President Lee Myung Bak
Cheong Wa Dae
1 Cheongwadae-ro, Jongno-gu
Seoul, Republic of Korea
Dear President Lee:
As concerned members of the international community, we urge you to stop construction of the naval base on Jeju Island, which Gangjeong residents have vehemently opposed by protesting daily and risking their lives and personal freedom. Since plans for the naval base were announced five years ago, 95% of Jeju residents have voted against the base and used every possible democratic means to block its construction. Yet their protests have fallen on deaf ears in your government.
We share the residents’ outrage that the South Korean government is willing to sacrifice the safety of the island residents in order to build this U.S. missile defense outpost as part of a provocative strategy to surround China. Jeju residents refute the claim that this naval base will improve the Korean peoples’ security; they know it will further destabilize the Asia-Pacific region and make the island a prime target for military retaliation. The Jeju people's resistance to the militarization of their island stem from the April 3, 1948 massacre when up to 80,000 civilians – many of their family – were slaughtered by ROK troops during a democratic uprising. In 2006, the late President Roh Moo Hyun officially apologized for the massacre by designating Jeju the “Island of Peace.” This naval base violates your government's commitment to the people of Jeju and their desire for peace.
Citizens of other countries have visited Gangjeong and are in steady communication with its residents. We are deeply concerned about the health and safety of several peace activists, including Professor Yang Yoon Mo and Sung Hee Cho, who were on 60-day hunger strikes and arrested for nonviolent protest. The elderly Professor Yang is now hospitalized, and Ms. Cho remains behind bars, facing up to five years in prison. We are alarmed that another activist, Brother Song, was recently beaten unconscious when he tried to prevent a construction vessel from pouring concrete onto the coral reefs. By authorizing the use of violence against nonviolent peace activists, you undermine your government’s reputation and give the world cause to question your commitment to South Korea’s hard-won democracy.
Famed for its extraordinary beauty and pristine environment, Jeju is home to three designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one of 28 finalists for the New 7 Wonders of Nature. It perplexes us that, despite First Lady Kim Yoon-ok’s efforts for the "Jeju, for New 7 Wonders Campaign," your government is jeopardizing Jeju’s chances by allowing the construction of this naval base. By dredging the Jeju coastline to accommodate U.S. Aegis destroyer warships, the South Korean Navy and Samsung Corporation are already threatening the island’s soft coral habitat and rich marine life.
Not only is Jeju’s Joongduk coastline where dolphins migrate to from Alaska in the summer, its waters are famed because of the hundreds of Korean women, haenyeo, who dive for seafood and kelp, key staples of the Korean diet. In 2005, The New York Times featured a story about these extraordinary women divers. The naval base will destroy the waters that haenyeo and fishermen depend upon for survival. It has already displaced Gangjeong citrus growers whose lands have been confiscated, greenhouses demolished, and fruit trees uprooted. Gangjeong villagers are not deceived by the ROK Navy’s false claims that the base would have minimal impact on the environment, and neither are we. They know that the base imperils their community, their livelihoods, and Jeju’s natural ecology.
We stand with the residents of Jeju in their nonviolent protest to protect not only Jeju’s rich marine ecosystems and their way of life, but also peace in this increasingly fragile and militarized region in the world. We demand that you act immediately to stop construction of the naval base on Jeju.