[VIEWPOINT]Relocation protesters are off base

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[VIEWPOINT]Relocation protesters are off base

It is fortunate that the large-scale rally organized by the Pan-South Korea Solution Committee against the U.S. Base Extension in Pyeongtaek ended without a major clash.
However, the tension has not been eliminated, because the committee has proclaimed it will continue to fight and the residents opposing the U.S. military base relocation are not willing to give up farming there.
It is especially worrisome that some believe the committee, pressured by public opinion, opted not to stage a violent demonstration as a “strategic retreat.”
The committee has spread a prejudice that the government is exercising public power to forcibly drive away local residents who have been living there peacefully for generations.
They have also argued that the extension of U.S. military bases in Pyeongtaek was designed for a pre-emptive attack against North Korea and the aggressive global strategy of the United States, especially on China, would put the Korean Peninsula in jeopardy of terrorism and war.
Is the project indeed dangerous for Korea?
Seoul and Washington have agreed that consolidating U.S. military bases around the country, including those in the capital Seoul, into one in Pyeongtaek will be beneficial for both Korea and the United States. The project has already received approval from the National Assembly.
After all, the project is not being planned recklessly.
The same goes for compensation to the local residents.
I do not intend to say that it was reasonable.
There certainly exists a value more important than money, namely the attachment to the land you live on.
Moreover, the locals have anxiety about starting a new life in an unfamiliar place, a feeling that might not be made up for monetary compensation.
However, we should not fail to notice the fact that nearly 80 percent of the land considered for the base site in Pyeongtaek was purchased upon consent.
Those land owners, too, had their share of discontent and insecurity, but for the future of the country, they approved the project. Therefore, the committee’s argument can be considered nothing but demagoguery.
It is even more absurd that they are mentioning the aggressive global strategy of the United States.
They don’t realize the fact that the effect of geographical location on military strategy is diminishing due to the development of science and technology. They seem to neglect the point that Seoul is getting a stronger military voice in the Korea-U.S. alliance.
The fact that the United States needs Pyeongtaek for its future global and Northeast Asian strategies does not clash with Korea’s interests.
The presence of a military base with such a huge strategic value on the Korean Peninsula will enhance Korea’s voice in the future Korea-U.S. alliance, and is a crucial way to realize a “comprehensive, dynamic and mutually beneficial alliance relationship.”
It is frustrating how much longer the protesters will refuse hope and progress. They are obsessed with an improbable paranoid, fantasy and influenced by extremely distorted information.
The committee and other external forces need to hand over the Pyeongtaek issue to the local residents. Among the 10 reasons for struggles, only three, at best, are about the local community.
What does the committee seek by taking advantage of the Pyeongtaek issue?
If they are sincerely concerned about the “right of survival” of the Pyeongtaek residents, something they have been emphasizing all along, it would be far more realistic and convincing for them to offer advice about relocation and local development.
Above all, if the Korea-U.S. alliance and the U.S. military presence in Korea are so unbearable, propounding the view in the central political stage rather than in Pyeongtaek will be much more respectable and aboveboard.
An obvious point is that neither the government nor the local residents lose over the Pyeongtaek issue. It is about time the two sides have a talk rather than a fistfight, and the tiring discord that spread prejudice and hatred should be stopped.
We have wasted more than enough time in the last two years.

* The writer is head of the Defense Issue Task Force at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Cha Du-hyeon
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