Friday, March 27, 2015

Clash Over Jeju

The recent issue  of the Maryknoll Magazine had an article by Chris Smith, a Maryknoll Affiliate, on The Clash Over Jeju. Below are sections taken from the  article highlighting some of the issues involved, and  efforts made to educate the public.

"After years of protests and delays, the South Korean Government is pushing forward with plans to build a 4.3-million square-foot naval base on Jeju Island to house a new destroyer fleet to patrol the East China Sea between China and Japan.

The base is being located on the site of a 450-year -old village that supports the livelihoods of 1,500 farmers and fishermen and has been designated a U.N. World Heritage site. The local population first expressed its overwhelming opposition to the naval base-- with a  94 percent no vote-- when the plan for construction was announced in 2007.

More  than 50 farmers have cited damage to their crops, and water for drinking and farming has been contaminated by dust and oil generated by construction, which has already begun and is threatening the coral reef habitat offshore. The South Korean government argues that the base will help promote tourism and bring jobs to the island, but opponents say the most likely jobs will be in bars, brothels and souvenir shops, hardly compatible with the farming and fishing backgrounds of the local population.

Recent events on Jeju Island, which is South Korea's  most popular tourist destination and is known as the  "Island of the Gods" because of its unique natural environment, have underscored how strongly    residents and activists from around the globe are determined to block the completion of the naval base....The Catholic Bishops Conference of Korea has also weighted in on the naval base, supporting the demonstrators' position against construction.

Under the terms of the Mutual Defense Treaty and Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and South Korea, the U.S. military retains the right to use the base for operations in a regional conflict.

As  the movement to stop the Jeju Island naval base  enters its eight year, the Ecumenical Working Group on Korea (along with other allied organizations) is planning to send a multifaith peace delegation to North and South Korea this year. The protests and actions against the base construction are expected to continue this year as part of a greater movement to reclaim Jeju Island's future for its inhabitants. Since  2010, more than 450 activists and residents have been detained or arrested protesting the naval base.

The story of Jeju Island is hardly new-- a small population's interests and needs for sustainable future are sacrificed for the interests of 'national security' and the military."

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