Korean Civil Society and Faith Leaders Protest Jeju Naval Base

By Qi Zhang, CCAO Environmental Justice Intern
October 19, 2012

Columban Father Pat Cunningham at Mass flanked by priests and police

The construction of Jeju naval base has stirred protests. As the picture shows, villagers and activists gathered together in their makeshift camp, shine or rain, even typhoons, occupying government, with their art, protest songs, candlelit vigils and handmade signs.

When I read the news, I have nothing but sympathy for their hard work to protect their village, their homeland. To me, as a Chinese, close to our neighbor South Korea, Jeju Island is a famous sightseeing attraction place, also known as Hawaii in South Korea. It is difficult to imagine that there is such destruction as naval base construction which has taken place on the natural world heritage site.

From September 6 to 15, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) held its WCC 2012 (World Conservation Congress) on Jeju Island.  It is said to be the world’s largest meeting of environmentalists held every four years. The issue of Jeju naval base construction was one of the most important agendas during the WCC. Peace volunteers and villagers took this WCC meeting as a great chance to introduce the Gangjeong village’s struggle against naval base.

Foreign Policy in Focus tells about preventing an environmentalist from entering Korea to attend the IUCN. This also proves my environmental concerns. Dr. Cha, a member of the independent EIA, carried her findings about the environmental impact of naval base on three critically endangered species and rare coral reefs, while she was blocked from participating in the IUCN. IUCN, sponsored by the Korean Government and Samsung, has succumbed to exclude voices of dissent at the summit.

From the open letter to IUCN president by South Korean NGOs posted on Save Jeju Now, I have learned about the whole story of building a naval base. The base is chosen due to its strategic location, surrounded by China, North Korea, Russia and Japan and U.S could use the military facility in any regional conflict with China. However, what I see is that the naval base will surely endanger species, destroy environment, influence local people’s lives and cultures, and threaten peace.

The church also makes their efforts to protest against the military base. The president of the Korean Bishops Conference, Peter Kang, said that Jeju Island should be a constant invitation to peace. “Building a military base here, where so much innocent blood has been spilled, offends Christian conscience: we remember the calls of all the great popes of centuries past and give voice to peace, not war.”

Columbans across the world have also voiced their opinion against the naval base, followed the issues for a few years, and put their faith into actions. Columban fathers have also supported the protest.

Life sometimes suffers a quandary. People come together for advocating peace while provoking a violent response. But we need to bear in hope and faith, we are doing the right things, and we should keep doing it.