Jeju for the Island of World Peace

Jeju for the Island of World Peace
In the hope to unite a peaceful community in the Asia-Pacific through Soft Power

Shin, Yong-In
Professor of the Law School, Jeju University

1. A Change in International Politics and the Emergence of Soft Power

Traditionally, in the field of international politics, hard power, which focuses on military and economic power, has been considered very important. Moreover, it has been widely deemed that the strengthening of hard power is the ticket to garnering national security and profit, given that the current international society is similar to a state of anarchy without a single governing authority. However, since the 1990s, commensurate with globalization, computerization and democratization, international politics has gone beyond the bounds of hard power. Soft power is now recognized as very critical for a nation's security and its profit.

According to the widely regarded scholar of international politics, Joseph S. Nye, soft power is the ability to convince other nations into wanting what one wants by setting an agenda and appealing to them. In short, soft power is the ability to empathize. The resource for soft power is a nation's culture, political philosophy, foreign policy, and the like. With rising recognition of the importance of soft power, powerful nations -- such as the U.S., China, and Japan-- in Asia-Pacific region are strengthening their soft power with tremendous effort.

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S., as the remaining world superpower, has exercised unilateral foreign diplomacy by mostly focusing on the control over other nations. After realizing that global citizens are neither happy nor supportive of an American-dominated world hegemony, especially after 9/11, the U.S. is eager to strengthen its soft power by rebranding a "Welcome America" image. The State Department of the U.S is emphasizing civilian power and military power as the two essential pillars of U.S foreign policy as stated in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) in December, 2010. Cleary the U.S is recognizing the ascent of civilian power.

Being aware of the widely disseminated 'China threat theory', China has cleverly reacted to wariness within the global community with diplomatic terms aimed at creating a friendly image such as 'the Responsible Great Power' or 'the Peaceful Rise'. Furthermore, China has borrowed the concept of the 'comprehensive power' that includes soft power, as well as hard power. It is very obvious that China is also trying hard to strengthen its soft power.

Japan understands that there exist clear boundaries for pursuing national interest only through military or hard power. With its Peace Constitution, Japan has built its soft power through its consistent Official Development Aid (ODA) for developing countries, fighting global warming and cooperating with other nations on nuclear disarmament.

Given its phenomenal economic growth, South Korea is considered an advanced nation, but its military power is far smaller than that of powerful countries like the U.S, China, and Japan. The mindset that South Korea could pursue and maximize her benefits through military power is unrealistic and impossible. Hence, South Korea needs to work on improving its soft power, rather than to rely heavily on hard power. However, South Korea's soft power is underdeveloped and very much limited to cultural diplomacy. Especially in regard to sophisticated foreign diplomacy, in which most advanced countries give weight to, South Korea continues to lag.

2. The Characteristics of Soft Power and the Choice of South Korea

Soft power is the ability to achieve one's goal without force, by molding the preferences of others. It is the power to persuade others into voluntarily performing an action which one wants them to carry out. However, when a nation realizes that the strengthening of soft power is critical to its national competitiveness, and therefore actively seeks to expand its soft power policy for its own exclusive benefits, it can often unintentionally weaken the position that it is trying to strengthen. In other words, if a nation pursues the exclusive benefits or control power over other nations, then others will not trust that nation's soft power. It's simply a worthless strategy. This paradox is one of the most important characteristics of soft power. Therefore, unlike hard power, legitimacy and universality are as essential as life in building soft power-- no fish without water. Without legitimacy and universality, soft power consumes itself.

But the question is whether the soft power policy, which the U.S, China, and Japan try to enhance, really holds legitimacy and universality.

If you look at the U.S, the reason that she has focused on soft power is mainly to continue her powerful state of world hegemony in 21st century. Now the global civil society is skeptical of the soft power strategy that the U.S exhibits, observing it carefully, assuring that the ultimate goal of the soft power is for the global benefit. If the U.S exercises its soft power only for its national benefit, then America will eventually erode it away.

