By Choi Sung-hee
It was February 20th, the next day of opening of Island Council provisional meeting that Won Hee-ryong, Jeju Island governor, announced his will to drive for the 2nd Jeju airport project. His deed infuriated Island people as they were demanding the Council to make a resolution to stop the basic planning for the 2nd Jeju airport. About 27 of 43 Island council members were signing to the draft of resolution by Feb. 19th, also. Further, Won’s lengthy statement intended to persuade the Islanders to accept the project was full of data manipulation and lies. By the latest poll, only 3 of 10 Islanders are in favor of the project. One of the noticeable points of Won’s statement was his repeated denial on peopel’s suspicion that the 2nd Jeju airport could be used as an air force base.
So far, the 2nd Jeju airport is reported as a project driven only by the South Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MOLIT). It is very rare that the Ministry of National Defense(MND) appears in the news, in relation to the 2nd Jeju airport. Despite that, many situations strengthen Islanders’ suspicion that it is an air force base. Even an Island Council member was clearly saying to the hunger strikers that it is nothing but an air force base when they visited him. I was one of them who talked with him.
Upon this, one of major local TVs called KBS Jeju, made a series of news regarding the controversy over the issue of an air force base. The below is a translation of its news on Feb. 22, 2019 . Here I also translated the history of MND drive for the air force base in Jeju at the bottom of this page.
Why the 2nd Jeju airport is suspected to be an air force base? (KBS Jeju, Feb. 22, 2019)
- It was around 1970s when the South Korean Ministry of National Defense(MOD) planned an air force base in Jeju, which includes fighter planes unit.
2. Since then, the MOD has reflected the plan in its national defense mid-term plans. And in 2007, it changed the title to so called the “Southern Rescue and Search unit” which is alledgedly equipped only with support aircrafts, not fighter planes.
3. However in 2007, Roh Hoe-chan, a backup President candidate for the Democratic Labor Party then and a former National Assembly man who passed away in 2018, visited Jeju and claimed that the Southern Rescue and Search unit is presented with fighter planes.
According to his claim, the numbers of budget, area size including runaway, and affiliated facility are same between the plans of air force base and Southern Rescue and Search unit. In detail,
_Budget (250 billion won=around $ 250 million USD)
_ Size of the area including runaway (600,000 pyong=around 2 million square meters=around 200 hectare)
_Affiliated facility= 100 buildings
“The MOD should clearly explain. If it had really given up the ability to accept fighter planes, why the budget, area size, and facility size [of Southern Rescue and Search unit] were never cut,” (Roh, a National Assembly man, DLP, then, at the press conference on May 21th, 2007/ recorded)
Then the MOD stated that the size of its plan before the mid-term plan in 2004 was around 1,750,000 pyong (around 5.8 million square meters=around 580 hectare) for the purpose of deployment of a squadron. But it removed the concept of accommodation of fighter planes since the mid-term plan in 2007, it stated.
4. However, in a TV discussion meeting just before the selection of location of Jeju Navy base, a staff of MOD hinted that a matter of connection between the 2nd Jeju airport and air force base could be set off any time.
Q: “Don’t you acknowledge that air force power cannot but enter [to Jeju] in relation to navy base (and defense)? Even though it will not be in current stage.?” (Reporter)
A: “Yes, Even though it will not be in current stage..” (Choi Gwang-seob, director of resource management Dept, MND, May 8th, 2007/ recorded)
5. And 10 years later of it, on March 9th, 2017, Jeong Kyeong-doo, current Minister of MND and Air Force Chief of Staff then officialized the creation of Southern Rescue and Search unit and stated that he was considering to install the unit in some places including the planned area for the 2nd Jeju airport.
6. At the time, the headquarter of South Korean air force mentioned the 2nd Jeju airport as a prime candidate area for the unit.
