoting an airport in either of the two places is like throwing money down the drain.
Therefore, officials and politicians in Busan, Daegu and other related cities and provinces should heed the conclusion of the feasibility study and avoid spending money on an unprofitable project. They need to swallow their anger and keep a cool head.
For Park, we understand the need for her to soothe the resentment of people in her home turf and side with the lawmakers who are loyal to her. But if she commits herself to the airport project, she will set herself up to be on the wrong side of the issue. This will do harm not only to herself but to the nation. She needs to tread carefully.