IF YOU HAVE ever been to Jeju, you will understand why it is called a paradise. Lying in the waters south of the Korean mainland, this volcanic island is stunningly beautiful, from its clean mountain streams to its placid coral reefs. Jeju’s legendary female deep-sea divers harvest clams, abalone, and seaweed, relying on lung power alone. The island is also a spiritual place, said to be the body of Korea’s creation goddess, Mago. Jeju has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a World Biosphere Reserve.
Since January 2011, it’s also been the site where a $970 million naval base is being constructed by the South Korean government, with the help of giant construction corporations such as Samsung. The base, located in the small farming and fishing village of Gangjeong, will occupy a unique three-quarter-mile stretch of coastal wetland, threatening an ecological system that harbors several endangered species. The naval base construction also contributes to increasing military tensions in Asia, raising the risk of a devastating war in the region. Today, islanders, religious leaders, and peace activists are calling attention to dangers caused by joint U.S.-South Korean militarization.
The base is slated to be home to 20 warships, including submarines, aircraft carriers, and destroyers, several of them equipped with missile defense technology with the stated goal of protecting South Korea’s sea lanes and shielding against attack from North Korea. Civilian cruise liners will also be able to dock, according to the government. South Korean naval official Ku Okhyoe told a press conference last fall that U.S. military ships will be allowed to dock at the base only temporarily; Ku insisted, “The base is not intended for a certain country.”