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Posted : 2011-08-29 17:44
Updated : 2011-08-29 17:44

Jeju naval base

Government should ease, not foster, social conflicts

Building a new naval base is not easy. If the proposed site is an idyllic village on what is called the “Peace Island,” the situation becomes even more difficult. And if many villagers think, rightly or wrongly, the base could turn into a major theater of conflict among G2 powers, it becomes really difficult.

The situation surrounding the construction of a $970-million base on the southern coast of the nation’s southernmost major island is even more complicated than that.

There are just too many sets of opposing values and priorities to reach a clear conclusion or take a stand: the U.S. vs. China, pacifism vs. national interest, environment vs. development, state vs. citizens, etc. All this suggests one thing at the least: The construction of another naval base on Jeju Island should not be rushed.

Few can ignore the need for Korea to protect the shipping lanes through which 98 percent of this trade-dependent nation’s cargo passes, respond quickly to a possible territorial dispute with China over Ieodo, or Socotra Rock, a submerged reef south of Jeju, and pre-empt oil and other natural resources in surrounding waters. Yet opponents are also right in doubting this can fully justify the presence of a large new naval port.

That leads to widespread suspicion that the base, which will be home to 20 warships by 2014, will mainly serve the U.S. strategic purpose, especially in shielding Taiwan and Japan from potential Chinese threats. Both Seoul and Washington are of course denying this. The Lee Myung-bak administration says it was anti-American President Roh Moo-hyun who launched the project, not for the U.S. but for Korea in preparation of the declining influence of its biggest ally in this part of the world.

The only problem with this argument is that the nation has since dropped the concept of the so-called Great Ocean Navy and instead focused on coastal defense from North Korean provocation, for which a port in Jeju wouldn’t be of much help. Even some U.S. experts have recently expressed views the Gangjeong, Seogwipo, base would be vital for their naval strategy.

True, as its proponents say, a naval port can be beautiful, too, and peace requires military preparedness. There are many cases in the world of beautiful and vital ― militarily and economically ― military ports. But most, if not all, of these bases serve their countries’ own interests, not those of their allies.

And the prerequisite in any state project is the consent of the residents, at least a majority of them.

The Navy says it has taken all legal steps and there are no procedural problems, on which the opposing residents differ completely. This means there must be a process reaffirming the opinions of residents either through a survey ― a very objective and neutral one ― or a referendum.

So law enforcement authorities must refrain from intervening in the construction process under the pretext of “public security,” an act that does not resolve but encourage social conflicts. Some conservatives, who try to paint any environmental, pacifist movement as being pro-North Korea, need to ask themselves in which century they are living.

We hope this episode will not end up as another sad reminder the nation it still far from true, advanced democracy.

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