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Issue #1462      7 July 2010

South Korean villagers say ‘No!’ to US navy base

I have recently returned from a week-long trip to South Korea, where I visited several communities that are experiencing major expansion of US military bases. Several farming and fishing villages, each more than 400 years old, are either being completely destroyed or severely impacted as their lands are taken for the enlargement of US bases.

The Washington Post reported several years ago that the US would be doubling its military presence in the Asian-Pacific region in order to “manage” China. Thus we now see US base expansion on Guam, Okinawa and in South Korea.

One such case is the small Gangjeong fishing village on Jeju Island in South Korea. The South Korean Navy is ostensibly building this base, but when members of our organisation called the South Korean Embassy in Washington, DC, to support the opposition to the base by local residents they were told, “Don’t call us, call your own [US] government. They are pushing us to build this base.”

The US wants to deploy Aegis destroyers, built here at Bath Iron Works in Maine, at the base on Jeju Island largely because of its strategic proximity to China. China imports 80 percent of its oil on ships and a Navy base on Jeju would help give the US ability to “control” this vital shipping lane in the Yellow Sea. While the declining US economy can’t compete with China anymore, the Pentagon is embarking on a strategy that says if we can control access to declining supplies of oil then we will still hold the keys to the global economic engine.

A very provocative strategy indeed.

Gangjeong village is famous for growing tangerines and for its fishing and soft coral reefs. UNESCO has named the sea coast there as one of the world’s environmental jewels. The building of a Navy base in Gangjeong, to serve as a port for the growing US Aegis destroyer fleet, will require dredging of the sea bed and destruction of the coral.

Gangjeong’s rocky coast reminds me much of Pemaquid Point here in Maine. The Navy plans to completely cover the rocks, now full of aquatic life, with cement in order to build docks for the ships.

The village of 2,000 people held a referendum where 94 percent of the residents voted against the Navy base. Sadly, though, the right-wing South Korean government is moving forward with plans for the Navy base construction, carrying out the will of the US Navy. Already more than 50 of the residents have been arrested for their non-violent sit-ins as they attempted to block construction equipment from beginning work.

Next month Gangjeong residents will do their third week-long pilgrimage around the entire Jeju Island in order to plead with their government to cancel plans for the Navy base. They are doing all they can to protect their fishing and farming culture. They talk about the need for someone to fight for the water, the coral, the fish, and their lands.

The Maine Veterans for Peace recently held another protest at the latest “christening” of an Aegis destroyer at BIW. Few in our state think about where these ships go once they leave Maine’s waters.

But I have now seen one community in South Korea that does not want these ships to come there. Gangjeong’s mayor told our visiting international delegation that “Jeju Island is at a crossroads – either eco-friendly or militarised.” When he said that, I wondered how Mainers would feel if the Navy wanted to pour concrete on the rocks at Pemaquid Point? I bet Mainers would fight to the bitter end.

That is what the villagers in Gangjeong intend to do.

Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space (*Bruce K Gagnon is the coordinator).  

Next article – Culture & Life – Twilight and paranormal romance

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