Saturday, July 17, 2010

South Korea: Jeju-do Resort Island says No to a Navy base

Forget Okinawa in Japan, Guam, or Jeju-do (South Korea) scenic landscape. Here, the "cold war" didn't end!

Aegis destroyers in Jeju-do harbor (concept map)

For years, the South Korean government planned to build a Navy base on Jeju Island, a touristic resort between ROK and Japan. Locals are angry and said their life and environment are threatened. A similar scenario to Japan owned Okinawa Henoko region where the US and Japan government plan to relocate segment of the Marine Corps airborne.

The South Korean Navy is to build this year 2010 wharfs where Aegis destroyers will be based. The ships, from the South Korean and US fleets, are set with "missile defense" systems and be used to monitor China’s coastal region and North Korea, naval activities and military transports.

Local activists and environment associations fear that: "Jeju Island, now called the peace island, will thus become a prime military target" They also claim nature will be damaged: "The coral reefs have been named by the United Nations as key environmental treasures that should be saved, building a naval base on top of these wonders of nature will not ensure they will be protected and the traditional way of life in this small fishing and fruit growing community will be severely impacted." End of quotes

The Joongang Ilbo daily reported this week that after 15 months of controversy, the Seoul Administrative Court rejected Jeju residents' request to stop the Defense Ministry from building a naval base on the island. The ruling gave the ministry permission to speed up the building of a port for 20 battleships and two large cruisers by 2014. Mr. Park Jeong-hwa, the judge who presided over the case, said there were no illegalities in the way the ministry handled the project.

Mr. Yoon Ho-gyeong, the head of a Gangjeong villagers association that is opposed to the base, said he can't accept the ruling: "The port will be able to harbor some 20 sophisticated warships, serving as the homeport of the Navy's 'strategic mobile squadron.'' The naval base is to be inaugurated by 2015, navy officials said. The mobile squadron, which will be rapidly deployed in regional conflict, will consist of 4,500-ton KDX-II destroyers, 7,600-ton Aegis-equipped KDX-III destroyers, Type-214 1,800-ton submarines, anti-submarine Lynx helicopters and frigates among others. The squadron is expected to play a key role in "managing possible conflicts with Japan and China," ROK navy officials added. In line with the plan, the ROK Air Force also plans to build a base for a search-and-rescue unit to help facilitate the Navy's operations in the southern waters.

Jeju island has long been considered a tactical, strategic point to secure southern sea lanes for transporting energy supplies and to conduct mobile operations in the case of an emergency in the region according to officials quoted by the Korea Times daily.

East Asia: China (L) S & N Korea (C) Japan (R) Red circle is Jeju

Following the construction, the Korea Times writes, "the Navy will be able to successfully conduct long-range operations to protect our commercial vessels in blue waters, including the Malacca Strait, as well as carry out full-scale operations around the Korean Peninsula." Activities well beyond boundaries? "Some anti-U.S. civic groups have raised suspicions of the project being related to the country's joining the U.S. led global ballistic missile defense (BMD) system, arguing the plan will make Jeju vulnerable to international terrorism and becoming a potential military target of anti-U.S. militants, the Korean Navy admits that U.S. aircraft carriers may visit the port, but made it clear that it has no plan to join the BMD and make the port a permanent station for U.S. forces." End of quotes Korea Times.

What counter arguments do the activists oppose? Protection of the environment and laws.

Quotes : "First, the Gangjeong village that preserves the worldwide beauty is not appropriate for any reasons. Dec. 12, 2002, designated as the preservation area for the living creatures by the UNESCO.
Second, the base-militarization would be only the powder magazine of the North East Asia.
Seeing from the geopolitical viewpoint, militarization of the Jeju Island would only increase the tension with the vicinity countries and it would not do any influence for peace.
Third, the construction of the Gangjeong naval base is procedurally wrong.
There has been no process of public consensus such as the fair for the villagers.
Fourth, the Ministry of the National Defense and the Jeju Island Government had announced that they would not construct the naval base without the villagers’ agreement. But the Gangjeong villagers’ vote has been ignored. Gangjeong villagers practiced the villagers’ own vote on August 20, 2007: among 1050 electors, 725 voted and the voters in opposition were 680 ballots (94%), and favor ballots were 36 while cancellation ballots were 9.
Fifth, the Gangjeong villagers whose livelihood communities are broken are experiencing the acute suffering for three years." End of quotes.

Hallasan, Jeju-do is South Korea's tallest mountain and dormant volcano 1,950 m above sea

"The building of a Navy base in Gangjeong, to serve as a port for the growing U.S. Aegis destroyer fleet, will require dredging of the sea bed and destruction of the coral. According to news reports quoted in this report of Times-Record the U.S. wishes to multiply by 2 its military presence in the Asian-Pacific region in order to manage China. Thus we now see U.S. base expansion on Guam, Okinawa and in South Korea... U.S. wants to deploy Aegis destroyers ... at the base on Jeju Island largely because of its strategic proximity to China. China imports 80 percent of its oil on ships and a Navy base on Jeju would help give the U.S. ability to control this vital shipping lane in the Yellow Sea." End of quotes.

Gangjeong village where the base is to be built is famous for growing tangerines and for its fishing and soft coral reefs. UNESCO named the sea coast there as one of the world’s environmental jewels and artistic patrimony. Might loose the credit in the future.

Local guard, a Jeju-do traditional stone sculpture

* Regarding Cold war in the title, nowadays it is less the antagonism of ideologies but rather economics and geopolitical confrontations.

Sources: Joongang Ilbo , Korea Times, Times-record, No base stories of Korea, Opposition to the navy base flourishes on the Internet "No base stories of Korea" Agencies, Reporter's notes.

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