2012: Problems of Jeju Naval Base

22. April 2012

Source:  http://peacekorea.org/zbxe/189449
Mit freundlicher Erlaubnsi von
Peace Network.

Problems of Jeju Naval Base
Based on Perspectives of East Asian Peace

Written by Wooksik Cheong  (Representative of Peace Network)

The Korean Peninsula has long been a focal point of East Asia, given that it is surrounded by the 'Four the Great Powers.' The reason is that the region is geographically between the maritime powers, the U.S. and Japan, and the continental powers, China and Russia. Given this location, the country has been severely troubled by the political tensions between these superpowers. Therefore, beyond the mere construction of a naval base on Jeju Island, the southernmost part of Korea, we need to approach security from a new perspective that accounts for benefits and costs based on the geopolitical, geo-economic and geostrategic aspects of East Asia. As it stands, the Jeju naval base has a high probability of becoming the 'strategic burden' of not only in South Korea, but of all of East Asia.

With regard to the Jeju naval base, we need to draw our attention to the realities as follows: 1) a struggle for maritime hegemony between a U.S.-Japan alliance and China; 2) structural subordination of the ROK-U.S. alliance; 3) power shift policy in East Asia; and 4) the importance of securing maritime shipping lanes. Without considering the aforementioned facts, Jeju Island will be caught in the crossfire.  In this context, Jeju naval base bears an agenda that has great repercussions, not only for Jeju Island and Gangjeong village, but also for all of East Asia, including the Korean Peninsula.

Problems of 'Ieodo-Dokdo squadron' [1]

The Ministry of National Defense in South Korea is trying to establish an 'Ieodo-Dokdo fleet', which would utilize the Jeju naval base as its home port. In 2011 the National Assembly's Special Committee on Budget and Accounts allocated 500 million won(about $ 4,400) to research funding for a Defense Acquisition Program Administration due to strong demands by the Grand National Party. The title of the research is "A Study of the Long-term Strategy Corresponding to Chinese and Japanese Build-up in Naval Power". This plan not only covered its stated goals, but included analyses on protecting the sovereignty over Ieodo and Dokdo and plans for building up maritime forces. As a result, The Ministry of National Defense has a plan to construct a 'Ieodo-Dokdo fleet' by spending 6.5 trillion won(about 5.72 billion dollar) ver next 5 years. If the squadron is constructed, the Jeju naval base will be used as a home port for the fleet.

However, there are many problems related to this plan. The creation of such exaggerates the threats posed by China and Japan. It is a fact that South Korea has come into conflict with Japan around Dokdo, and with China around Ieodo. But these problems can be solved diplomatically, not militarily. If the issue is not dealt with diplomatically but militarily, Dokdo and Ieodo will likely become the losing targets. 

Additionally, the flagrant assertion that "We have to build up military strength corresponding to national power" is ignorant of the facts. The Korean government has already spent more on military expenditures than China or Japan has, relative to its national power. Total armaments are 40 percent of the Chinese's and 70 percent of the Japanese's, but those of Koreans cost double that of China and three times that of Japan with regard to the ratio of GDP. It is, however, such a dangerous and foolish idea which certifies an 'uncertain threat'.

One reason the government and the navy mention in justifying the naval base construction is the protection of Ieodo, which is also called Socotra Rock, located between southern sea of Jeju Island and the East China Sea. It is said that the naval base will be helpful to protect Ieodo from China's threat. If South Korea initializes the sending of a warship to the sea whose mutual consent has not been reached yet by the two countries, it will cause a confrontation with Chinese navy that could lead to diplomatic, security, and economic losses. Considering that China is South Korea's biggest trading partner, an amicable relationship with the country is an important concern. It is quite doubtful whether the argument of the navy and the government is really in the nation's best interests.

The dispute over Ieodo should be settled by positive talks rather than by military actions to allow the creation of an agreement over an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). If China consents to include Ieodo within a South Korean EEZ with the condition of permitting South Korea-China or South Korea-China-Japan to examine and develop oil or seabed resources together, this compromise can be worth considering. It is also important to realize that neither of the countries can acquire seabed resources near Ieodo unless every one comes to terms on an EEZ.