“ In relation to the 2nd Jeju airport, we have not had any prior communion (either with MOLIT or Jeju Island). We have had no official talk on it. However, we now think that we should do.” (Yi Sung-yong, a deputy chief of staff for coordination and management, headquarter of air force base, an interview on March 9, 2017)
Later when KBS officially inquired to the headquarter of air force whether it has ever talked with MOLIT or Jeju island, it answered there was never.
7. However, the Jeju airport is already saturated and the runway length of small Alddreu air field is too short for a transport plane to land. Therefore it was pointed out that the air force does have no choice other than preferring to the 2nd Jeju airport.
“As I know, 1.5 km length [of a runway] is necessary for a transport plane to land. The MND is answering in such a way, too. However, The Alddreu air field is short of 500 Meter.” (Wi Seong-gon, currently Seogwipo-based National Assembly man, March 16th, 2017/ recorded)
8. Additionally, Na Woong-jin, director of airport policy of MOLIT then in 2015 said that “ 3.3 million ㎡ is possible for an airport. However, we planned more areas in consideration of possibility of its expansion in the future.”
9. Currently, the MOLIT defined the spare parts of the 2nd Jeju airport as 1.65 million ㎡. And it happens to be similar to the size of Southern Rescue and Search unit expected by air force.
10. Related to it, Won Hee-ryong, Island governor, stated in a Q & A session two years ago that he would discuss with a new President (Moon Jae-in) and set the 2nd Jeju airport to be a pure civilian airport, it looks like he has not talked with the President yet, even nearly two years later.
10. As a result, it will be very likely that the controversy whether the 2nd Jeju airport is connected to an air force base would be continued unless the Government expresses its official position or the MND and air force withdraw from the related plans.
(Narrated by Heo Ji-Young, KBS news)
# The history of MND drive for the ‘Jeju Air Force Base (Southern Search and Rescue Unit) (Jeju Sori, March 2, 2017)
1987 “Jeju air force base’ is reflected in the ‘build-up plan for the mid and long term military strength’
1987 ‘The council for the military restriction zone’ defines the area of Songak Mountain as a military restriction zone
1992 The MND (Ministry of National Defense) and Ministry of Construction and Transportation (Currently Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, MOLIT) agrees to the construction of a new civilian-military combined Jeju airport
1997 The plan for an air force base (flying squadron class) is reflected in the mid-term plan of national defense (1999-2003)
2004 A discussion on the civilian-military joint use on the Jeongseok air field owned by the Korean Airline which disagreed with the idea.
2006 Name of the project was altered from the Jeju air force base to the Southern Rescue and Search unit
2009 A Memorandom of Understanding in relation to the construction of the Jeju navy base was concluded between the Ministry of National Defense and Jeju Island (*and the Ministry of Land and Ocean, then). In the memorandum, included were the matter of *use on the Alddreu air field( an old Japanese naval air field during the Japanese imperialism)
The Article 5 of MOU (about the use of Alddreu air field etc.) reads:
(1) For the growth of the region of Jeju self-governing Island,the Ministry of National Defense (MOD) should let the Jeju Self-Governing Island use so called the Alddreu air field which is under the jurisdiction of the MOD and located in the town of Daejeong, City of Seogwipo, through the discussion with the Jeju Self-Governing Island following the legal procedures.
(2) The Minister of MOD confirms that it does not have the plan to deploy fighter planes in the Southern Rescue Search unit of air force.
- The article 5 of MOU, in relation to the Jeju navy base means the air force is seeking another area other than the old Alddreu air field for its base in Jeju. Six years later from the MOU, Seongsan, east of the Jeju would be announced as the area for the 2nd Jeju airport.
2015. The area of Onpyeong-ri, Seongsan -eup, east of Jeju Island was announced as the area for the 2nd Jeju airport (aimed to be completed as early as 2023)
2017, List of Jeju Southern Rescue and Search unit in the National Defense mid-term plan (2018-2022) (planned to be set in 2021)