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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Saving Jeju Island: "It is about love for the people who cannot speak now. It is about love."


(Sung-Hee Choi in detention for holding a banner expressing concern for flowers and rocks)

Korean peace activist Sung-Hee Choi, arrested on Jeju Island, a "World Heritage Site" just south of the Korean Peninsula, for holding up a banner reading ""Do not touch even one stone, even one flower!" remains spiritually strong despite over two months of imprisonment, much of which she has spent on hunger strike.

David Vine, an American University anthropology professor who researches issues of overseas U.S. militarism and imperialism, interviewed Sung-Hee in prison last week. Here is an excerpt from the interview published at Foreign Policy in Focus today:
SUNG-HEE CHOI: The United States and South Korea use military exercises in the Asia-Pacific region that are aimed against China, not North Korea. There is big evidence that the United States will want the Jeju naval base, even though this is officially denied every time: They say, “This is not a U.S. naval base. This is a South Korean base.” So this is really a trick. They are really deceiving people. There is no problem for the U.S. military to use it. First, the U.S. and South Korean mutual defense treaty, which was signed in 1954, allows the United States to use of all South Korean military facilities. Second, the SOFA [Status of Forces Agreement] facilities are really meant for the U.S. military. Third, the U.S. military strategic flexibility policy under which South Korea has allowed U.S. forces in Korea to assume expanding regional and global roles beyond deterring North Korea.

The United States military can clearly use any South Korean base.

It is not only the military, but also corporations like Samsung and Daerim that are benefiting from the building of the base. It is not only a military part, but also the commercial part. What I am afraid about is the entrance of fascism in the whole island.

DAVID VINE: Fascism?

SUNG-HEE: Yes, fascism. Yes. In the mainland, and now Jeju island is being dominated by Samsung.

A base on Jeju would be a tragedy for Jeju Island and its people, because of what they have already experienced in 1948, when the South Korean military massacred 40,000 [accused communists].

Jeju’s people’s history is one of struggling against outside powers: the United States and Japan. U.S. military weapons [were involved in the massacre] just a few years after the South Korean liberation from Japan. Jeju's own identity is constant. Jeju has been the victim of the outside powers.

Why are we still struggling? Not only for the environment, but also for the history of the Jeju island and South Korea, which have been struggling against the powerful countries.

Another thing that I am thinking is that, day by day, Jeju island is a red button for the United States military. The United States already occupies all of the region that it covets. The United States already occupies Hawai’i, Okinawa, Philippines—or, they used to. Now they want to occupy Jeju island. This is a peace island. This is for peace. Now the vision of the peace activists here is for keeping the island as a real peace island.

Brother Song [a fellow activist] and [former Jeju Governor] Shin Goo-beom have tried to find alternatives for villagers for how to develop Gangjeong village for our future generation. One option is to build a UN Peace School. They are all talking about this. And also the chairman and the villagers’ committee, they are all talking about this. That needs to be our vision. That needs to be our ultimate goal. That is a concrete vision to create a real peace school for future generations in Jeju island.

And I really hope that you can talk about how the villagers are suffering. How they love their hometown. I really hope that you will please communicate how the islands in the Asia-Pacific region are now a target of an empire base for the United States.

DAVID: Why do you think there are so many people who are so dedicated to the struggle? Like yourself. People willing to go to jail. People willing to go on hunger strikes. There are many anti-base movements but people seem to be very passionate, and I wonder why—either personally for yourself or for others—you think people are so dedicated, so strong in their opposition?

SUNG-HEE: As I have written before, I feel a responsibility to talk for the voiceless animals and creatures who cannot speak. Second, for our future generations who will be the victims of war if we don’t stop the base. I think the villagers love their hometown so much. It is their hometown. They love it so much.

It is about love. It is about a love that cannot speak. It is about the sea that cannot speak. It is about the creatures who cannot speak aloud. We are basically talking about, we are basically talking….

And then, an automated voice and background music abruptly cut Sung-Hee off, announcing that our time had expired and instructing visitors to leave quickly. Sung-Hee grabbed her pen and the scrap of paper next to her and furiously wrote a few final words. She held the paper briefly up to the glass between us before a guard took her away. The paper read:

It is about love for the people who cannot speak now.

It is about love.
A poignant message of solidarity from Sung-Hee sent on behalf of the Spring Love Harukaze peace festival held in Tokyo in April 2010 may be read here.

For information on how you can support the Gangjeong villagers of Jeju in their struggle to preserve their beautiful, peaceful island, as well as how you can help release Sung-Hee and the others imprisoned for their nonviolent actions (and love for their community, the sea, dolphins and other sea creatures), please see this previous TTT post.



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