Jeju Naval Base Controversy
Since I recently spent some time on Jeju the news of a military base being built on the island perked my interest. However, I am not to sure what is happening so I took the time to read up on the issue. From the gist of it I believe that the South Korean Navy has been building a naval base on Jeju within the city of Gangjeong. The function of such a site is summed up clearly in a New York Times article:
Once completed in 2014, it will be home to 20 warships, including submarines, that the navy says will protect shipping lanes for South Korea’s export-driven economy, which is dependent on imported oil. It will also enable South Korea to respond quickly to a brewing territorial dispute with China over Socotra Rock, a submerged reef south of Jeju that the Koreans call Ieodo. Both sides believe it is surrounded by oil and mineral deposits.
What has ended up happening is the people of this "village", about 1,000, are divided over whether it should be there or not. So much so that heated protesting has occurred and people are starting to avoid each other, some not even shopping at the same stores. What impacts me the most is hearing that those against the naval base say it will endanger the natural environment. To me that is very important and most land in Jeju and on the peninsula is constantly being taken up by new cities of concrete.
However, what is most heartening is hearing about the varied protests and arrests occurring. When I turn on my TV the news channel shows people lying on the streets or chained to each other. The newspaper "Jeju Weekly" highlights recent protests with photos and stories. But if you really want to get the full scale ideal of the protestors than the site "Save Jeju" serves up a mouth full.
Jeju was the site of a 1948 massacre in which more than 30,000 civilians were estimated to have been slaughtered during a democratic uprising
New York Times:
“I don’t understand why we’re trying so hard to accommodate something people in Okinawa tried so hard to resist,” said Kim Jong-hwan, 55, a tangerine farmer, referring to the Japanese islanders’ struggle against the American military base there. “When I think how the Americans go around the world starting wars, I can only expect the worst.”
Perhaps the other aspect, of this being a China and America thing, that tilts the scales of peace too far.
New York Times:
Song Kang-ho, an activist against the base, disagreed. “With the U.S. economy in a mess, it’s just a matter of time before China dominates Northeast Asia,” Mr. Song said. “We should keep neutral between the rising and declining superpowers.”
In the end, I just hope people don't get hurt or killed trying to protect the land and that a resolution comes that respects both sides. However, this sentiment encapsulates what just might sway the vote:
"Speaking about the opponents of the base, Koh Jong-pyo, 47, an abalone fisherman, said: “They worry too much. Think what it could do for the local economy whenever an American aircraft carrier arrives with thousands of sailors and their cash.”
Definitely, keep your eye on this news and maybe even discuss it with some Korean people you know. I have yet to talk about it with JH but hope to do so in order to get a better understanding.