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[Editorial] Green light to Jeju base

The Supreme Court has put an end to the drawn-out dispute over the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island by ruling that the Ministry of National Defense has proceeded with the project in a lawful way.

The top court’s final verdict has cleared a big obstacle to the project, ensuring that the construction of the important naval base will go ahead as planned.

The lawsuit was filed by residents of Gangjeong Village on the island in 2009 to stop the base construction, which they claimed would damage the area that has been designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

They took issue with a minor procedural flaw that the Ministry of National Defense allegedly made in the process of approving the project. The top court affirmed that there was nothing illegal about the way the ministry pushed ahead with the project.

Now that the final decision has been made, the villagers should bury the hatchet and cooperate in building the naval base. They should not forget the harm they have done to the nation by filing a suit three years ago.

Their legal action provided a good opportunity for a wide array of political groups to gather and stage violent protests against the government. The peaceful village soon turned into a battleground between protesters and police.

Protestors included not just village residents and environmental activists but opposition party members, labor activists, civic group leaders, dissident students, pro-North Korea activists and “professional” protestors who make a living by participating in rallies.

Politically motivated protesters offered all kinds of nonsensical reasons to oppose the project for opposition’s sake. Their primary aim was to deal a political blow to the government by stopping the project.

Due to their occupation of the project site, construction work had to be halted for 74 days. Such an incident should not be repeated.

The naval base was first proposed by President Roh Moo-hyun in 2005. He foresaw its strategic importance. Yet many politicians who worked for him and advocated the project during his term changed stance and led the rally against it. Such opportunistic behavior should be punished by voters.

Now the base has become strategically much more important than in 2005. Tensions are rising in Northeast Asia as major players are eager to beef up their sea power amid growing competition over maritime territory and natural resources in deep water.