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September-October 2011

Vol. 35, No. 5

South Korea: Opposition grows to naval base

Jeju Island, deemed an "Island of World Peace" and home to UNESCO World Heritage sites, may soon house a South Korean naval base in the Gangjeong village, yet construction of the base has been met with significant civilian opposition.

The proposed US$950 million naval base, with expected completion in 2014, would house 20 Aegis destroyer warships, which originate in the U.S. and use computers and radars to track and guide naval weapons. Submarine activity and an aircraft carrier are also being discussed.

Those who oppose the base contend that the U.S. has pushed for its construction in order to maintain a presence in the region; a 1954 treaty between the U.S. and South Korea allows the U.S. complete access to South Korea's military facilities.

The vast majority – 94 percent – of the island's residents rejects the base. Organized ongoing demonstrations have been held for months to raise awareness of the potential destruction caused by the base and to express the residents' strong denunciation of its construction. Many, including elderly residents, have been arrested for their nonviolent acts of civil disobedience to protest the base.

The grassroots campaign to stop the base's construction has gained the support of South Korea's religious leaders, including the Catholic church. On August 16, the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) printed this report: "Bishop Peter Kang U-il of Cheju diocese has reiterated his opposition to the proposed building of a naval base on Jeju island in a letter issued to the media. 'It is contradictory for the government to host the World Conservation Congress next year on the island, while planning a big naval port,' the bishop wrote in his letter. In addition to environmental concerns, Bishop Kang said the cost was also contributing factor to his opposition. … 'Will this astronomical expenditure serve the nation?' he wrote in the letter. Meanwhile, the Environmental Pastoral Committee and the Committee for Justice and Peace, both within the Seoul archdiocese, issued statements today opposing the Jeju island naval base, stating that the plan 'lacks long-term policy in pursuit of short-term economic interest.'"

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