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Seogwipo naval base splits opinionLocals respond to plans for military base on Jeju
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승인 2009.10.28  12:31:44
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▲ The proposed naval base will transform Gangjeong village into a place of military might, and see the landscape change forever; something that many local residents and international peace campaigners are strongly against. Photo by Rachel Berman

As Jeju Island grapples with its global image as an international business city, a world heritage eco-tourist destination, or some combination thereof, controversy stirs among locals and foreigners. The recent topic of interest is the government’s decision to construct a new naval base in Seogwipo.

The logistics
The new naval base, to begin construction later this year, will be located in Gangjeong village, on the southern side of Jeju Island. Gangjeong village currently maintains a very small port, where local fisherman dock squid boats. Local women divers, known as haenyeo, also fish the waters around Gangjeong.

The base, to be completed in 2014, will create a great, strategically mobile fleet for Korea. It will span over 480,000 sq meters, and the port, will be large enough to contain 20 warships and 2 cruise-liners, according to naval officials.

Greater global business for Jeju
Those in favor of constructing the new naval base, argue that the base has various positive aspects, and can be made in an eco-friendly manner so as not to destroy Jeju’s natural beauty. For example, the base may provide a great many jobs for Jeju people. “Some local fisherman may not be able to fish the waters around Gangjeong, but the base is sure to create contracting, construction, and Korean military jobs [on] Jeju,” commented a Jeju local, who preferred to remain anonymous.

The new naval base may also boost tourism, and expand the global community of foreigners on the island. A foreign ‘local’ who has lived on Jeju for many years, and also wishes to remain anonymous explained: “Military bases bring the world to the community they are built in, and if that should happen to Seogwipo, then I think it would be a great way to open the minds of the people who live there.”

Threat to natural beauty
Protesters demanded a recall vote when Jeju Governor Kim Tae-hwan first passed the bill to construct the naval base. However, the vote was deemed invalid when only 11.1% of a necessary 33.3% of voters turned out. Despite the failure to overturn Governor Kim’s go-ahead for the base, many locals and foreigners still disagree with the government’s decision to build it.

Residents opposed to the base believe it contradicts Jeju’s intrinsic beauty, which is great for attracting tourists. Seogwipo resident and English teacher Rob Giddings explains: “The biggest boom for Jeju recently has been the opening and expansion of Jeju Olle courses. They are a great example of promoting tourism by using Jeju’s natural environment, attracting eco-friendly tourists, keen on hiking and staying in locally run minbaks.” Gangjeong Village is one of many beautiful spots along Jeju Olle course 7.

▲ These home-made protest models express the depth of feeling of Jeju’s community against the base; however there are many people who believe it will benefit the island by enhancing its international appeal. Photos by Rachel Berman.

Another major concern is the deterioration of beauty in the Seogwipo area. Marian Montgomery, a Seogwipo resident and English teacher believes that “it will greatly change the character of Seogwipo,” and added, “I imagine there will be a lot more traffic and helicopters flying low overhead, interrupting the peace of remote coves. A ton of ships and naval boats will stream past Seogwipo, and in doing so will pollute the sea and disrupt natural habitats both on the coast and in the water.”

Locals in the area are also concerned that the base will bring huge change to the current way of life. Jung Eun-ju, a high school student, relayed the story of her grandmother, who lives in Seogwipo’s Wimi, a town also considered for the naval base. Months ago, Jung’s grandmother, who is also a haenyeo, and other neighbors, demonstrated their anger with the government’s proposals, by lying down and refusing to move. Jung said her grandmother “didn’t want to lose her job and her way of life. She didn’t want the money that the government offered; she wanted to keep her life the way it was.” Eventually, the Jeju government finally decided to build the base in Gangjeong Village, which is good for Jung’s grandmother, but not so lucky for the haenyeo in Gangjeong village.

This is a grander issue than just the question of whether or not Jeju should build a naval base. The controversy of big business versus greener solutions is a global discussion, taking place in the G-20 Summit and in town hall meetings across the world.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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