Thus runs the introduction to this campaign by the villagers of Gangjeong from the keyboard of Christine Ahn, the executive director of the Korea Policy Institute and a member of the Global Campaign to Save Jeju Island.
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space are reporting that South Korea’s president, Lee Myungbak, has said the base is needed to protect Seoul from an attack from Pyongyang. The problem with that point of view is that the Aegis destroyers that Lee pledged to deploy at the base aren’t designed to protect South Korea from North Korean Taepodong ballistic missiles (TBM).
In a 1999 report to the US Congress, the Pentagon verified that the Aegis system *“could not defend the northern two-thirds of South Korea against the low flying short range TBMs,”* as reported in the New York Times.
Instead of protecting South Koreans, the militarization of Jeju Island is introducing new security threats to the country by adding fuel to an arms race in an increasingly tense region of unresolved conflicts. The naval base on Jeju Island will equip South Koreans and their North American allies with the capability to send long-range ballistic missiles into southeast China against missile batteries that target Japan and Taiwan. For Washington this base is a central pillar to its defense system in the Asia-Pacific region. China, no doubt, sees it as another threat.
The result of building the base is an increased stress in US-China relations. One South Korean military analyst, Cheong Wook-sik, has said that China sees the US Asia-Pacific missile defense system *“as the 21st century’s greatest threat.”*
In the same New York Times report, a Chinese Air Force colonel, Dai Xu, speaking more generally about Washington’s Asia-Pacific military strategy, says Beijing *“cannot always put up with American provocations.” He added that China “must draw a clear red line against American attempts to surround it.”*
Meanwhile, across the Pacific, a 2009 Rand Corporation report confirmed that given China’s growing economic threat to the United States, the Jeju naval base is crucial for America, *“to project [its] power in the East China Sea and southward.”*
Washington has played down news of this base being built primarily for US interests, as there is a fear of the growing South Korean resentment of the presence of US troops and armaments, besides the high costs of maintaining US military bases on the Korean peninsula. Further tensions have been produced over the recent admission by three US war veterans of dumping Agent Orange at Camp Carroll in southeast South Korea in 1978.
When Ahn called the Korean Embassy in Washington to register his complaint about the Jeju naval base, the response was: *“Don’t call us; call the US State or Defense Departments; they are the ones who are pressuring us to build this base.”*
Gangjeong villagers have used every possible democratic means to overturn the decision by Seoul to construct the base there. For four long years, the villagers have squatted on their farmland that was seized by the government, and laid down in front of cement trucks intending to pour concrete over the volcanic rock where pure spring water meets the ocean. Despite the fact that 94 percent of Gangjeong residents voted against the base, the central government, the military and Jeju officials ignored the villagers and colluded to make Gangjeong the chosen site.
Now, the South Korean government has ordered the police take further measures to restrict protesters, many of whom have already been arrested, heavily fined and barred from entering the waters and land that they have lived on and depended upon for generations.
Jeju is a test case of how conflicts in the Asia Pacific could be resolved in the near future. Will the South Korean people allow its government to follow US plans to draw its country into a standoff against China? Or, will the South Korean government choose to resolve conflicts through genuine dialogue and cooperation?
No one among the general population of the United States, North and South Korea, Japan or China, wants another militarized conflict as the elders still haven’t healed their physical and mental wounds from previous wars. This is perhaps more apparent in Korea as a whole more than anywhere else, a country where a militarized divisions still separate millions of families.
Ahn asks that we do not allow such military base to destroy Gangjeong’s rich marine ecology and the livelihoods of farmers, fishermen and haenyo — people who provide us with human security — certainly not in the name of “national security”.