With parliamentary and presidential elections coming up in 2012, South Korea is in the midst of its very first social-network-driven political season on the world’s stage. After nearly half a decade of the conservative policies of the Lee Myung Bak administration, Koreans seem ready to swing back to the left. The election in October of a progressive as the mayor of Seoul heralds this trend. This race also served as a beta test for an effective web-based campaign model in Korea. A key test issue for the opposition is the naval base that the government is constructing on Jeju Island.
The South Korean government has been campaigning to have its southern island of Jeju recognised as one of the seven new wonders of nature. A favourite honeymoon spot in Asia and an official “island of peace,” Jeju already boasts several UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites. There’s an extinct volcano at the island’s centre, miles and miles of exquisite coastline, extraordinary lava formations on land and coral formations at sea, and…a huge naval base currently under construction.
“The land and sea isn’t something you bought,” explained Kang Ae-Shim. “Why are you selling something that was there long before you were born?” Kang Ae Shim is a haenyo, one of the legendary Korean women sea divers from Jeju Island who can hold their breath for up to two minutes while foraging the ocean floor for seafood. But today Kang and others are fighting to save their island from the pending construction of a South Korean naval base in Gangjeong village, which threatens to tear apart the age-old sisterhood of the haenyoand destroy the pristine ecology of Jeju’s shores. The government and construction contractors are attempting to stamp out the outcry by arresting, beating, fining, and threatening villagers and activists.
Events in Libya and Syria have again brought to the forefront the question of armed humanitarian intervention or the “responsibility to protect.” Is it ever legitimate to supersede the principle of national sovereignty with a military intervention aimed at protecting citizens from their government? And if the answer is yes, what circumstances would justify this course of action and how should it be carried out?
Sung-Hee Choi’s parting words about her activism to her interviewer: “It is about love for the people who cannot speak now.”
The Samsung-owned dredging barge arrived in Gangjeong on June 20 to deliver blocks of concrete for a controversial South Korean naval base. Gangjeong sits on the south side of Jeju Island, the only place in the world to receive “triple crown status” from UNESCO for its unique geography. The former Roh Moo Hyun government also designated Jeju as a “peace island” as a form of apology for a government-sponsored massacre that took place there in 1948. In May 2009, when South Korean government confirmed the decision to place a naval base on Jeju, an opposition movement immediately formed.