President-elect Park Geun-hye reaffirmed her commitment to close the country’s deep divides along ideological, generational and regional lines when she launched a special committee on national unity last month.
She appointed two senior politicians from the Jeolla region, the stronghold of the main opposition party, to lead the panel, apparently hoping that the move would help ease the deep-rooted rivalry between the southwestern and southeastern parts of the country.
It is regretful and deplorable that the first thing the two figures did after their appointment was to add another divisive topic by making reckless remarks on the location of the headquarters of a new ministry Park suggested establishing during her campaign.
Former lawmaker Kim Kyung-jae, who was named deputy head of the committee, proposed placing the main office of the envisioned ministry to take charge of maritime affairs in a coastal city of South Jeolla Province. His proposal was immediately endorsed by the committee chairman, Han Kwang-ok, as “worthy of full consideration.”
Though aides to Park and officials at the ruling Saenuri Party downplayed their remarks as personal views, strong backlash has come from other regions, especially the southeastern port city of Busan.
Before her win in the Dec. 19 presidential election, Park pledged to revive the Maritime Affairs Ministry, which was merged with the Construction and Transportation Ministry in 2008 into the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs. During her visit to Busan in November, she suggested locating the new ministry in the country’s largest port city, saying “a review is under way in that direction.”
Han and Kim should have known the possible impact of their remarks, which go against Park’s earlier promise, on the regional rivalry, which still remains sensitive and inflammable. To promote national reconciliation they should calmly adjust conflicts between different regions, generations and ideological groups, avoiding giving the impression that they advocate specific interests of their home provinces.
What is equally irrational and undesirable is the reported move to split the headquarters of the new ministry in two and place them each in the administrative town of Sejong and Busan. Aides to Park are said to be tilting toward the idea despite their concerns over inefficiencies it might cause, as the president-elect has stood firm on keeping her campaign pledge.
In realistic terms, the best option seems to locate the main office of the ministry in Sejong, with a least portion of its organization based in Busan. Even in that case, Park and her aides may face demand from Jeolla residents that part of the ministry’s function should be hosted by their region.
In previous elections, candidates have sown seeds for regional confrontations by pledging without adequate consideration to invite offices of public corporations and major infrastructure facilities including airports to their districts. The latest controversy over the location of the new ministry should be the last case in the series of self-invited conflicts pitting regions against each other.