[Interview] Matthew Hoey continues campaign against Jeju naval base

Posted on : 2011-11-18 10:51 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Hoey says, ‘Protecting Jeju Island is like standing up for a bullied child’

By Kim Min-ji, Intern


Matthew Hoey has been advocating for the protesters against the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island. He is the outreach coordinator for the Global Campaign to Save Jeju Island. He flew to South Korea for the second time for a four-week stay. On his way to Jeju Island, he took some time to share his stories with Hankyoreh. His eyes were full of compassion for the people of Jeju, which he called “the most idyllic place on the planet.” He left South Korea on Nov. 15.

How did you become involved in Gangjeong Village conflict in the first place?

“The major themes of my career and research are international security, military defense and nuclear disarmament. One of the many activities I do is advising a non-profit peace group, ‘The Global Network.’ Two Koreans serve on the board of directors, Jung Wook-sik of civic organization Peace Network and artist and civic activist Choi Sung-hee. They sent me an email, a plea for help to save Choi Sung-hee from unfair imprisonment on charge of participating in a protest to protect Gangjeong Village. Inspired by her bold action of blocking a bulldozer with her body, I started a research on the construction of a naval base in Gangjeong village. None of my friends and acquaintances who work for prestigious universities, world-class organizations and world-recognized news agencies knew about this, even experts on Korean issues. So, I decided to become an ambassador for Gangjeong Village to help raise awareness internationally.”

What is your mission here?

“I am not here as a protester. My responsibility here is to discover the truth and let other people know. If there had not been this work, even the people at Hankyoreh and other international media outlets could not know about the amazing work that people are doing in Gangjeong Village. Once the excitement ceased, there has been a lull in media recently. I came back to Korea to jump start the media’s attention to make sure that what’s taking place in Gangjeong never disappears back into that bubble again. I have three credentials for media outlets: Truth Out, Korean Quarterly and Activist Magazine. I am writing articles for them, taking photos, updating web sites, informing peace activists and my collegues around the world.”

What specifically do you do?

“Every time a new story about Gangjeong comes out through a variety of search criteria my smartphone alerts me with a text message. I would go and check if there is any inaccuracy. If there is, I write letters to the editor to correct them. The Washington Times in the United States has corrected its information in response to my letter. I also get the true information out to the international community through SNS.

The Navy undermined the power of SNS. They thought that it would only be the modest farmers that they had to convince. However, the college educated from the mainland, peace activists, the international media and world-renowned scientists have informed through SNS and became involved. Through SNS, protesters in Gangjeong can ask for professional help from many experts and scientists.

In addition, since the military’s argument for the construction of a naval base is a collection of lies that goes against the rules of democracy, we don’t even need to convince other people. Anyone to whom we show the facts becomes our ally. I have talked to many people, and even the pro-military U.S. government officials asked, ‘Why would they construct a military base there?’

Gangjeong Village naval base resistance is probably the most influential tourism promotion ever happened in history. All international media coverage has been promoting the beauty of Jeju, saying, ‘Jeju is the most peaceful, idyllic island on the planet, unlike anything you’ve ever seen before in your life! We must do everything we can to protect it!’ However, a naval base, as proven in the past, will only result in death. The government can talk about the commercial benefits and tourism promotion through the naval base as much as they want. But the more layers you peel back, the more it stinks. They can put lipstick on a pig, but it still is a pig.”

What is the most significant achievement of your work?

“I have been sending dozens of emails a day, to tell as many international media agencies as possible about Gangjeong Village. I have been sleeping for only about 3-4 hours a day and would go for two straight days sometimes. As I continued to reach out, many famous figures and peace activists who were sympathetic for Gangjeong Village wanted to get involved. Among them were Gloria Steinem and Noam Chomsky, who also wrote letters to major international news agencies like the New York Times. Publication of our letters through such media giants triggered the international community to pay attention to this issue. As a result, the four and a half year-old bubble of seclusion burst. Gangjeong Village came under the wings of the international community. International media coverage for Gangjeong went from none to hundreds. The Hankyoreh, The New York Times, Al Gazeera, BBC and many other have come out to say, ‘The protesters are doing something beautiful. The construction of a naval base in Gangjeong is unjust.’ In particular, Al Jazeera has been cooperating with us to develop a documentary film, ‘Call against Arms’ on the issue of Gangjeong Village, which will air on Nov. 8 across the globe. I also had built a web site, savejejuisland.org, in May. The number of visitors is growing, more than 50,000. Now, so many people around the world know about Gangjeong Village and support the protestors against the construction of a naval base. More than 125 institutions are involved now, ranging from local peace groups in Korea, international NGOs, legal professionals, security experts, academics and social networkers. Protesters know how to reach out to experts and get help. Also, having gained such international awareness, the government won’t be able to play unfair. This is not the 1980s anymore. Personal investigations, false votes and violence will only make the military lose power since the entire world is watching the whole scene.”

