Below are excerpts of an excellent interview with Kang Jeong-Koo, a longtime activist scholar, with Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea (SPARK). SPARK is a Global Network affiliate group and has been heavily involved in the campaign on Jeju Island to stop the Navy base construction. This interview is done by Christine Hong and was published in Asia Times. You can see the full interview here.
SPARK was established in 1994. Many Koreans believed that it was high time for us to end the division of Korea, to realize a reunited state, and to get foreign troops out of the Korean peninsula. Never in our history have foreign troops been stationed in the Korean peninsula for as long as US troops have been here - over 65 years. China, during the Tang dynasty, stayed only nine and a half years. During the colonial period, the Japanese military was here for almost 40 years. In 1958, the Chinese army withdrew from North Korea. By contrast, that same year, the United States deployed up to 1,300 nuclear bombs here in South Korea, only removing its nuclear arsenal from South Korea in 1991. If we think the South Korean people panicked when North Korea had five or six nuclear bombs, how did the North Korean people feel from 1958 through 1991?
In the greater Asia-Pacific region, we're seeing the United States attempt to preserve its hegemony by using the resources of allied countries. This reminds me of the Libyan war. In the initial stage of the Libyan crisis, the United States intervened but then withdrew. It did not wish to waste its money. Instead, it wanted France, England, and Italy to underwrite the costs of the intervention. The exact same policy applies to South Korea, Japan, India, and Australia.
The naval base at Gangjeong is not against North Korea. If the strategic purpose of the base were truly to check North Korea, the naval base should be located near North Korea. But Jeju is located in the southern part of South Korea. There is no other reason for this base other than to surround and encircle China.
And it doesn't matter that the naval base is, in name, South Korean. The United States, according to its Status of Forces Agreement and its Mutual Defense Treaty with South Korea, can use at whim and at will any South Korean base.
The Korean people know that the naval base at Gangjeong is not for the South Korean Navy but for the US Navy. Look at the Pyongtaek base. Pyongtaek is the nearest US military installation to Beijing and Shanghai. It is only one or two hours away by civilian airplane. Firing a missile would take no time at all. So the US military installations that are the closest to China are the Pyongtaek and Gangjeong bases, which the United States wishes to be built at Korean expense. The same is true of Japan, Australia, Singapore, and India.
The stationing of US troops on our soil and South Korea's military alliance with the United States have proved to be the most formidable obstacles to the struggle for peace. It's for this reason that anti-Americanism - understood critically as a people's struggle for the withdrawal of US troops - increases as each day passes. Our country is a sovereign country. We do not want to remain in a subservient or sub-imperial relationship to US military empire. It is both foreseeable and inevitable that in the near future, our people's power will make it impossible for US troops to remain on our soil.
There is no doubt that the authorities targeted SPARK, one of the organizations at the forefront of the resistance, to discourage and suppress strong protest against the construction of the naval base at Gangjeong in Jeju. All those who have been investigated and indicted are peace and reunification organizations, like SPARK, and the activists and advocates from these organizations. So far, approximately 300 residents of Gangjeong involved in the resistance to the construction of the naval base have been detained at least once; four of them have been given suspended sentences and four are still in jail. Fines of approximately $400,000 have been levied upon them. The situation has been far worse in the case of non-village peace activists and advocates.
- Christine Hong is an assistant professor of critical Pacific Rim studies at UC Santa Cruz. She is a fellow at the Korea Policy Institute and a member of the coordinating committee of the National Campaign to End the Korean War.