Jeju Naval base and the U.S.

Construction of the Jeju naval base might basically be for meeting Korean needs. However, it has not been determined whether the U.S. has influenced or affected the construction process. It is a fact that with the given relations between Korea and U.S., if the U.S. wants to use the port facility, it can. Therefore, it is necessary for us to analyze consequences of U.S utilization of the facility after construction has been completed. 

First, the ROK-US alliance has legal and institutional problems. The Ministry of National Defense argues, "If the U.S. military seeks to utilize Korean military facilities, it needs the permission of the Korean government and the Ministry of Foreign Trade Affairs." However, this is obviously false. Based on mutual defense pact and Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), the U.S. has the principle rights to use any South Korean ports and airfields. As a result, the Jeju naval base is most likely to be used as a port call and, in the contingency, as a stopover or takeoff base by the U.S. navy. 

Second, the military strategy of the U.S. and the shift of ROK-US alliance during President Lee, Myung-bak's administration are also factors making the Jeju navy base a joint ROK-US base. The U.S. is planning to shift its military strategic focus from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region, and to transfer up to 60 percent of its naval forces to the region. With regard to this, we need to focus on the following four situations: (ⅰ) The U.S. expects to secure extra bases and military facilities in the Pacific Ocean area, and then use them to increase the speed and mobility its naval power. Through the RMSI and PSI, the U.S. has tried to bring its alliances toward the American maritime strategies. (ⅱ) It is a deniable fact that the alliances between the U.S. and East Asia have been diverted from the bilateral alliance to a multilateral alliance aimed at China. As matter of fact, the U.S. has recently put efforts into the reinforcement of military cooperation with East Asian countries by linking South Korea, Japan, Australia and India together. (ⅲ) We need to concentrate on the concept of Air-Sea Battle called 'the plan of a new cold war.' This was designated to incapacitate China's strategy, based on enhancing coordination of the United States Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. (ⅳ) The U.S. has reorganized its aircraft carriers for rapid response and centralized their Missile Defense (MD) with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system (ABMD), in which Aegis Destroyers are equipped with SM-3 missiles. According to plan, the U.S. had equipped 21 Aegis Destroyers with MD system by 2011 and intends to continually increase that number to 41. Needless to say, the more naval forces are transferred to the Asia-Pacific region, the more necessary naval bases will become.

Third, the Lee Myung-bak administration's top foreign policy prioritizes the strengthening of the ROK-US alliance. The underlying intention of this is to keep not only North Korea but also China out. In addition, the Lee administration is accelerating the MD coalition with the U.S. The administration underwent the maritime MD exercise with the U.S. and even signed the joint MD research agreement. Also, the administration is now seeking a South Korea-Japan military intelligence pact, which can accelerate the establishment of East Asia's MD, which will encompass South Korea, U.S., Japan and Australia. This is what the U.S. has hoped for. Under this circumstance, the navy base is most likely to become a major military base narrowly reserved for the ROK-US military alliance, and broadly for the U.S.-led East Asian military alliance. At the center of this alliance is the missile defense system.

Finally, the geographical feature of Jeju Island is also a factor that confirms that the Jeju base will be an outpost of the U.S. military. The South Korean navy insists that the U.S. military already has its naval base in Okinawa, Japan 330 nautical miles from Taiwan. So, it has no reason to use the Jeju naval base considering that the port is 560 nautical miles away from Taiwan. However, the Okinawa base is mostly occupied by the air force and the marines, and lacks a large-scale naval base unlike the one being constructed on Jeju. Naha harbor located in the south western part of Okinawa is not capable of accommodating ships weighing more than 3000 tons. Furthermore, this harbor is supposed to be returned to Japan according to U.S. military re-deployment agreement, signed in October, 2005. Put simply, not only aircraft carriers, but also Aegis destroyers cannot dock at Okinawa. However, the Jeju naval base is designed to accommodate six destroyers and submarines, even an aircraft carrier. Thus, when it is completely constructed, the U.S. military will feel huge temptation to use this port which is not only close to Taiwan straits, but is also huge enough to harbor larger ships. Given the asymmetry of the ROK-US Mutual Defense Agreement and its hierarchal alliance structure, it will be hard for South Korea to refuse use of the facility.