In your opinion, what are the major arguments against the construction of a naval base in Gangjeong Village?

“Firstly, there are the national, regional and international security implications. Located within less than 400miles from China, the naval base will undermine China’s national security. Many world-renowned experts and missile defense analysts say that this base is completely ineffective at addressing the truth for the security issues between the North Korea and South Korea. It will only build up tensions between Korea and China, creating more problems than it will solve. Different from the South Korean government’s faulty claim, Gangjeong naval base will become a temporary military base for the US. In the event of US-China military confrontation, it’s going to draw a security threat to South Korea.

Along with devastating environmental implications, human rights are also at stake. Gangjeong villagers are being targeted by police for their political beliefs. The police have fined, imprisoned and held innocent villagers for legally standing up for peace in Gangjeong Village. Even the democratically elected Mayor is in prison without bail for defending a legal vote. How absurd!

The third argument is the cultural sensitivities with two focal points. One focal point is the archeological significance of Jeju. Historic relics from Chosun dynasty have been recently discovered on the site. The other focal point lies in the past. The last time a military base was located on Jeju more than 30,000 people were killed in genocide. Jeju people endured great trauma and so much pain during the April 3 Uprising in 1948. We can guarantee that this naval base will cause more trauma and pain for the people in Jeju at some point in the future.

The fourth component is the legal dimension. Only 87 people out of 1,800 residents had the rights to vote on this matter.

Do you believe the people can protect the village?

“I like to joke that there was ‘Occupy Gangjeong’ before ‘Occupy Wall Street.’ People have risen up to speak up for themselves, peace, justice and truth. Not only that, the demographic make-up of activist group is diverse. For example, a group of 80 people including the young, farmers, college students, children, fathers and mothers lived on the construction base in a tent to stop the construction. There is a seven-year old girl who is a mascot of ‘Protect Gangjeong Village Movement,’ whom I call the future President of South Korea. I joined them and spent nights in a massive vinyl tent on Gureombi rock for sixteen days. They held Catholic masses there and meditated every morning. There was incredible support and I was very well-treated with care, food, resources and necessities. People in the Island of Peace will never give up fighting.

The Navy knows that their argument for the base is falling apart. So, keeping it in the headlines is critical because they are trying to build the base as fast as they can. If they can get the structures built, people will think that it is too late to stop. The activists in Gangjeong will never give up his fight because the truth is on their side, they have a very strong network and there are a lot of dedicated people. There is a growing community around the world who is supporting this fight.”

What is the biggest obstacle do people in Jeju Island face?

“What scares me the most is that the local government is not playing fair. The protesters have done everything right in terms of democracy. Their speaking up, ‘We want the construction of army base to stop,’ is justified. But, the military has not appeared to care about that. It makes me wonder, ‘Who is running the show on Jeju Island’? Is it the democratically elected local government or the military?”

Why are you so devoted?

“I encountered this conflict when I was struggling with a severe depression after my mother passed away. It hit me on the stomach, a very intense feeling, like a fire inside of me. Being involved in this project kept me occupied and active, helping me overcome my struggles. Suddenly, I was living again.

Jeju is like a little child in a school yard being bullied. If you are going to stand up for anybody, if you are a person who cares about the future, for your children and the environment - I care about the future, the safety for the U.S. troops that based in Korea - you have to stand up for this. We don’t need a war. We need reconciliation in the Korean Peninsula. We need to trend toward peace, to keep South Koreans and U.S. troops safe. If you don’t prevent the Island of Peace from being militarized, what are you fighting for?

When I bring my 2-year-old daughter to Korea, I don’t want there to be a military base. I don’t want to be sitting on my couch and watching when I am 60 years old the news of a military conflict between China and the United States with Jeju Island being shelled. I don’t want to witness that.”

Matthew Hoey is a former senior research associate at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies (IDDS), a United Nations Non-Governmental research organization that was located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Hoey’s current research is focused on the Asian security environment, specifically in regard to the proliferation of sensitive military technologies that play a role in undermining international security.

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]