The situation on Jeju Island – the Island of Peace – seems to be getting worse. Clashes between the anti-base demonstrators (local and foreign) and riot police seem to be escalating – or, maybe, just finding their way in to the news more often. The Korea Times (September 2, 2011) reports that:
The Seogwipo Police Station sent 600 riot police to the site at around 5 a.m. who forcibly dispersed about 100 protestors, officers said.
While riot police were blocking protesters, construction workers erected a 200-meter-long fence to link the already existing steel wall along the 1.6-kilometer perimeter of the site to block protesters from entering and preventing construction.
During the crackdown, police apprehended 35 villagers and activists occupying the construction site. They also detained three other key figures who have organized the “illegal rallies” against the project.
While a lot of this is pretty much the run-of-the-mill demonstrators against the police stuff, I did find this interesting:
The Jeju Special Self-Governing Provincial Council strongly denounced the use of police force. “We have demanded that the government resolve the conflict peacefully. The use of police force will only accelerate conflict without solving the issue. We strongly oppose the construction of the naval base without reaching an agreement with the residents.”
I have said this before but it seems as if Jeju is slowly distancing itself from the mainland. Everytime I visit the island I am amazed at how many shops and businesses are named T’amna …… (T’amna was the ancient kingdom on Jeju Island before it was basically annexed by Korea). But it isn’t only businesses. The Jeju government and the central government seem to have also adopted this idea that Jeju is different from the mainland – including a Korean ambassador to the island.
This naval base is not the only issue of contention between the islanders and the central government. The recent spat over Mount Halla in which the central government wants to take the management of the mountain from the Jeju Government and give it to the Ministry of Environment (Jeju Weekly, July 31, 2011).
There is also the ever present controversy of the April 3rd Incident (Massacre). Jay Hauden’s piece “People’s Republic of Korea: Jeju 1945-1947″ provides an interesting read on the early self-governing of the Jeju Islanders and events that lead to the 4.3 massacre:
The Jeju PCs were demonstrating that Koreans could govern themselves and remain friendly to the US military under the conditions of support from it. The popular and participatory form of democracy that was evolving on Jeju was a good example of the steps possible toward a united independent Korea without need for US or SU occupation. The PCs included communists and socialists and activists who had the respect and support of the great majority of Jeju people. The PC de facto government of Jeje was left leaning and so were the people of Jeju.
It is also interesting to note that the Jeju Government has now announced that it will provide a “maintenance allowance” for the survivors of the 4.3 massacre and their family members (Jeju Weekly, August 31, 2011).
Will the controversy over the construction of the base spiral into something bigger? As more and more mainlanders, and for that matter – foreigners, become involved it makes the issue even stickier. Even this blog in Japan is demanding a referendum. One is left to wonder just who is actually protesting and for what reason. With very little effort, or imagination, conspiracists should be able to weave more than a couple of diabolical plots from the over-abundance of articles that are appearing not only in the local papers but also in the international press. For those who are interested – Jeju Weekly has a play-by-play account of these ongoing demonstrations (along with a lot of photographs) which can be seen here.