Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Okinawa and Jeju: Bases of Discontent

Journalist and author Donald Kirk draws eye-opening comparisons between militarism and protests on the southern island prefecture of Japan, that is, Okinawa, and Korea's southern island province, Jeju. Don draws upon reporting and research for his latest book, Okinawa and Jeju: Bases of Discontent, showing parallels between Okinawa and Jeju in terms of the protest movements against bases on both of them. He sees the controversies from all sides, on the basis of interviews with officials, analysts, protest leaders and ordinary citizens.

The topic is especially timely in view of mounting tensions in the region as seen in China's increasingly strong claims to the island that Japan calls the Senkakus and the Chinese know as Diaoyu. Adding to regional tensions are China's claims to the Ieodo rocks southwest of Jeju on which Korea has built a heliport complete with navigational and weather facilities.

Don brings to his study a number of years as a journalist and author, reporting and writing from Korea as well as Japan. Previous books include: Korea Betrayed; Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine, Korean Dynasty; Hyundai and Chung Ju-yung and Korean Crisis: Unraveling of the Miracle in the IMF Era. He has written for numerous newspapers and magazines ranging from the Chicago Tribune to the Christian Science Monitor to the International Herald Tribune to Forbes Asia and Forbes.com as well as reports for CBS Radio. He gravitates between homes in Seoul and Washington but spent most of the last year in India.

Search "Clouds over Okinawa" to locate Don Kirk's information for this presentation. Don Kirk began his presentation with three key line drawings of Okinawa and Jeju, focusing on their geographical locations and drawing visual as well as detail comparisons on the two naval bases. He states that though Asia is currently at peace and has been for many years, it is hoped that the base in Okinawa and the base under construction in Jeju will not be needed but will remain as backyard bases.

Some surprising parallels between the two naval bases are:

Both Okinawa and Jeju are entrenched in legacies of tragedies. In the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, 200,000 people were killed (12,000 US soldiers fought in the battle). Similarly, Korea has had its own invasion and battle but theirs was an internal war, a war fought between the leftists and the rightists and Jeju Island was the location of the largest conflict. On April 3, 1948, massacres in Jeju and soldier invasions killed an estimate of 30,000 Koreans. This was a kind of genocide. The 30,000 figure is in fact thought to be very modest as the numbers massacred is believed to be much higher.

Both Okinawa and Korea (not Jeju) have US troops placed and are said to be there for the maintenance and balance of powers in Asia. In Okinawa at least 27,000 troops are posted mainly for keeping the balance of power with China as the Chinese also claim the island, calling it Diaoyu. 27,000 foreign troops on an island with a population of 1,200,000. Jeju Island has a population of about half that of Okinawa, approximately 584,000. Among these, a relatively few are protesting and the anti-naval base sentiments are not being radically expressed. [This seems to be a postioned statement.] Don Kirk reports the existence of some small and on-going demonstrations but it is believed that since most of the population lives on the northern side of the island and the base is located on the southern shores, the people do not feel violently opposed to the construction - perhaps a latent NIMBY attitude being expressed here.

There are no foreign bases on Jeju, and the US is scaling back on troops in South Korea having only 25,000 troops in South Korea at present. Therefore, even though there is opposition and (small) demonstrations against the construction of the naval base, which is already about 50% complete, there is no realistic logic to protest the base as being used as a naval base by the US. The parallel large dock being built parallel to the military docks for Korean ships is said to be potentially for the docking of tour boats, which could potentially bring in 500 tourists per ship with their pocket change, but this is all rhetoric as no conclusive decisions about the base and its full ultimate purpose has been disclosed.

Nevertheless, the presence of the naval yard in both Okinawa and now Jeju does raise questions on the pacific atmosphere in NE Asia and whether this tranquility will continue as there is growing concern about the possibility of a regional war. There is evidence with increased claim to controversially owned islands and other issues that the fluctuation and flexing of power in Asia is indeed real.

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