National and International Protests Challenge Naval Base Construction on Jeju Island, South KoreaRead the full analysis and prior updates here. More updates and info on how to help save Jeju Island at the website of the Global Campaign to Save Jeju Island.
The Asia-Pacific Journal
Update, August 14, 2011
Tension heightened in Gangjeong village on August 14 when the protestors learned that 500-600 policemen, 16 police buses, 10 vehicles with suppression gear including 3 water cannons were dispatched from the mainland. The protesters responded by confirming their determination to protect their village (Headline Jeju, August 14, 2011)
Meanwhile, the navy announced that it was proceeding with construction in a land area of 489,000 square meters with an investment of 9.8 trillion won. It stated that 14% of the work has already been completed at a cost of 1.4 trillion won (Kyunghyang.com, July 25, 2011). At this writing, peace activist, Choi Sung-hee remains in prison,1 and some 40 protestors have been charged with obstruction and fined 50 million won (The Hankyoreh, July 26, 2011). In addition to applying for an injunction against 77 protestors, the navy and Samsung C & T claimed 290 million won in compensation for damages by 14 protestors.
The Navy, Samsung, and the Police Crack Down
Following an arrest on July 16 and a visit by the national police chief on July 21, about 300 policemen have been stationed at the entrance to Jungdeok (Jeju sori, July 25, 2011). The chief called for rigorous enforcement in the event that construction is obstructed (Jeju Sori, July 21, 2011). Within a week, the national maritime police chief echoed the same order during his visit to Segwipo, in Jeju (Headline Jeju, July 27, 2011).
The villagers and support organizations criticized government abuse and announced an all-out fight to protect the village and the peace (Jeju sori, July 25, 2011). Since then, chained protestors have guarded the entrance to Jungdeok, and other protestors have stayed in the protestors’ tent through the night.
On August 8, some 200 policemen blocked residents who tried to repair equipment in Jungdeok such as tents destroyed by typhoon Muifa. After a one-hour verbal confrontation with residents, the police moved back to the street (Headline Jeju, August 8, 2011). However, the next day they returned with the navy to prevent residents from bringing vinyl and other materials to the site. They arrested one activist for obstructing a police officer and assault (Headline Jeju, August 9, 2011).2 The village chief criticized the navy for isolating activists in Jungdeok from villagers, and called for continued resistance against the crackdown.
(Christine Ahn: "These are kids. They are conscripted and have to do it as mandatory service.")
While the navy and the police used force to stop the protests, the navy and/or Samsung C & T enforced another law over the last three months, accusing the protestors of impeding performance of duty. This provision was even more stressful for villagers precisely because it was so vague. One resident noted that a photographer taking pictures of the scene and a car owner who parked near the construction site were accused of obstruction of business. Another resident added that the law always sided with the navy and/or Samsung. They described this situation as re-enactment of the 4.3 massacre of 1948: “all kinds of complaints and accusations and fines are killing us this time instead of guns at that time.”
Conservative vs Liberal Media: ‘Pro-North Korea Forces’ vs Peace Forces
While physical clashes occurred around Gangjeong, ideological clashes erupted in the national media. Conservative media re-emphasized the necessity to build the naval base and attacked activists as ‘pro-North Korea leftists’ (Chosun.com, July 20, 2011).3 A leader of the Grand National Party, the ruling party, used the same words in the national assembly, demanding strict enforcement by the authorities (Sisa Jeju, July 27, 2011). Pro-construction organizations in an August 5 rally likewise attacked the pro-North Korea force. The label ‘leftist’ or ‘communist’ had often been used to suppress opposition views during earlier authoritarian regimes.
By contrast, liberal media criticized the integration of US and ROK defense systems while giving voice to the protestors (Pressian, July 29, 2011; Hankyoreh 21, August 5, 2011). Moreover, these media interviewed outside supporters (The Hankyoreh, July 29). They found that these supporters were ordinary citizens, artists, researchers or members of civil organizations who were concerned with peace. Three recent articles in The New York Times conveyed the views of anti-base forces, disseminating the issue worldwide. Even CNN introduced the “Save Jeju Island” petition when it interviewed Gloria Steinem on August 12.
Opposition Parties vs the Government; Reconsidering Construction vs. Keeping Construction
On July 29, the mayor of Segwipo city accepted a government order to block the only path to enter Jungdeok. Seoul pressured the Jeju government with warnings of administrative and financial penalties for almost a year (The Hankyoreh, July 29, 2011). The Jeju governor, however, has remained quiet about the base project.
