[Viewpoint] Naval base needed on Jeju Island

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[Viewpoint] Naval base needed on Jeju Island

A controversy over building a naval base on Jeju Island has continued for years. After weighing opinions of island residents, it has been decided to build the base in Gangjeong port.

But some civic organizations in the southern resort island are campaigning to recall Jeju Provincial Governor Kim Tae-hwan, causing concern that building the base could open a can of worms. This shouldn’t be. A base in Jeju is too important.

Even though North Korea’s nuclear issue has forced us to concentrate much of our energy on resolving issues on the Korean Peninsula, the 21st century is certainly an era of the sea. The sea has bountiful reserves of oil, natural gas and various types of iron ore, resources that are running out on land. Many countries perceive the sea as the same as land and are trying hard to secure claims to sea territories. Other than its value as the last reserve of resources, the sea is critical because it offers the cheapest and safest transport for humans and cargo. Korea has purchased raw materials and resources through sea routes, produced end products and shipped them out on the sea again.

In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say Korea’s fate depends on the sea. More than 99 percent of materials and resources that fuel large factories in Korea come through the sea, and more than 10 percent of cargo around the world comes from Korea. Simply put, sea routes are our lifeline.

Since the 1960s when our country developed a strategy to become a trading country as a way to develop its economy, our cargo vessels and merchant vessels have been able to navigate the seas of the world safely without our Navy’s protection. That was possible because the U.S. Navy has secured the safety of the seas.

But it will be hard to expect such safety in the future. Korea is a leading country in terms of shipbuilding, and the country’s economy heavily depends on cargo over the sea, which is 13 times larger than the average of countries around the world. Thus, having a stronger Navy than we have now is not a matter of choice. It’s a must.

Our neighbor China’s battleships weigh 1,075,000 tons combined. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, armed with the latest warship, weigh 428,000 tons. Our country’s Navy has developed enormously over the past 10 or so years, but its warships amount to merely 147,000 tons combined. We have a relatively weak Navy and one lacking a quality dry dock facility where ships can be serviced. The naval port in Jinhae, South Gyeongsang Province, was good enough for the last century. It is not good enough for the 21st century.

The Navy is desperately in need of a new naval base and has judged that it would be most appropriate to construct one on Jeju, taking into consideration its geopolitical location and value for military strategy.

Jeju is the most proper spot to protect cargo vessels and merchant ships that come to and from Korea, and the island is a wonderful strategic point for our country to spread into the Pacific Ocean. In short, Jeju is the best place to secure our country’s lifeline.

Some oppose the project, however, saying that it is outrageous to build a naval base on Jeju, the island of peace. Some maintain that a naval base would damage the tourism industry on the resort island.

But Hawaii, the mecca of tourism around the world, has the world’s largest naval base. Victoria, the beautiful city in the western part of Canada, also has the command of the ever expanding Canadian Pacific Fleet. Just as Gangwon Province and Gyeonggi Province were at the forefront during the Cold War era, Jeju is at the forefront for the future of Korea that will spread into the ocean.

Peace does not come for free. We need to protect it. Strong military capacity is a basic requirement for conducting superb diplomacy and protecting peace. Peace is the reason why the naval base in Jeju must be built as soon as possible.

*The writer is a Ph.D. of political science and senior researcher at the Korea Maritime Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Chun-keun
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