To its credit ‘The New York Times’ has been covering the protest of South Korea’s Jeju islanders against the construction of a US ROK naval base on the UNESCO designated World Natural Heritage site. Gloria Steinem, out of solidarity, written and spoken out on this issue. She remains almost alone in bringing the issue before the court of public opinion besides the inhabitants of Jeju Island themselves, who, in a way, are hampered by language and broader access to the outside world, and under the constant harassment of the Lee Myung bak government in Seoul.
The people of Jeju do not want at the Gangjung naval base that would damage the ecology of the island; house 20 warships and two US Aegis missiles to begin with. They do not see the won or dollars and sense in the base; the US and South Korea do as the Republic of Korea expands its military eye in the region.
Lee claims with full support of US military agreements and backing that the naval installation will ‘protect’ South Korea from an irrational North Korea, and therefore keep South Koreans, including Jeju islanders, safer than they are now.
The Jeju protesters do not see the base with the same eye. If anything it will put them and South Koreans further into harm’s way. Look at the map: navy ships and missiles armed with multiple warheads [atomic?] pose a threat to China and Japan and of course North Korea which is hardly in the vicinity of Jeju; they also make Russia which share a narrow border on the Korean peninsula and might cause unease in Mongolia and of course heighten anti US and Korean feeling on a restive Okinawa where for the last 66 years lives uneasily with US bases.
The base at Gangjung is not only a step to challenging China’s claim to the Yellow Sea as its ‘mare nostrum’, but also conflicts with small islands which are no more than rocks which China, South Korea, and Japan claim as its own, and then there’s the untapped large natural gas undersea gas reserves which no one is talking about.
The Chaebol Samsung has the contract to build Gangjung, and as such, risks a boycott of its long list of products should Jeju islanders call for one, which they should.
Jeju needs the support of foreign friends to spread the word, bring pressure on the US and ROK to stop construction, and keep Jeju a South Korean ‘garden of eden’ rather than an the frontline of naval confrontation!