OPINION

[Editorial] Jeju naval base

By 이현주

Residents’ support needed to develop new port

  • Published : Feb 29, 2016 - 18:10
  • Updated : Feb 29, 2016 - 18:10
After a long delay, the Korean Navy’s new base on Jejudo Island has finally been completed. The government celebrated the launch of the landmark naval base, which is formally called the Jeju Civilian-Military Complex Port, in a ceremony Friday.

It was in 1993 that the Korean government decided to push the naval base as a major state project, viewing it as essential to defending South Korea’s maritime sovereignty. Construction began at the site in Gangjeong Village in 2007.

The port can accommodate 20 warships, three submarines and two 150,000-ton cruise vessels at the same time. Cruise liners will begin to dock at the port in July 2017.

Perched on Jejudo Island, which is South Korea’s southernmost region, the naval base will, among other things, help the Navy improve its coastal defense capability.

Navy ships stationed at the Jeju base have easy access to the three seas surrounding the Korean Peninsula so they can respond more promptly to any maritime threats posed by North Korea.

South Korea currently does not operate a blue-water navy, but when it does, the base will certainly serve as its hub, as it is situated near Korea’s gateway to the Pacific Ocean.

The naval base will also help Korea defend its sea routes, which are of vital importance to the nation’s economic security as almost 99 percent of its export and import cargo is transported through them.

The port is also expected to boost the island’s tourism industry as the government forecasts that more than 1 million cruise tourists will visit it annually from 2020.

The government plans to develop the new port as a major private-military complex port like those in Hawaii and Sydney.

The new port will be a boon to Jejudo Island, which the Korean government strives to develop into a free international city like Hong Kong and Singapore.

Yet many Jeju residents, along with environmentalists and opposition parties, vehemently opposed the construction of the port on the grounds that it would harm the island’s ecology.

The resistance of these people frequently caused delays in the construction schedule.

Some residents held a rally at the port during the launch ceremony on Friday, illustrating the resentment they hold against the government and the Navy.

Now, conflict should give way to reconciliation and cooperation. To develop the complex port as planned, the government and the Navy need to secure the support of Jeju residents. They should find ways to persuade the critics to change their minds.