NO NAVAL BASE ON JEJU ISLAND
As international media herald the recent selection of Jeju Island as one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature,” Nodutdol for Korean Community Development and the Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea call attention to the ugly threat of militarism that gives the lie to this designation. We join a growing worldwide movement in support of Jeju villagers and other South Korean democracy activists who have courageously resisted the building of a massive naval base in Gangjeong village. We call on the South Korean government to halt the construction of this base now. As November 18, 2011, the date for the scheduled dynamiting of the coastline and the trial of imprisoned activists, approaches, we lend our voices to their dissent and urgently call on others to come forward in principled support.
Due to be operational by 2014, the massive naval base, slated to host 20 warships, nuclear aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, and two Aegis destroyers integrated within the US Missile Defense System, stands to destroy a UNESCO World Heritage site, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, and a government-recognized “absolute preservation area” characterized by rare rock formations, abundant and fertile farmlands, pristine fresh and sea waters, and endangered animal species. Rich in biodiversity and natural beauty, Gangjeong is also home to Bronze Age artifacts, making this region of inestimable archaeological value, as well.
The human costs are enormous. At stake are the sea- and land-based livelihoods of women divers, fishermen, and farmers who have been displaced from their occupations and their homes, as well as local self-governance processes. Although 94% of Gangjeong residents have voted against the construction of the naval base, the Seoul central government and the South Korean military have forcibly proceeded with construction, wielding police violence and trumped-up legal charges to quash resistance. We call attention to the fact that since 2007, the people of Gangjeong have used every democratic means of protest, including squatting on government-seized farmlands (i.e., their lands) and placing their bodies below or on construction machinery, in order to halt the building of the base. With growing global attention to the Jeju resistance, the South Korean government has intensified its crackdown, recently dispatching over 1,000 riot police from the mainland to suppress and detain protesters so as to clear the way for construction. Three protestors—Kang Dong-gyun, mayor of Gangjeong, Kim Jong-hwan, local cook for the resistance movement, and Kim Dong-won, photographer and peace activist—remain incarcerated with no option for bail. Their trial date is scheduled for November 18, 2011—the date when Gureombi, the rare coastal rock formation that joins land to sea, is due to be blasted to bits by dynamite.
We recall the past as troubling precedent for the present. Although Jeju Island today is known as a spectacularly beautiful tourist destination, it was a historical site of resistance that was met by state-sponsored counterrevolutionary violence in 1948. Protesting the holding of separate elections in the South that stood to cement U.S.-authored division of the Korean peninsula and the formation of two distinct regimes in the North and the South, the people of Jeju were branded “Communists” and the island deemed a “red island.” At least one-tenth of the island population was ruthlessly slaughtered by South Korean forces and fascist youth brigades in the name of “national defense.” Trained by U.S. occupation forces, which interrogated prisoners and flew reconnaissance missions to spot guerrillas, South Korean forces descended from the mainland and unleashed terror on the island. Far from an isolated, distant event, the 1948 civilian massacres hover just below the surface of the Gangjeong struggle for democratic self-governance and peace. In long overdue recognition of the brutal massacres it perpetrated under U.S. watch and with U.S. involvement in 1948, the South Korean government in 2005 designated Jeju an “Island of Peace.” As with the more recent “New 7 Wonders” distinction, this designation cannot but ring hollow.
Not merely a local struggle, the non-violent resistance of Gangjeong residents and activists against the naval base raises the question of a neo-Cold War U.S./South Korea/Japan alliance and a looming regional arms race with China. The South Korean government’s claims that the base is necessary to protect it from North Korea, to ensure claims over maritime resources, and to police vital shipping lanes have little credibility. As South Korea’s southernmost island, Jeju is not well situated to ward off an attack from Pyongyang. Far from ensuring the security of the island and its inhabitants, a massive naval base in Gangjeong will ratchet up regional, intra-Asian tensions and turn Jeju into a sure target. In response to the question of whose interests are served by this naval base, we point to the Mutual Defense Pact and Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and South Korea that grant the U.S. principal rights to use any South Korean port or airfield and the Strategic Flexibility Agreement that enables the U.S. to flow its military forces out from, into, and through South Korea without prior consultation. A base in Gangjeong thus directly relates to the U.S. military presence in the Asia Pacific region and heightens the potential for war.
