OK, so Park Geun-hye is throwing her support behind an airport for the Yeongnam region, a project the Lee Myung-bak administration just canceled:
“It’s regretful that the government broke its promise to the people,” Park told journalists during a visit to Daegu, one of the cities that expected to benefit from the now-canceled airport. “Although the new airport is not economically feasible at this point, I’m confident that it’s needed in the southeastern region.”
Park continued: “I hope [President Lee] won’t break his promise with the people again.”
Lee was wrong for having pledged to build the airport, which strikes me as just another construction-for-construction’s-sake project, and I do feel bad for places like Miryang, which spent money on advertising in places like Seoul to promote their bid for the airport. But really, why was this project even being pushed in the first place? Is there really that much demand for an international airport near Busan? As it is, it seems nobody is using the airport they’ve already got:
“Gimhae Airport’s passenger capacity is 17.8 million per year. About 8 million people used the airport last year, less than half the capacity. Both Miryang and Gadeok claim the number of users will reach 22 million in 2025, but state research institutes have already deduced that there will only be some 15 million users in 2030,” Korea Aerospace University professor Yang Han-mo said.
The other thing that strikes me as odd about this project is that its supporters are pushing it in the name of “balanced regional development.” Balanced regional development might be a good thing, of course, but why then push such a massive project in one of the most highly developed regions in the country? A region, mind you, that already has the Four Rivers Project going on along the Nakdonggang, and to which a great deal of infrastructural investment is being directed due to the, ahem, legislative abilities of Lee Myung-bak’s brother, Lee Sang-deuk?
This is not to rag on Gyeongsang-do, mind you — I consider Gyeongsangbuk-do as my 제2고향, and sure, that region has got its troubles. Still, if you’re going to build a multi-trillion won white elephant, couldn’t the Honam or Chungcheong-do regions use it more?
My guess is that there’s some political calculus going on — the Yeongnam region, and Gyeongsangnam-do in particular, is less reliably GNP than it used to be. In the short term, the airport could win votes, I suppose, but if it bombs, the political repercussions could be felt nationwide.