It is regrettable that President Lee Myung-bak’s remarks on the “science-business belt” plan in his New Year roundtable brewed strong protests from the Chungcheong-Daejeon region. The live-televised “free discussion” session on Feb. 1 designed to improve the president’s communication with the people only caused deep disappointment to those who had believed their province would host the 3.5 trillion won ($3 billion) project to establish a Korean version of California’s Silicon Valley.
Lee denied that he promised to build the science complex in the Chungcheong area during his 2007 campaign and said he “showed interest” in the project on his visit to the province “in order to collect more votes” from the region. He then emphasized the location of new science facilities should be decided in the most scientific manner by a special committee without being bound by any present assumptions.
The Chungcheong-based opposition Liberty Forward Party immediately produced Lee’s campaign brochure, which contained an item on creating a science-business complex in the province to link it with other science and high-tech research facilities in the nearby Daedeok, Osong and Ochang areas. In a demonstration before the Blue House, the party’s leaders called the president a liar.
Here it is not hard to conjecture how he came to reconsider the location of the huge project. With the voting down of the government-proposed Sejong City revision bill last June, the president must believe he is free to “decouple” the science-business belt from the Sejong administrative city project in the Chungcheong province. His strategists had conceived the science belt to compensate for scrapping the administrative city plan in his campaign pledges.
It may look inappropriate from the viewpoint of regional balance to give the science belt to Chungcheong while keeping the Sejong City project intact. If the president, who admits his offer of the science belt in Chungcheong was to gather some votes, conscientiously wants to redirect the plan, he could do so by apologizing to the Chungcheong people first and pledging that this time it is not intended to help any particular political group.