The Constitutional Court of Korea made the Seoul city government very happy this week when they ruled unconstitutional President Roh Mu-Hyun's plan to move the nation's capital out of Seoul, where politicians have been furthering the causes of graft and prostitution since 1392.
Now, I don't pretend to understand the minutiae of this issue, but I've never been terribly impressed by Roh's assertion that moving the capital will completely and immediately unseat Seoul as the center of all things good and bad in Korea: education, culture, business, pollution, corruption, etc.
As I suppose it is in most geographically small countries, one city tends to become a magnet for everyone (in Korea's case, about half of it's 50 million people live in the Seoul area) and simply moving the government offices isn't going to reverse that centuries-old trend. One reason many people move to Seoul is for the better - as they see it - educational opportunities for their kids, starting with kindergarten and culminating with one of the most prestigious universities, all of which are in Seoul. It seems that relieving congestion in this city would therefore require moving, at the least, Seoul National University down to Gongju along with the government bureaucracy.
In theory, of course, moving the capital doesn't seem like a bad idea. The USA, Australia, Canada and a host of other countries have kept their commercial and government centres separate, but most of these capital cities were established long before the problem became as serious as that of Seoul's in terms of population and a concentration of wealth.
The court hasn't said that the capital can't be moved, only that the government must put the issue to a referendum and, beyond that, they must also revise the constitution, which would require another referendum, all of which makes further progress seem unlikely in my eyes. One argument against moving the capital has been that such an action would torpedo property prices in Seoul. As noted, I'm not convinced the move would be either the panacea that Roh envisions or the calamity that the oppostion predicts. Regardless, passing a referendum through folks who're convinced that their apartment is about to beome worthless doesn't seem an easy task in my eyes. Good luck and have fun, I say.
I obviously won't claim to be the most well-informed person in this debate, so for more informative views on this, if you care, check out these links:
An editorial from the local Chosun Ilbo newspaper.
Another blogger's take on it. (I highly recommend you read this piece. It's a solid take on the matter, though you may need to scroll down a bit to find it as it's been archived. Look for October 22. 2004.).
Above pic by Aaron