The Korean Anti-Base Peace Movement, Focused on Pyeongtaek

by Kang Sang-Won
(Director,  Pyeongtaek Peace Center)

(Translated by Agatha Haun, proofreading by Sang Yon Lee)

April 17, 2009

1. Introduction to the US military bases located at Pyeongtaek

Pyeongtaek is in a mixed agricultural district located in the southernmost part of Kyeonggi Province, with a population of 400,000.  During the Japanese colonial period, when the Japanese military stationed troops here for many years, followed by US troops after the Korean War, Pyeongtaek was better known as "Pyeongtaek, the military capital" and "Pyeongtaek, the base village".

There are large and small US military installations at Pyeongtaek.

Songtan Air Base (Osan Air Base) is a USFK tactical air force base, where the 51st combat aviation unit is stationed, affiliated with the US 7th air force, (reference: Osan Air Base is one of two major airfields operated by the U.S. Air Force in the Republic of Korea -- Songtan Air Force Base home page citation); the US 2nd infantry division (affiliated with the US 8th army), which was earlier stationed near the cease-fire line, was transferred to the Anjeongri base (Camp Humphreys), where the USFK's main military force is concentrated. In addition, a large-sized ammunition dump, tactical training base, and other facilities are located there.

Songtan Air Base is 9.6 square kilometers in area, Anjeongri is 5.5 sq km, and 11.5 sq km of land have been forcibly expropriated, because of the Land Partnership Plan and the transfer of the Yongsan garrison and the 2nd infantry division to Pyeongtaek. It has been arranged that in the future, a total of 26.6 sq km of land (about 10% of the entire area of the city of Pyeongtaek) will be granted to the USFK for its own use. At present approximately 9,000 USFK personnel are stationed in Pyeongtaek, but in the future, this population will increase to about 22,000. While the period of time for US personnel to be stationed there will be lengthened from the one year that is now customary to two or three years, it is forecast that the number of USFK family members also will increase by 700% to 14,810.

2. History of the Pyeongtaek:  anti-base peace movement

1) The 1990s

In March 1990, after the plan to transfer the USFK headquarters located in Seoul-Yongsan to Pyeongtaek was announced, Pyeongtaek area citizens' organizations formed the “Joint Countermeasure Committee to Prevent the Yongsan US Base Transfer to Pyeongtaek (hereafter referred to as the Yongsan Committee) and began their struggle jointly with the residents of Godeokmyeon, Pyeongtaek city, the area where the USFK headquarters is known to be moving. Met with such resistance, the Yongsan garrison-Pyeongtaek transfer plan was revoked, and the Yongsan Committee declared to turn this struggle into the Pyeongtaek US base's entire restitution movement, but was unable to extend it to a mass movement.

2) 2000 and beyond

In 2001, the USFK announced the Land Partnership Plan (LPP) at the 33rd ROK-US Security Consultative Meeting (SCM), which called for consolidating the US bases in the ROK and operating them at Pyeongtaek and two or three hub regions. In 2004, they announced a revised LPP. According to this, the USFK will return about 50,000,000 pyeong (about 165 million sq m) of land formerly occupied by the US 2nd infantry division and other main USFK installations near the cease-fire line, and in exchange, it will expand its land use in the Pyeongtaek area by 3,490,000 pyeong (about 11,517,000 sq m).

According to the US's "plan to relocate US military personnel stationed overseas" [Global Posture Review (GPR)] the Yongsan garrison, the US 2nd infantry division and other units will be relocated to Pyeongtaek, which is out of reach of the threat of North Korea's long-range artillery and provides advantageous conditions for planning a preemptive attack on the North. The US intends to use the adjacent air base and port facilities to contain China and conduct Asia / Pacific rapid deployment force missions.

The relocation of the USFK, for the purpose of promoting preemptive attacks and rapid deployment force actions, violates the ROK constitution, which holds international peace and peaceful reunification as its principle. It also violates the application scope (Article 3) and the invocation terms (Article 2) of the ROK-US Mutual Defense Treaty which specify that the treaty is activated only when the ROK is attacked from outside.

After all, if the USFK relocation is carried out, in line with the preemptive attack strategy and GPR, the peace of the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia will be in serious danger, and it is clear that this will be a decisive obstacle to South-North reconciliation and peace and reunification.

Although the USFK emphasizes its returning several tens of millions of square meters of land in exchange for only several million square meters of additional land, this disguises the real essence of this situation. This is being done solely based on the USFK’s need, of promoting the US strategy of world military hegemony.

Even in spite of the Pyeongtaek citizens' resistance, the government pushed ahead with ratification by the National Assembly and on 9 December 2004, the revised LPP agreement was ratified in the National Assembly. At that time, the cost of the US bases' transfer, which was the point at issue, was not mentioned, neither was the residents' opinion reflected at all. The agreement was just forced through one-sidedly.

