Can Sejong City Be Capital of Unified Korea?
While politicians wrangle over the fate of Sejong City, a new administrative city in South Chungcheong Province, questions linger whether it could become the country's capital when the two Koreas are unified.
The issue also coincides with Prime Minister-designate Chung Un-chan's argument that the envisioned plan for the construction of Sejong should be reviewed.
In an interview with the Monthly Chosun magazine in 2004, the economics scholar pointed out the city should be built in consideration of locating the capital of a unified Korea.
"People in the Chungcheong Province are excited about the relocation. But isn't it time for us to worry about where to put the capital when the two Koreas are unified?" said Chung, the former president of Seoul National University.
"As far as I know, Chungcheong Province does not have sufficient water to become the capital of a unified Korea."
Kwon Yong-woo, a geography professor at Sungshin Women's University, also opposed the idea of building Sejong City, sometimes referred to as a Multifunctional Administrative City, as a potential capital of a unified Korea.
He said the German case of relocating its capital gives a good lesson to Koreans, arguing that geographical proximity will make Sejong turn into one of Seoul's satellite cities.
"In the case of Germany, the distance between Berlin and Bonn was 600 kilometers. But the distance between Seoul and Sejong is only 120 kilometers," Kwon said. "Thus, Seoul and Sejong will become one mega metropolis."
Some experts here, however, believe it is premature to discuss a united Korea.
Michael Breen, president of the Insight Communications Consultants in Seoul, said that "neither country wants unification and it may never happen. When it does, the choice of capital may be a matter of negotiation."
Breen also believes that a capital city does not need to be in the center of the country as seen from Brazil's case.
Brasilia was created in 1960 as a new, ambitious capital and it took some 20 years before senior civil servants stopped travelling to the old capital of Rio de Janeiro every weekend.
But the capital has successfully offset its limitations by offering abundant social and recreational opportunities and has emerged as a world-class city.
Meanwhile, some claim that decentralization of population and the economy should be promptly made and that the status of Sejong City should be further strengthened.
"Korea should move its government and economic infrastructure as far away from the DMZ as possible, so that it avoids being held hostage to North Korea's artillery threat," said Jon Huer, a sociology professor.
The late President Roh Moo-hyun made the relocation of the South Korean capital to the swing region as the centerpiece of his administration in 2003, but the ambitious plan has faced setbacks after the Constitutional Court ruled it unconstitutional in October 2004.
The court said the city cannot take away Seoul's capital status as the Constitution refers to Seoul as the capital of Korea.
Construction of Sejong City has been drifting for more than two years even after ground was broken in July 2007 during the Roh administration.
Meanwhile, lawmakers from Chungcheong Province and opposition party lawmakers claim that construction of the city should be carried out according to the original plan.
Governing party lawmakers, however, insist that the revised plans should be further downsized.