The government will continue its project to build a Navy base on Jeju Island. The police allowed the blasting of rocks in the Gureombi area in Gangjeong Village along the southern coast of Jeju Island. The rocks were blown up Friday to flatten the site for base construction.
This has further fueled opposition to the already contentious project. Jeju Governor, Woo Keun-min, has requested the government temporarily halt construction.
The Jeju naval base project was first decided under former President Roh Moo-hyun. The incumbent administration announced last month that it will proceed with the project as planned, saying that despite some opposition, a matter of national security cannot be compromised.
The need to build the base was raised by the Navy in 1993. President Roh's administration pursued the plan in detail with the goal to foster an "ocean-going” Naval force. The first candidate site mentioned for the base in 2005 was Hwasun Port in Jeju's Seogwipo City, but the locals objected. Gangjeong Village emerged as a potential site in 2007. The townspeople held a meeting and agreed to the project and construction began.
However, the town's council reversed its decision four months later, and civic groups also joined in the opposition to make matters more complicated. But last April, the government revised a special law on the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province and wrote law plans to build the base and develop the surrounding area.
But protesters continuously thwarted construction work and would occupy the base site. Then in August, a Jeju provincial court upheld the government and the Navy's request for a court ban on any activities blocking construction. Construction resumed thereafter but progress is still slow.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly cut a huge amount of the budget from the total 132 billion won earmarked for the Navy base project during its budget deliberation for 2012. Now only 4.9 billion won is left to use. But authorities insist they will use the 100 billion won that was not used in fiscal year 2011 to continue construction.
The government aims to build a joint tourism-military port on Jeju Island. Apart from the naval base, the port will be able to accommodate a 150-thousand ton cruise ship. Tourist facilities will also help boost local development.
Jeju's governor and its parliament asked the central government to postpone the construction in order to conduct a simulation test on the docking of the cruise ship, but the government turned down the request.
Protesters oppose the project for two reasons, peace and environment. They say to build a base on Jeju, the island of peace, is shattering what the island stands for. They say the base will also destroy Jeju's pristine nature that designates it as a world heritage site.
On the other hand, the central government and the military stress the importance of national security and strategic values. They say the waters south of Jeju are a strategic economic stronghold accounting for the bulk of the nation's maritime traffic. They say the area is also important militarily and a base presence on the island is inevitable.
Defense experts say a Navy base in Jeju, located at the center of the triangular axis of South Korea, China and Japan, will be very effective in the strategic use of Navy power during contingencies. The government says the base must be built and be running at the earliest date to prepare for possible North Korean provocations on the East and Yellow Seas.