With a general election and a presidential election coming in April and December next year respectively, the political parties have begun to raise the issue of the base. On August 4, the five opposition political parties called for a temporary halt in construction pending a full review by the national assembly. Immediately after their call, however, the Ministry of National Defense announced that it would push ahead with construction for national security and budget reasons. The Ministry denied again that the base was an outpost of the US military defense system (Jeju Sori, August 4, 2011).
The Democratic Party, the main opposition party, reached an agreement with the Grand National Party to convene a subcommittee to examine the construction budget, but it failed to obtain a temporary halt in construction. Finally, on August 11, a few members of the ruling Grand National Party visited to assess the situation in Gangjeong. The base will be an issue in the coming elections.
(This sign reads "Against Naval Base, it will be regret to our descendants." All of these anti-base demonstrators are retired soldiers. Photo: Emily Wang)
The Pro-construction Organizations vs the Protestors: Pushing ahead with Construction vs Terminating Construction project
Pro-construction villagers and their support organizations have issued public statements or held demonstrations in the course of the conflict. However, for the first time, on August 5, they held a large demonstration near the construction site. Some 400 supporters of construction demanded moving ahead with construction in the interest of national security and safeguarding peace. Supporters were from the Korea Veteran Association, the Navy Veteran Association and other conservative associations (Sisa Jeju, August 5, 2011). Their banners criticized the outside supporters as “pro-North Korea garbage”. After the rally, they tried to march to Jungdeok, but 500 police blocked them to prevent clashes.
While pro-construction villagers gained outside support, 6 anti-construction villagers also won additional support. Father Moon Jeong-hyun, a leading exponent of the anti-base movement in Pyeongtaek [where the state also forcibly seized private farmland to make way for the expansion of a U.S. military base], moved to Gangjeong in July.
(The always brave and smiling Father Moon - sits in front of the naval base construction headquarters, unfazed although surrounded by Korean youth conscripted as riot police. Photo: Matt Hoey, Save Jeju Island)
Catholic priests in Jeju parish have stayed in the tents of Jungdeok to block a sudden police action since July 25. Jeju parish also held mass in Jungdeok with about 1,000 believers on August 11 (Jeju Sori, August 11, 2011). Moreover, Gwangju parish, Korean YMCA, the Korean Teachers & Education Workers’ Union, WILPF (Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom), Christian Conference of Asia, and others expressed solidarity with the villagers. The Global Campaign to Save Jeju Island was formed with a website.
(Mass at Jungdeok on August 11, 2011. Photo: Jeju Sori)
On August 6, anti-construction villagers and supporters held a 2nd rally calling for an end to the plan to construct the base. About 800 participants came from throughout the nation. Most were ordinary citizens including a circle of culture and arts, members of civil organizations, and villagers. This time, leaders of opposition parties played a prominent role during the two-hour rally. In positioning for the elections, each side emphasizes the search for peace, but the logic of the two is diametrically opposite.
With the development of the movement, a change has occurred in the collective identity and rituals of the protestors. A young villager told me that he had gained understanding of the older generation since struggling together. After learning about the history of the community, he came to identify strongly as a member of it. He and other villagers express strong determination to preserve their community for future generations.
Meanwhile, outside supporters have come from all over the mainland and even outside the country. Some came to Jungdeok to support Gangjeong villagers from the start, but others reported that they became engaged after discovering the beauty of the seaside, the suffering of villagers, or the possibility of communal living. The result is that the collective identity of the protestors is changing from the solidarity of rage in 2007 to communal solidarity.
Along with new types of support, the rituals of the anti-construction groups become more diversified. As seen in the 2nd rally on August 6, songs, dances and plays constituted a large part of the demonstration.
(Christine Ahn: "It's clear which side is for peace, joy and life!" Photo: Yune Pak)
Celebrating Peace, Joy and Life
The candlelight vigils every evening in front of the construction site show a similar pattern. The Gangjeong café, the center for communication, posted comic films and an ad for inviting mainlanders to spend their summer holiday camping in Jungdeok. Visitors and supporters spent their time walking, talking, or erecting towers with small stones. While some are still chained and Choi Sung-hee is again on a hunger strike in prison, demonstrators are creating softer, life-affirming means to vitalize the movement.
In this update, I have attempted to suggest a change of discourses, actors, collective identity, and rituals over the last month. After the entrance to Jungdeok was closed, the sense of urgency has grown. At this writing, tension has mounted around the village while participation and support have increased for both sides, leading to a slight change of collective identity and rituals among the protestors.