The civil society’s standpoint and suggestion regarding the conflict surrounding U.S. military base’s expansion and relocation in Pyeongtaek
[Press Conference Statement]
We express great concerns over all the tensions and conflicts surrounding the relocation of the U.S. military base to Pyeongtaek. Therefore, we urge the government and civil society to solve this conflict in a rational and constructive way.
It was a shame that the disputes over the U.S. base relocation was led up to the physical collision between the two groups- one was the residents and civil groups who resisted the administrative execution by proxy, and the other was the police force, privately hired bodyguards, and the military army who tried to carry out the order. We are deeply concerned that as the government decided to let the military get involved it ended up a conflict between civilians and the military. The conflict hasn’t been solved out by the recent collision. As the conflict will get severe to an extre! me level, neither the public power nor the civilians will be a winner in this confrontation. Therefore, rational solutions and distinctive negotiating process should be demanded.
First, we like to emphasize that the problem associated with relocation of Pyeongtaek U.S. military base is not simply localized to the locals of Pyeongtaek but is a national complication. Hence, we have to examine if the government deduced a much needed social consensus on the Pyeongtaek U.S. military base regarding its usage, purpose and its cost.
The government has simply convinced the public and the National Assembly that the Pyeongtaek U.S. military base will be a simple replacement for the restored Yongsan army base thus, a mere relocation of the army base. However, the fact that this newly located base will serve other purposes than protection of Korean Peninsula such as strategic flexibility of U.S. army forces in Korea and their expansion of regional and global roles, as well as their aim to restrain China is all becoming evident. Regarding this issue, it is questionable if the government provided sufficient explanation and acquired consents of Pyeongtaek locals as well as this nation as a whole.
The government is also being hesitant to disclose information regarding the expense associated with the relocation project as well as environmental problems concerning the restored U.S. army base. This allows us to conclude that the negotiation regarding this matter has not been concluded yet or there is a disparity of opinions in this matter surfacing in the negotiation. Especially when these agendas at hand are not yet resolved and its progress not being revealed to the public, the government working to implement relocation of U.S. army base in Pyeongtaek by expropriation is hard to accept.
There aren’t that many people who believe in withdrawal of U.S. army force stationed in Korea. Likewise, there aren’t that many people who think it’s wise to blindly accept the United States suggestions in contrary to this nation’s long-term benefits. Thus, the government must bear this in mind and answer all the questions raised.
There is a limit to how much resistance can be put forth to government’s exercise of public power implementing physical and violent methods. Also, it cannot be the ultimate or the most effective method to bring about the desired outcome. Similarly, the locals being driven away from their homeland and giving up their right to live and to reside is not simply an issue of “compensation.” This situation could have been carried out smoothly if the government convinced and negotiated with the local people on a basis of plausible reasons before their exercise of public power. Yet, the government condemning the locals of Pyeongtaek refusing to let the government “purchase” their territory as their tactic to receive more reimbursement was not only a negligent mistake but made them more distrustful to the public’s eyes.
Upon reviewing this matter, it is evident that to alleviate the tension and the conflict surrounding this issue lacked sufficient discussion and mutual agreement within the Republic of Korea. Regardless of how much effort the President Roh-Moo hyun invested to assuage the conflict and its complication, he is nonetheless the source of this riot thus always has been stingy and passive in approaching this issue. Therefore, ample opportunities to have a constructive discussion surrounding the development the U.S. Army base expansion and relocation during the past 3 years went to waste. Instead, the alternative measure to coercively force the locals have brought on a great collision of the two forces.
Couple suggestions can be made in urgency to mitigate this tension.
First, the government needs to clarify the entire queries regarding Pyeongtaek army base’s purpose, its usage and the cost associated with constructing this massive establishment. They also have to explain why between the Republic of Korea and the United States, the issues regarding the cost and environmental damage issue has not yet been resolved and if not, how it will be solved. Also, they must address issues such as disputes in Northeast Asia due to strategic flexibility and the purported regulation method by U.S. army stationed in Korea. At the time of the National Assembly’s ratification, they promised for a hearing inspecting this project’s purpose, duty, and its cost in the later future. However, this hearing must take place now as promised. Ultimately, they have to face up to the reasons why the locals of Pyeongtaek are refusing to forcibly be chased out of their homeland.
Second, the government demands an implement where balanced conference valuing opinions of both sides can be equally projected and discussed to reach a mutual and fair consensus. The government must understand the main reason that is upsetting the nation and the locals is due to unconvincing performance of government power. Thus, a neutral implement, where different parties regarding the situation of Pyeongtaek may be presented in equal lights regardless of their difference in opinions and be considered humbly.
Third, while such national negotiation is taking place, forcible execution of the U.S. Army base relocation must be put on hold. This will not only prohibit and prevent any harm that can result from any physical collision but also allow the public enforcement to regain their dignity of trust.
All these suggestions will allow the conflicts surrounding the U.S. Army base relocation to be resolved peacefully. The derivation of the constructive diplomacy will test our nation’s ability to communicate among our people as well as our political and democratic leadership skills. Through this, we can only hope the government of the Republic of Korea attains self-reflection and develop wisdom of genuine governance.
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