Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Specter Is Haunting Asia

I've been wanting to write about something other than politics, but this has been on my mind all weekend. Longer than that, really.

We Euro-Americans tend to focus on US foreign policy in Europe and the Middle East, but since the US asserts its dominance over the whole world, it's good to notice what we do elsewhere. Right now the South Korean navy has begun building a base near Gangjeong Village on Jejudo, a large volcanic island off the southern coast the Korean peninsula. There is widespread local opposition to the project, along with solidarity from other Koreans and some well-known foreigners.
This military base, if completed, will be home to both US and South Korean naval vessels and a sea-based Aegis ballistic missile defense system. The proposed location of this base is Gangjeong, a small farming and fishing village that has reluctantly become the site of an epic battle for peace.
The Catholic Bishop of Jeju told the Hankyoreh:
"When the National Assembly cut the Jeju naval base construction budget by 96% late last year, it was voicing the legislature‘s view that there were too many problems with the design and other aspects, and that construction should not be carried out until it had been reexamined.

"I can’t understand why the government is refusing to communicate with the people and making these decisions," the bishop added. We’re not living under a dictatorship."
Jeju was designated the Island of World Peace in 2005 by the South Korean government, with a peace center and museum. It has a troubled history: in 1948, three years after Korea was liberated from Japanese control, at least thirty thousand people were killed in an uprising against the new collaborationist regime in Seoul, supported and overseen by the US. Another 40,000 or so fled to Japan. There's disagreement over the American role in the suppression of the revolt, but there's no doubt that the US was in charge of South Korea at the time.

The New York Times ran a typically clueless article on the controversy, ending with this choice bit:
Speaking about the opponents of the base, Koh Jong-pyo, 47, an abalone fisherman, said: “They worry too much. Think what it could do for the local economy whenever an American aircraft carrier arrives with thousands of sailors and their cash.”
Not everyone agrees with Mr. Koh. As long as he doesn't mind his daughters going to work in bars prostituting themselves to those "thousands of sailors and their cash," fine. Military bases have mixed effects on their neighborhoods, with violent crime including rape accompanying the cash, plus regular "accidents."

There can't be any pretense that the new base is for the "defense" of Jeju, or of South Korea. In an outbreak of hostilities, it would be a prime target of attack, and "collateral damage" would be considerable. Its "purpose, as stated by both South Korean and US military officials, is to project force toward China." Nor is the Jeju base an isolated instance. Imagine how the US would welcome Chinese military bases and missile defense systems in, say, Brazil or Colombia or Venezuela, even though they'd be justified as a means of containing the aggressor state to the north. After all, we welcomed Soviet missiles in Cuba, which were only there to protect Cuba from us.