[FOUNTAIN]History as seen from a hillDunjisan is a small hill south of Namsan, a mountain south of old Seoul. The place has long been a forbidden land for Koreans, because the hill and surrounding area have been in use by foreign troops. It is now within the compound of the South Post of the Yongsan Garrison, which houses U.S. forces in Korea.
In 1904, Japan took over Dunjisan based on an agreement between Korea and Japan: In case there is clear and present danger caused by rebellion or external intrusion, Japan shall take immediate and necessary action to protect the royal family, Korea’s stability and its territory. Korea shall offer the necessary convenience to Japan.
Under the agreement, signed during the Russo-Japanese war, Japan forced the Joseon Dynasty to hand over 9.9 million square meters (2,450 acres) of land south of Namsan, where thousands of Koreans lived.
Residents who had to move out of their homes protested violently. And Lee Ji-yong, then-minister of internal affairs, who signed the agreement, resigned and fled. But Japan ultimately expropriated 9.9 million square meters of land, and the Japanese army developed 4.5 million square meters of the land as a military base.
The United States took over the land in 1953 based on Article 4 of the U.S.-Korea Mutual Defense Agreement. According to Article 4, Korea shall permit the United States of America to base its Army, Navy and Air Forces in the territory of the Republic of Korea and the United States shall accept the right.
The mutual defense treaty was signed as soon as the armistice agreement was concluded in 1953. Syngman Rhee, Korea’s president at that time, insisted the United States enter the agreement and protect the peninsula.
After the agreement was signed, the 78-year-old president sighed with relief and said: If the agreement had been made a long time ago, Koreans would not have gone through such painful experiences.
The world has changed over the last 50 years, and Koreans do not regard U.S. forces as the protectors of the nation any more. The Ministry of National Defense has announced that the U.S. military’s camps would be moved out of the Yongsan area. The Seoul Metropolitan Government said that the city will build a huge park, similar to New York City’s Central Park, on the vacated land, a belated decision met with sighs of relief.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo