Gangjeong Village on Jeju Island in South Korea is a fishing and farming village inhabited by approximately 1,500 people. The island itself is recognized by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee as a World Natural Heritage site for its volcano and lava tubes, and rare and endangered species. The Korea Tourism Organization has created a two-minute video highlighting the unique treasure that is the Jeju volcanic island and lava tubes.
Since 2007, inhabitants of Gangjeong Village and the advocacy group Save Jeju Now have been struggling against the government’s plan to build a military naval base in their village, to be shared with U.S. marines and to be the base for U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carriers which could carry cruise missiles to destroy Chinese intercontinental ballistic missiles. According to the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Status of Forces Agreement between South Korea and the United States, the U.S. military retains wartime command over South Korea’s military and could use the naval base in a regional conflict. This is the consequence of ending a war without a peace treaty.
The members of this small village on a scenic island are saying no to expanding U.S. militarization in Asia, and saying yes to preserving creation and expanding peace efforts on the Korean Peninsula.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Korea and its president, Bishop Peter Kang U-il of Jeju, support the efforts of demonstrators risking arrest to stop construction of the military naval base. On March 19, 2014, AsiaNews.it reported Bishop Kang saying “This must be a land of peace, especially in light of the incidents of April 3 [1947, when one-tenth of the population was killed and more than half of the island’s villages were destroyed due to fear of a communist uprising.] Bringing the military back to this place means that the meaning of the death of those who have sacrificed for freedom is lost.” In 2006 the South Korean government officially apologized for the 1947 massacre and designated Jeju as “the Island of Peace” where such violence will not be repeated.
Columban Fathers have joined the Catholic Bishops Conference of Korea in daily prayer at the main gate of the military base construction site. Fr. Donald O’Keefe says the military base is a threat to regional and world peace. “It is fueling the arms race in Asia where South Korea is being used as a pawn in the Pacific where the U.S. and China are now confronting each other.” Fr. Pat Cunningham is one of hundreds of priests, nuns and laity who have stood in front of machines to halt construction and risked arrest.
Faith in Action: Sign the Jeju Solidarity Petition