The Military Invasion of Jeju Island
Most people that head to Jeju Island, known as the peace island, go with the intention of seeing the beautiful scenery from waterfalls and green tea fields to black lava sand beaches and palm tree lined lanes. Honeymooners go for romance and tourists go for scenery. With the tallest mountain in the country being the biggest draw by far for everyone from the avid hiker to the average Joe just out to get a jaunt and see some views, it’s a wonder that there hasn’t been more done to protect the island from military invasion. Though protestors in the small town of Gangjeong, meaning “Village of Water”, on the southern coast of the island have halted construction at least seven times due to fears of the environmental impact the base will have on the island as well as the fears that the US is out to gain ground that will only benefit the US and not South Korea, the construction of this base is still slated to be completed next year.
The town of Gangjeong is special on the island for its abundance of surface fresh water which is rare on Jeju as it is covered with very porous volcanic rock. The unique plot that the town sits on as well as the habitats of endangered soft corals housing numerous kinds of sea life has even been recognized by UNESCO, but the governments of South Korea and the US seem to care very little about that as they destroy the area. Though the Korean government has purported that the base will be eco-friendly, few people believe the statements and common knowledge among the islanders and protestors is that the base that will be able to dock 20 warships, two 15,000 ton cruise liners, several submarines and house 8,000 marines will completely obliterate the sensitive environment.
The Korean government has also stated that the base will be used primarily by the Korean navy in order to protect shipping routes and is not intended for American use. This is difficult to believe as the American military has operational control over the Korean military. Though there has been strong opposition to the yearly US led war-games again and again little has been done to stop the US from being involved on the mainland so, assuming the US wouldn’t use a base in the country is a little far-fetched. The government has also stated that the Aegis destroyers that will be used against missile attacks will help to defend South Korea, but the question is from what? The system, which will be networked to the US space systems and ground-based x-band radar according to Matt Hoey a missile defense analyst, won’t do much to protect South Korea from North Korea as the missiles wouldn’t rise high enough, according to Jeffrey Lewis. Any sort of military presence on the island of Jeju from the Japanese occupation to repression by the South Korean government ending in the Jeju massacre has always ended with death and destruction and few believe that this will be any different.
Lee Eun-kook of the Navy stated that, “Korea needs a base to dock naval ships to protect its Exclusive Economic Zone and marine resources, and Gangjeong village on Jeju island is the optimal place for that.” That is not really the entire truth though as two other villages, Hwasoon and Wimi, on the island were chosen at first but both voted against the building of the base. Due to the unfavorable response the navy was receiving they bribed decision makers in the town of Gangjeong and pressured farmers to sell or else move and get much less in compensation. Not only had two other communities already denied construction, but in 2007 in Gangjeong a vote was held in which only 87 of the 1,050 eligible voters attended and ignoring protocol votes were “cast” and the motion was passed by clapping. This vote was accepted even though just two weeks later the governor was ousted and another vote was taken with 725 residents participating and 94% of the votes cast opposed construction.
The construction has brought stone that has been dumped onto the coral beds to provide breakwaters for the harbor and huge concrete structures have been erected on shore. The rocks that once astounded tourists with their beauty are no longer there and the entire scene is really a detriment to the people of the island and to the people that come to view the beauty of the island. The addition of this base is really a nuisance and unwanted in the region except by the US government who is pushing hard to “pivot into Asia”. If there is anyone that actually believes that the base will not be used by the American military, they are gullible to an extent that is beyond comprehension.
As I recently took a trip to Jeju, I just wanted to highlight some of this story as I have been following the news on this for some time, but realized that not enough people are even aware of what has been happening down on the island known as the Hawaii of Korea.