No way to harmonizeThe Moon Jae-in administration gave immunity to protesters who obstructed the construction of a naval base in Jeju Island. In a cabinet meeting Tuesday, the government decided to withdraw a lawsuit against civilians and civic groups for inflicting financial damage on the Navy by willfully prolonging the construction. The government based its decision on “concerns about deepening social conflict and costs if the lawsuit is protracted.” But the administration’s decision is nothing but recognition of an illegitimate demonstration. The withdrawal of the lawsuit will also cause tens of millions of dollars in losses to the state coffers.
Due to the protests by residents of Gangjeong village and other radical civic groups, the construction of Korea’s first civilian and military port was delayed 14 months. As a result, the Navy had to pay contractors 27.5 billion won ($25.2 million) for the delay and filed a 3.45 billion won suit against 116 civilians and five civic groups to exercise its rights of indemnity. On Nov. 30, a court imposed compulsory mediation and advised both sides not to file civil or criminal charges against each other. The government accepted the court’s recommendation.
But questions linger over the decision. The construction of the naval base was a project started by the Roh Moo-hyun administration to protect our maritime sovereignty. It aims to safeguard our marine resources in waters to the south of Jeju and protect transportation routes in the sea. At times of emergency, the base could help block North Korean vessels from approaching by sea, while also serving as a dock for cruise ships in peacetime.
Nevertheless, some village people and activists from outside defamed our Navy. They even used violence on Navy officers and damaged facilities.
And such illegal rallies were not confined to the naval base in Jeju. Every time the government kicks off large-scale infrastructure projects like the construction of a U.S. military base in Pyeongtaek, protesters descend.
The government’s decision to withdraw the litigation is the same as granting immunity to the protesters. The administration says it made the decision for the sake of social harmony. But that’s nonsense because the government itself has ignored the law. It can hardly hold illegal protesters accountable for obstruction of government projects in the future.
During the presidential campaign, Moon promised to give up the right of indemnity and pardon those protesters. But that promise has ended up harming a major national project. The government must think again.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 13, Page 34