[Editorial] A Jeju naval base referendum

Posted on : 2011-08-27 09:57 KST Modified on : 2011-08-27 09:57 KST

Tensions are reaching an extreme over the planned construction of a naval base in Gangjeong Village on Jeju Island, called the “island of peace.” A few days ago, police requested arrest warrants for three individuals who have led the opposition campaign, including village Mayor Kang Dong-kyun. They also replaced Seogwipo Police Station chief Song Yang-hwa for his tepid response to the situation. The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office (SPO) even held its first public security countermeasures meeting since the 2009 Ssangyong Motor Situation, where it decided on a policy of strict measures in response to any disruption of the base’s construction. At the moment, the island is in the grip of worries and fears that it might see the first forcible suppression by mainland police in the 63 years since the April 3 Massacre back in 1948.
The naval base construction issue is a longstanding one, with hostilities and confrontation stretching back over the past four years or so amid divisions between authorities and residents, and among the residents themselves. This no issue over which the government should be mobilizing the authorities for a lightning thrust. Most crucially, to introduce government forces now would mean scotching the efforts to seek a peaceful solution.
The Jeju naval base subcommittee of the National Assembly’s Budget and Accounts Committee is scheduled to begin work in earnest on Monday with a report on pending issues, and the Jeju Provincial Council recently proposed to the government that a referendum be held as a means of resolving the conflict. If government forces are used to push the construction ahead at a time like this, this would sacrifice the legitimacy of the base plan as proclaimed by the government thus far. It would also breed suspicions that this is an attempt to use a public security situation as a way of escaping a lame duck crisis in the wake of the recent free school lunch referendum defeat.
The problem with the Gangjeong plan was that the government began the effort based on the agreement of just over 5 percent of village residents, without sufficient support being established for the naval base. There have also been numerous procedural issues, including a change in use for an absolute preservation area where construction was banned. Further contributing to the deepening of the conflict is the aggressive response, including arrests, damage claims, and criminal accusations against opponents of the plan.
There certainly is potential for a peaceful resolution to the Gangjeong situation if all of us can engage in dialogue with a bit more patience. At this time, we need to see how the National Assembly discussions go and consider various ideas, including a possible referendum. A referendum would not solve everything, but it could be a means of seeing what Jeju residents actually think. An Aug. 21 and 22 resident poll conducted by the Jeju Provincial Council showed 65.3 percent of respondents in favor of a referendum. In addition, tensions should be dispelled through the immediate withdrawal of the “mainland police” forces deployed to the island. Is it really necessary to feed concerns of a “21st century April 3 Massacre” on the island of peace?

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