A column written by an expert in China indicated that the Jeju naval base would threaten Korean security and its economy. Chao Ryu, the director of Social science studies at Liaoning City in China, wrote the following in the Hunaqiu Daily on Sep 6, 2011: "These days, South Korea is trying to make a lot of money from Chinese tourists; however, it is also threatening China by force of arms at the same time. We need to make Korea realize that this would be impossible. Not only that, we have to reject sightseeing in Jeju Island." With regard to the reality that official researchers cannot write any columns without the permission of the Chinese government, his article was more than just a personal stance. Therefore, we have to raise a question about how much national interests and economic benefits we can derive by alienating China.

For 'Alternative Future' on Jeju Island

As a result, if South Korea rejects the U.S. call to use the Jeju base, ROK-US alliance would be in peril. That's the reason Jeju naval base will turn out to be a "strategic burden", not an "asset". We don't need to worry about this kind of dilemma if South Korea cancels the base construction. The Jeju naval base construction, in the name of national interests, must not be forcibly advanced but must be stopped. Should the base be used by the U.S. military for the purpose of blockading China, China will retaliate in various ways, including the severance of diplomatic ties and fomenting economic retaliation, such as travel restrictions and trade sanctions. In the worst case, China's reaction could include military attacks and a maritime transportation blockade. It means that the sovereign decision such as the construction of the Jeju naval base might lead to undermined results that put Korea in peril. Not only for security and economic stability in South Korea, but also for general peace and prosperity in East Asia, the plan of constructing Jeju naval base has to be nullified.

Some highly influential people have tried to sublimate the experience of the 'April 3 Uprising' and the accompanying government violence by turning Jeju Island into an 'Island of Peace.' The reason that Roh, Moo-hyun's government designated Jeju Island as 'The Island of Global Peace' was to embrace the islanders' much-awaited dream. Conversely, Roh's regime made a decision to construct the naval base based on 'an armed peace,' and Lee's administration has pushed the plans further by dubious means.

However, a 'Crisis of Peace' might offer an alternative chance to make Jeju a center of international peace. In fact, many citizens and students in Korea, as well as world-renowned personalities, organizations, various kinds of the press have been participating in this struggle. Their precious solidarity provides a solid foundation for making Ganjeong an international peace village, and Jeju Island 'The Island of Global Peace' as well. This means that Ganjeong will contribute to making a common property of mankind in Asia and elsewhere. Of the many villagers' slogans, there is one that rings true, "International peace can start from Ganjeong." This is not just a dream. This is a possible future that we can make together. Of course, this can be started with the nullification of the construction of the Jeju naval base.

[1]: Aus Wikipedia: zu Iodo
socotra rock_300Socotra Rock ... is a submerged rock 4.6 meters (15 ft) below sea level (at low tide) located in the East China Sea. The rock is the subject of a territorial dispute between South Korea, which considers it to lie within its exclusive economic zone, referring to it as Ieodo (이어도/離於島; MR: Iŏdo) or Parangdo (파랑도/波浪島; MR: P'arangdo), and China, which considers it to lie within its exclusive economic zone and refers to it as Suyan Rock (苏岩礁). The rock currently serves as the foundation for the Korean Ieodo Ocean Research Station. A helipad is also located there to allow the research station to be serviced.
The rock is located 149 km (93 mi) southwest of Marado (just off Jeju island), Korea.
For Japan, Torishima (鳥島) Island, which is 275 kilometers (171 mi) away, is the closest territory to Socotra Rock; and for China, Yushandao (余山島) Island [2], 287 kilometers (178 mi) away, is nearest to Socotra Rock
Quelle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socotra_Rock

 

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