Jeju still split as base decision nears
JEJU ― The provincial government is expected to make its final ruling in eight days on whether to allow the Navy to build a base here, and the residents are as divided as they’ve been on the issue for the last five years.
“If you get more people here the economy will benefit. Opposing it for the sake of opposing is not right,” said resident Kang Yoon-gil.
Kim Sang-bae disagreed. “Jeju is an island of peace,” Kim said. “When a naval base comes in here it will destroy that image.”
Jeju’s provincial government is set to make its ruling around May 15. The government last week surveyed 4,500 Jeju citizens on their opinion about the matter, but has kept the results a secret. The poll included 3,000 citizens from the three areas that could become a possible site for the naval base.
A source familiar with the poll results said that citizens were leaning toward the establishment of a naval base here. In earlier public opinion polls conducted by Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, citizens also favored the base.
A televised debate is scheduled tomorrow, after which a second public opinion poll will be conducted. The survey will again target citizens in the three possible areas where the base might be constructed.
The location most favored by the public will be chosen. It will be the first time that the construction of a naval base will be decided by public opinion.
The central government and the military announced plans to build a base on the island in 2002.
Since then, there have been numerous protests against it. The Jeju provincial government originally wanted to hold a vote, but the Defense Ministry opposed the idea, arguing that the issue was a security concern and should not be the subject of a public vote. That’s why the island opted for a public opinion survey, it said.
Jeju Governor Kim Tae-hwan told the JoongAng Ilbo last week in a phone interview that he would use the results of the survey as a guideline in making his final decision.
“The division among the citizens is growing. Therefore, in order to put a quick end to the whole issue, we have conducted a public opinion survey,” Kim said.
Gangjeong village at Seogwipo, Wimiri at Namwon and Hwasunri at Andeok are the three places that have been earmarked as possible sites, with Gangjeong already having expressed its support for the base.
Yun Tae-jeong, 52, the village chief, said, “The naval base can help develop our village and at a general meeting we decided that it’s in our best interests to have it.”
Wimiri has voiced the heaviest opposition, saying the base could alter the environment and harm the fishing there. One woman diver who declined to be identified said, “When the base comes here we are going to have pollution and we will lose our jobs.”
The people of Hwasunri are still divided.
By Kang Gi-heon JoongAng Ilbo [email@example.com]