News / Asia

S. Korean Navy Says New Base Will Not Host US Military Vessels

Vessels of South Korean Navy Command (file photo)
Vessels of South Korean Navy Command (file photo)

South Korean defense officials say a controversial proposed naval base, off the southern coast on Jeju island, will not allow permanent stationing of U.S. naval vessels.  And, they say the facility, to be completed in 2015, is meant to deter North Korea, not China.  However, they are not commenting on reports another small base will be built in the sea, between the Korean peninsula and Japan, to protect an island also claimed by the Japanese. 

South Korea’s defense establishment is hitting back against what it says are inaccurate reports about a joint civilian-military project being built on a southern resort island.

The Jeju Multipurpose Port Complex is to host a South Korean navy base as well as accommodate cruise liners. It will be home to other civilian activities, such as terminals and a park.

Rear Admiral Koo Ok-hyoe says, although U.S. Navy and other friendly foreign navies are welcome to visit, it will not be a permanent anchorage for any American ships.

The admiral says the facility will be too small for a carrier battle group.

Officials are also rejecting claims of base opponents that it would also host a U.S. missile defense system.

American military officials concur that there are no plans to host its ships or missiles there.

South Korea's deputy chief of naval operations, Admiral Koo, also denies the facility is being built with China’s growing military maritime force in mind.

Admiral Koo says the new facility is intended to help deter and repulse any aggressive acts by North Korea and not to check any other nation.  

He says it must be kept in mind that the two Koreas have never signed a peace treaty since their three-year civil war, in the early 1950’s, and that the countries remain “technically at war.”

Some villagers on Jeju, supported by outside civic groups, are opposed to the base. They contend it would militarize a resort island and damage the environment.

The admiral and defense officials (at a special briefing Wednesday for foreign correspondents) would not comment on reports South Korea also plans to construct another small naval base on Ulleung island, in the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan. Some politicians here say such a base is needed to protect a nearby tiny island which South Korea holds but is claimed by Japan, a former colonial occupier of Korea.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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