Sunday, November 16, 2003

Korea IS a law Abiding Country and Movement of the Capital CAN be Justified

When considering if a country is law abiding the first thing that needs to be remembered is that every country has many, many laws covering a plethora of areas. Kevin at IA had this to say on November 11th (I'm sooo behind in blog reading this is a bit dated; I do apologise)
In the same way that I wouldn't bother to read an editorial in a French paper called FRANCE IS A NATION WITH BACKBONE or one in a Japanese paper titled JAPAN DENOUNCES CHILD PORNOGRAPHY, I simply stopped reading right after I saw the headline of an editorial in the Korea Times, titled humorously enough, KOREA IS A LAW-ABIDING COUNTRY.
I did take the time to read the article because when I read the title of the article my instinct was to agree with the statement rather than throw it out of hand as Kevin did. Now, I think the reason for that is this: I'm guessing that when Kevin read the heading he thought of the high rates of corruption in the country's political and business circles and came to the quick conclusion that Korea is not a law abiding country.

On the other hand, when I read the title, I immediately agreed with the comment as my thoughts went straight to street level crime and the safety of Seoul and other major metropolisis throughout Korea. I thought of street crimes, women's safety issues, car-jackings, pick pocketing, muggings, guns, etc. I recalled how I often walked down the streets lighted or dark with a complete sense of safety at any time due to the very low rates of street crime. I recalled how I often left my bag at a desk and could leave it there in the knowledge it would not be touched or the number of times people have picked up my phone or wallet after dropping it to return it to me. To me, Korea is a law abiding place where people respect properiety and person much more than I have witnessed being the case in "western" countries.

But then there is the article itself. What the article was actually referring to was the recent illegal street demonstrations and tendency to violence, particularly the use of molotov cocktails, during said assemblies. Of the demonstrations it says:
The KCTU leadership called for the demonstration in the heart of Seoul to stop employers from provisionally seizing the property of unions in damage suits against their illegally-staged labor strikes and to demand the abolition of what they claimed was discrimination against irregular workers.

They also demanded that the government refuse the U.S.-requested troop dispatch to Iraq and correct the national pension system for better benefits of wage earners.
Thats quite a broad agenda. But of course the main concern of all this violence according to the editorial:
What would foreigners as well as ordinary citizens think upon seeing the burning streets during peace time, not war time.

The article tried to argue (to its 'foreigner' readership) that the protests were selfishy motivated and the perpetrators should not be regarded as being typical and that everyday law abiding Koreans do not condon or engage in such activities.

I agree that Korea is a law abiding country to the extent that we can label a whole country as being law abiding or not. We see violent racially motivated riots, and hooliganism in UK, gang shootings, serial killers, and high level corruption in US, violent demonstrations in France and Italy with burning cars and the like, yet I think we generally consider all those countries to be law abiding. I don't see Korea as being more or less law abiding. And I think that the safety of the streets in Korea should be the envy of other nations.

Shifting the Administrative Capital

When I first head about Roh's idea to shift the admin capital from Seoul to Daejon I was appalled. Mostly because I worked for the admin and the thought of shifting to Daejon was way less than appealing. Fortunately, like the five day work week, I left before any action was taken. And although I didn't like the idea I could see that there was a practical arguement behind it and that there are some clear benefits to this idea.

But first, Goldbrick in Seoul gives us the con side to the argument. Its too expensive, its not conveniently located and he also argues that shifting all the branches of government and not just the executive defeats the purpose of decentralisation. Mr Goldbrick in Seoul also notes:
Thank goodness the People's Participatory President has single-handedly decreed that the capital of Korea, which has been in Seoul since about 1392(!), must move out of here just because he says so.

Firstly, it is true that it is expensive but so too is the massive concentration of population and infrastructure in Seoul at the expense of other areas. In 1995 when local government was re-introduced to Korea the underlying objective was to achieve more balanced growth across the peninsular and stem the tide of urbanisaiton and mobility toward Seoul. Still nascent, efforts to this end have been underway ever since with mixed results. The move of the admin capital would be a huge step toward boosting another area outside of Seoul and taking pressure off Seoul itself. Reducing traffic and improving quality of life for those in Seoul via a population shift surely should be counted in a cost benefit analysis of this proposal and not just the $ amount.

This move would be part of the broader plan of decentralisation and was part of the mandate upon which he was elected. I don't think its quite fair to say that it is solely Mr Roh's doing that is driving this matter. And while Seoul has long been the capital of Korea, that certainly doesn't mean you can't adjust to new circumstances or practicalities and shift the admin part. Seoul is way over-populated and stressed and could benefit alot from this move.

Secondly, I think the decentralisation aspect is to separate business and government centres rather than executive branch from judicial and legislative. For example, countries like Australia, and US (and maybe China) are cases where the government (executive, judicial and legislative) are in one city (Canberra, Washington and Beijing) while the business centres are elsewhere such as Sydney, Melbourne, New York, and Shanghai. The decentralisation then is not of the brnaches of government to different cities, which would arguably be unworkable but rather, from government and business. In the case of Korea where the business - government ties are seen as being too close anyway, such a move seems to be justified as a means of weakening those ties.

The last point made was the inconvenient access to the proposed new admin capitals. The argument presented here was quite good and I agreed with it totally...until I this Korea Times article which shows the plans to extend the fast rail system to the admin capital whichever one it becomes. This new development would negate the worries of how to get easily to and from the new admin capital.

But after saying all that, I don't actually want to see the move of the admin capital away from Seoul. I can't justify my opinion on practicalities as I think the move make sense and is perhaps even over due. But I do think that shifting the admin will take away from Seoul part of the essence of what makes it such a vibrant and interesting place to live.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui