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[Scenes from Korea] More Four Rivers Controversy
MB pushes project along despite criticisms
OhmyNews (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2009-06-30 07:15 (KST)   
This article is a partial translation of OhmyNews articles in Korean found here, here, and here.  <Editor's Note>
President Lee Myung-bak recording his radio series -- "Hello, it's the President."
©2009 Blue House

President Lee Myung-bak finally spoke out directly on the "Four Rivers Project" (a multi-billion-dollar project to refurbish four major rivers in South Korea).

On June 29, President Lee made a radio address announcing that he would not build the "Grand Canal Project". Media outlets are interpreting this announcement as the administration's abandonment of its key campaign pledge during the 2007 election.

Construction scene from Nakdong River in the Andong region.
©2009 Ji Yul

But the truth remains unclear. President Lee had already publicly announced during last year's Candlelight demonstrations that "if the people do not want it [the Canal project], it would not be built".

So why is he making the announcement again? According to recent polls, 70 percent of the public are against the "Four Rivers Project" that will cost taxpayers about 20-30 trillion won (about US$ 18-28 billion).

The administration resorted to unsuccessful public service announcements (PSA) such as "Daehan News" (a re-make of PSAs shown during the previous authoritarian regime of Park Chung-hee) to promote the Four Rivers Project and spent more than 30 percent of the research budget on public relations. Despite these efforts, public opinion has continued to oppose the project. So President Lee Myung-bak has directly entered the fray.

President Lee announced that he "give up the Grand Canal Project". It's difficult to understand why the President would have to repeatedly declare that he would give up such a major project, but what truly bothers President Lee is that the public doesn't believe him.

Does giving up the Grand Canal Project mean that there is no problem with the Four Rivers Project? Does it mean that there will be no building of dams and canals in the Four River Project? If no dams and canals would be built, then why does the project entail 20 to 30 trillion won of civil engineering work?

As former Mayor of Seoul, Lee Myung-bak poses for a photo-op as he announces the "Grand Canal Project" as part of his Presidential campaign in 2007.
©2009 OhmyNews Yoon S.H.

It is important to note that while President Lee Myung-bak announced that he would not build a "Grand Canal" that connects the major rivers of Korea, he did not say that he would abandon canal-building work.

The Four Rivers Project's central goal is "to dig 5.7 hundred million meters of riverbed and build over 20 dams". With regard to the Nakdong River, the plan is to level the entire riverbed and build at least 10 dams on the main river. The goal is to raise the water-level of the river up by six meters. If the water-level is raised by six meters, it is possible for 2,500 ton cargo ships to pass through the river.

Building such dams and leveling the riverbeds would mean great environmental damages to the river and sources of drinking water. Thus it begs the question, why is the government pursuing such a grand project?

It is impossible to deny the fact that the point of the project is to build a canal. Already, the regional offices of the Four Rivers Project are calling themselves "Canal Projects".

The Four Rivers Project Fails to Follow Original Business Plans and Government Regulations

Experts Express Futility at the Four Rivers Project

The National Legislative Assembly's Environment Forum opened a forum "Environmental Assessment of the Four River Project, What are its Problems?"
©2009 Lee Gyung-tae

"Today, President Lee Myung-bak announced that 'although the Grand Canal Project is necessary, it will not be pursued to prevent national conflict' and he said that he was 'sad that his sincere intentions have not been understood'. I think the time has passed to discuss the Four Rivers Project in these forums. I wrote this report to express my sense of futility that our ideas and analysis will not be incorporate into the government policy process." (Park Tae-hyun, professor at Gangweon University and member of Korea Environmental Law Association)

"As Professor Park commented, this debate seems like a waste of time." (Lee Jeong-jeon, professor at Seoul National University, Korea Land Urban Planning Society)

On June 29, the National Legislative Assembly's Environment Forum opened a forum "Environmental Assessment of the Four Rivers Project, What are its Problems?" However the panelists at the forum complained of the futility of their efforts. They say that already many scholars and experts have expressed criticisms of the project but the government has not heeded their analysis.

Professor Park stated, "the government says that any criticism of the Four Rivers Project is 'for the sake of criticizing the government' or that 'it comes from misunderstanding' the project." The responses from the government officials involved in the Four Rivers Project during the forum only proved his point.

Song Jae-yong, head of the "Saving the Four Rivers Department" appealed to the panelists and commentators, "I hope you would not be too critical of the project and look at it more positively."

Actor Apologizes as Government PSA Stirs Up Controversy

"Daehan News" 2009
©2009 Government of Korea

Comedian Yang Hee-sung who participated in the PSA "Daehan News -- Saving the Four River" used as government PR regarding the Four Rivers Project, publicly apologized during her radio program.

"Daehan News" was a short comic PSA that promoted the "Four Rivers Project" and two short video PSAs played in 190 movies theaters around the country on June 25.

The segments mimicked a popular comedy TV series "Gag Concert" and starred three comedians, including Yang Hee-sung as a family. The PSAs promoted the Four Rivers Project but they have garnered criticisms for its "one-sided PR content" and "sexist content".

Yang Hee-sung who hosts the radio program "Let's Play with the News" on CBS FM, expressed her regrets on participating in "Daehan News" on June 26, the following day after the video segments were shown in theaters on June 25.

Yang Hee-sung explained that she heard from her agency that it was a government PSA but didn't realize the format was that of "Daehan News" (the same PSA format used under the authoritarian regime of Park Chung-hee). She was upset when she learned that the PSA was a PR project for the Four Rivers Project but she only found out when she arrived at the shoot.

Yang did not feel she could walk-out at that point because according to the agency rules she could not cancel unless the content violated public morals. Nonetheless, she was very regretful of her participation with "Daehan News" and accepted the outpouring of public criticism.
©2009 OhmyNews
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