By Choi Sung-hee | February 8, 2018
Originally published in Space Alert! (Winter/Spring 2018 #36)
Despite more than ten years of people’s non-violent resistance to the construction of the Jeju Island navy base, it opened in Gangjeong village, South Korea, in February 2016. In 2017, between March and November, people in the village witnessed visits by 10 foreign military ships: six from the US, two from Canada and two from Australia. Among the U.S. ships, there were three Aegis destroyers, a mine countermeasure ship, a survey ship, and a nuclear submarine. Two Canadian and two Australian ships were frigates. Most of them came to the base with the purpose of so-called ‘munition-loading’ and ‘break’ between war exercises on the sea. The foreign warships also leave behind their kitchen trash and human waste. There is no strict regulation of this trash. What welcomed them was our protest signs and kayaks against the warships and war exercises.
Three concerns mainly come out.
Firstly, is the Jeju navy base becoming a U.S. missile defense outpost?
The Jeju navy base is a South Korean (ROK) navy base. However, compared to other South Korean navy bases such as Donghae, Pyeongtaek, and Busan respectively in the east, west, and south of the Korean peninsula, the Jeju base has a clear purpose besides defending South Korea from North Korea. The Jeju base is far from the Korean DMZ but rather close to China. Its main purpose is allegedly to secure the southern sea lane where more than 99.8 % of South Korean’s trade material passes by. It is composed of the Jeju navy base squadron, submarine squadron and importantly, the 7th task flotilla. It is the base where South Korea’s three biggest Aegis destroyers are being deployed to carry out their tasks for ‘ocean-going navy’ (compared to ‘coast navy’) and ready to join US-led multinational maritime war exercises. An R.O.K.-U.S.-Japan maritime ballistic missile defense exercise was carried out off the coast of Jeju as far back as 2013. The Jeju navy base is gradually being conditioned and equipped to host a series of war exercises, to be a port of call for the foreign warships including U.S. Aegis destroyers.
Is the Jeju navy base becoming a U.S. missile defense outpost?
Secondly, why Canadian [NATO member] and Australian [NATO partner] ships?
The U.S. Navy ships have the ‘right’ (no matter how unjust) to enter the South Korean bases. The R.O.K.-U.S. mutual defense treaty (1953) and SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) allow this. However, how about Canadian and Australian navy ships which do not have that right?
In 2016, Vincent Brooks, Commander of the United States Forces of Korea (USFK), R.O.K.-U.S. Combined Forces Command, UN Command, strongly demanded South Korean Ministry of National Defense to conclude SOFA with nine countries belonging to the UN Command. They are Australia, Canada, England, France, New Zealand, Philippines, Thailand, Turkey, and U.S. It is uncertain whether that demand is related to the entrance of Canada and Australia ships to the Jeju navy base (and other South Korean ports). The USFK is intending to secure its wartime operation control using the UN Command as a cover.
On January 15–16, this year, U.S. and Canada invited 16 countries which were involved in the Korean War, along with Japan and South Korea, to talk about establishing a naval blockade against North Korea. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and U.S. are especially mobilized for this blockade. The UK sent her two warships off the Korean peninsula for a US-led joint war exercise, last December. By the Trump government’s Indo-Pacific strategy, the role of four countries (Australia, India, Japan, and US) should be noticed, too. South Korea, US, and Australia conducted joint war games off the coast of Jeju on November 6. On November 7 Japan, India, and U.S. conducted joint exercises along the Korean peninsula.
Is the Jeju navy base becoming a U.S.-led multi-national launching pad in case of any outbreak of war? We should keep both of our eyes wide open this year!
Thirdly, the visit by an aggressive U.S. nuclear submarine is evidence of Jeju becoming a strategic outpost for the U.S. It also gives us alarm about the possibility of nuclearization of Jeju. The Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula signed by North and South Korea in 1992 reads that ‘The South and the North Korea shall not test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons.’ The declaration has been broken by the tests of nuclear bombs started in 2006 by North Korea who faces continuing threats from the U.S. Still it is a very important declaration to remember. South Korea should not ‘receive’ those U.S. nuclear warships. It is quite devastating that during Trump’s visit to Korea, Nov. 7–8, last year, President Moon and Trump agreed to acquire and develop nuclear submarines in South Korea, along with rotation deployment of so-called U.S. ‘strategic military assets’ around and nearby the Korean peninsula. The Gangjeong Sea is already polluted by toxic materials used by domestic and foreign warships and cannot bear the risk of radiation.
At a rapid pace, Jeju navy base is bringing the bad omens for the future of Jeju.
As a next step, an Air Force base, too, is planned in Seongsan, on the east side of Jeju, under the cover of a civilian airport (the 2nd Jeju airport). A resident there carried out more than 45 days hunger strike against it. The Jeju navy base has become a powder keg in Northeast Asia and should be closed! Further, this year marks the 70th year of the April 3rd resistance against the U.S. Army Military Government and puppet South Korean government! Right after the uprising on April 3, 1948, the U.S. mobilized a warship to blockade the coast of Jeju. Historians believe that between 30,000 to 80,000 Islanders were massacred by 1954.
Choi Sung-hee is a Global Network advisory board member and lives in Gangjeong village on Jeju Island, South Korea