A massive naval base in Gangjeong will destabilize both Korean and regional security while serving U.S. interests in an area of the world that the U.S. fears losing to China. Recent statements by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta are instructive. Arguing that the Asia Pacific region holds the key to America’s future, Clinton has stated that “[h]arnessing Asia’s growth and dynamism is central to American economic and strategic interests” and that these interests hinge on a “forward-deployed” U.S. posture within the region. Similarly, indicating that the U.S. is “concerned about China,” Panetta has stated that despite “budget constraints that we are facing in the United States…[t]he most important thing we can do is to project our force into the Pacific—to have our carriers there, to have our fleet there.” U.S. “force projection” in the region, Panetta clarified, vitally depends on the 85,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and Japan. Shifting its strategic focus from the Atlantic to the Asia Pacific region where it currently concentrates 60% of its naval power, the U.S., “if anything,” Panetta made clear, intends to “strengthen our presence in the Pacific.” This reckless and arrogant policy positions regional partners as vehicles for U.S. power. It thoroughly disregards the profound impact that the militarization of Asian-Pacific oceans has on the lives of ordinary people and makes laughable Clinton’s assertion that the U.S., as an “advocate for universal human rights,” leads by example.
We stand with the courageous people of Gangjeong who protest this obscene violation of their lives, their environment, and their democratic processes. Joining our voices to theirs, we call on the South Korean government to stop the construction of the Jeju naval base and demand that the U.S. government respect the urgency of true peace and genuine security, as expressed by the people of Gangjeong.
Please click the link “continued” for what you can do.
There are many ways that YOU can assist the Global Campaign to Save Jeju Island. We need your support!
1. Consider making a donation to support our international outreach and public education efforts. Filing press releases, managing the website and administrative tasks require financial support. We need your help! Click here to make your donation.
2. Call the Korean Embassy in your state and let them know that Jeju does not want a naval base! The militarization of Jeju Island runs contrary to its designation as the “Island of World Peace.”
3. If you live in the United States: Call the South Korean Embassy in Washington at 202-939-5600 to show your solidarity with the Gangjeong villagers on Jeju Island.
4. Write the South Korean Defense Attaché at and demand a halt to construction of the naval base. Explain how a base that is directed at China is the beginning of a dangerous game that does not protect the future of South Korea – it undermines it.
5. Send a message to South Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Han Duk Soo letting him know how building a navy base on Jeju will undermine tourism, threaten the fragile island environment and contribute to the destabilization of an already stressed security climate.
6. Email Jeju Island Governor Woo Keun Min and tell him how you feel about the military base that is being built on the pristine “Island of World Peace” – Demand a Gangejong village referendum so the residents voices can be heard nine out of ten residents do not want this base.
7. Stay updated on the resistance by joining the ”Save Jeju Island” and the “No Naval Base on Jeju!” Facebook pages. Follow the most recent developments on Twitter at #savejejuisland and #gangjung – then re-post.
8. Spread the word about the inspiring resistance in Jeju! Contact the media about this story to raise their awareness about the struggle. Urge them to cover this important story of peace and environmental defense.
9. Sign the petition urging South Korean President Lee to stop construction of the military base! After signing please share the petition with your social network.
10. Send a message to the Korean Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) and tell them that the relics discovered on the naval base site should result in an immediate halt to construction.
Contact Person: Ms Hyosang Jo, Staff, CHA International Affairs Division Address: 139 Seonsaro, Seo-gu Daejeon 302-701 Korea (RK) Tel: +82 (42) 481-4738 | Fax: +82 (42) 481-4738 | Email
11. Email or telephone Democratic members of the Korean National Assembly and tell them that they must stand publicly to demand that Gangjeong villagers are allowed to vote in a new referendum for or against the naval base. Click here for contact information
12. Email Amnesty International’s South East Asia chief and tell him that too many people have been imprisoned and injured in this nonviolent resistance against an illegal military base. Amnesty International’s investigation on human rights violation in Jeju is necessary and will help the situation. Contact