Thereupon the Pyeongtaek area civic groups joined together and organized the Pyeongtaek Counteraction Committee to Oppose the Expansion of US Military Bases (referred to hereafter as the Pyeongtaek Counteraction Committee) and embarked on the struggle. Centering around residents of Daechuri, Doduri, and other villages, that could not avoid the expropriation of an extensive tract of land, the Paengseong Residents' Counteraction Committee to Oppose US Base Expansion (hereafter referred to as the Citizens' Counteraction Committee) and the Pyeongtaek Pan-National Counteraction Committee to Prevent US Base Expansion (hereafter: Pan-National Committee) were organized and launched into a nationwide campaign.

At the time of US bases relocation plan announcement, the public opinion, from surveys of Pyeongtaek citizens, opposing the relocation was an extraordinarily high70%. The reason for that is there are restrictions on all kinds of development activity in a military community, and the USFK will have negative influences such as crimes, environmental contamination and deterioration of educational environment.

The Roh Moo Hyun administration, which had a plan to build a nuclear waste processing facility in Buan, Jeollabukdo (North Jeolla Province), suffered tremendous political damage; and there were concerns that the Pyeongtaek US base relocation will be turn into a second Buan uprising. As a desperate measure to deal with this situation the “Pyeongtaek Support Special Law to Accompany the US Base Relocation (hereafter: Special Law) was enacted. This would support an additional 1.4 trillion won for the city of Pyeongtaek, as the estimated cost of the US base relocation. The government started a propaganda campaign claiming that if the US base is relocated there, a brilliant future would unfold for Pyeongtaek, and affected by this, the public opinion for and against the relocation began to be reversed.

There are objective conditions that made things difficult for the Pyeongtaek base expansion opposition movement: the history of the US bases in Pyeongtaek extending over half a century; the distorted understanding of history which sees the US as the kind country that saved Korea from communism being deeply ingrained in the minds of the people; the belief that in the circumstances of the ruin caused by the Korean War, the US bases and US military presence, like an oasis in the desert, solved the problems of employment and the provision of food; the formation of a close, corrupt relationship with the US bases by the local influential powers who guide public opinion; the special geographical aspect of the US base being located not in the center of Pyeongtaek, but beyond the city limits; and the enactment of the Special Law.

3. The results and the limits of the Pyeongtaek US base struggle

In the end, the residents had to be forcibly expelled from their home town by a combined operation of mobilized military units and the police, but the process of the struggle from 2002 to 2006 left behind unforgettable, vivid memories.

First of all, it was those local residents who stood in the center of the struggle, not the movement groups. The bright lights of the peace candlelight vigils, which started from 1 September 2004, continued for 935 days, even in rain or snow. It was an unprecedented struggle in the course of the Korean democratization movement or the peace movement of the past.

The only desire of the residents of Daechuri and Doduri, who have spent their entire lives as farmers, as expressed in the appeal -- "for our descendants, generation after generation, to farm on this land and live in peace” – is not to repeat the sorrow of being driven out in the past, first by the Japanese military, and then by the US military. The root of this desire is their boundless love of the land: for several decades they had worked diligently to keep out the sea water and created fertile soil. This land for them is like their own children.

Secondly, it showed various aspects of the peace movement.

In 2002 the National Trust movement, which had been started as part of environmental movement to stop the expansion of the US base, was grafted onto the peace movement and the movement to develop land for peace was launched with the purchase of 2000.3 square meters of land planned for the US base expansion. As a result of this movement, the Pyeongtaek Peace Center was established.

Many people of diverse classes and strata of society, from film makers and singers to anonymous peace movement activists, participated in the candlelight vigils that lasted for 935 days and it was even extended to the international stage -- Japan, Okinawa, the US, France, etc. Daechuri and Doduri became the catalysts of the Korean peace movement.

Moreover, the driving force behind the convoy of tractors which went around the whole country to inform people about the Peongtaek issue was not the movement based on proclamation but rather the will to organize the struggle by joining the village residents in their world. This was the energy that finally drew several tens of thousands of people to the rural community.

However, the government mobilized the military and the police and executed a large administrative operation called "Hwangsaeul of Dawn." Eventually, on 4 May 2006, the land was forcibly expropriated and barbed wire fencing was set up around the land planned for the US base expansion scheme. In this process, many activists were arrested and injured, and Daechuri became an isolated island, cut off from the approach of the general public. The government's pressure became more intense. With the arrest of the leader of the residents' counteraction committee and other actions, the situation deteriorated still more. Ultimately, the residents' counteraction committee and other groups were compelled to come to an agreement and the four-year struggle was brought to an end.

Now, at the scene, the US base expansion construction work is in full swing. However, this dispute has not ended, because the issue of the US base relocation costs, the issue of using a share of defense expenses just for the US bases, the problem of environmental damage caused by construction work have not been resolved; but above all, because the people are not persuaded as to why their hard-earned tax money and fertile farmland has to be provided for the US military's voracious appetite

Through this international conference, I hope the devastation brought on by the US military dominance to the Korean people's lives will be revealed. I also hope it will provide an opportunity to call for self-reflection on the part of the arrogant US.

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