What about China? China wants to raise the appeal of its national image to the global community as 'the Responsible Great Power' or 'the Peaceful Rise', as opposed to the 'China Threat'. But can we literally take their claim to be 'the responsible' and 'the peaceful' nation? What if the hidden intention of this is to gain hegemony in East Asia? We can ask the same question of Japan as well. Expansion of soft power policy in Japan may have the same underlying intention as that of China's. If such is the case, then the soft power of China and Japan will rapidly disappear.

Meanwhile, South Korea is not on the same position as the U.S., Japan, or China. Throughout history, Korea has never walked the path of imperialism, and has never invaded another country. Korea rather has greatly suffered from invasions and wars under the weight of powerful countries, and it continues to suffer from the national division resulting from the Cold War.

The painful history of a victim can serve as a great resource to strengthen South Korea's soft power. Korea is in a far better position to attain legitimacy and universality, the essential elements of soft power, compared to the U.S, Japan, and China.

Therefore, South Korea needs to actively present a vision and strategy of peace that global citizens empathize with. In this way her soft power will grow in legitimacy and universality. The likelihood of reunification will grow with the country's increasing soft power, and this will help South Korea take a lead in building a peaceful Asia-Pacific community.

3. The Island of World Peace and the Jeju Naval Base

The South Korean government earmarked Jeju Island as 'The Island of World Peace' on January 27, 2005. The purpose of the designation was to establish stability and peace on the Korean peninsula, and ultimately contribute to world peace (according to the special law no.155/article no.1 of Jeju government). South Korea's national government and Jeju's local government can carry out projects as follow in order to assist Jeju Island in attaining its role and full capacity as of the Island of World Peace:

ⅰ) inviting an organization related to international peace and cooperation

ⅱ) establishing an institute of international cooperation

ⅲ) holding international conferences on international peace and cooperation

ⅳ) developing projects of exchange and cooperation between North and South Koreas

ⅴ) developing memorial projects to spread the concept of peace

ⅵ) implementing additional projects to support international peace and cooperation (the special law no.155/article no.2)

Jeju's designation as an Island of World Peace has improved South Korea's soft power by claiming legitimacy to the crown of peace.

Therefore, South Korea needs to actively legitimize Jeju Island as a place for promoting vision and strategy for world peace. Jeju has potential to establish peace and stability within the Korean peninsula as well. This way Korea can step up into the position of a country with strong soft power, and take the lead in reunifying the Koreas, and in building a peaceful Asia-Pacific community.

But ironically enough, the South Korean government is pushing for the construction of a massive naval base on Jeju, the Island of World Peace. The government is insisting that the naval base and the Island of World Peace are not incompatible, rationalizing the Roman military scholar, Vegetius's maxim, "Si vis pacem, para bellum.( If you want peace then prepare for war.) " However, this begs the questions: Would such a claim really garner empathy from other nations? Especially, can China agree to call Jeju an Island of World Peace, knowing that the new naval base in Jeju is primarily for projecting South Korea's naval power against her?

The process of construction itself has destroyed the legitimacy of the new naval base. Cancellation of the 'critically protected area' designation, deceptive dual purpose (tourism/military) construction plans, illegal arrests, and countless cases of human rights violations all point towards this illegitimacy. Nevertheless, the government still imposes its power upon the villagers and peace activists in order to continue the construction. How can the government talk about visions and strategies for peace that global citizens can empathize with?

Contrary to its past embrace with a soft power policy (the designation of Island of World Peace), South Korea is now diverging from the path of becoming a strong, soft powered nation by enforcing the base's construction under the heavy-handed scheme of hard power. This clearly shows the current state of Korean soft power policies, and how superficial and unrefined they are.

What is worse is that the naval base will provide the U.S. a platform to exercise its power over China, increasing the chances of ultimately making South Korea a victim of military clashes between the U.S and China. If this implication turns out true, then the naval base plan will not only erode South Korea's soft power, but also will jeopardize national security.

4. The Role of Government and Suggestion of 'Solidarity of the Islands for Peace in the Asia-Pacific'

For five years, Gangjeong villagers have non-violently resisted the construction of the naval base since their village (situated in southern Jeju) was chosen for the base on 2007. The tearful struggle of Gangjeong for peace and life has spread worldwide and raised concern and empathy especially within the Asia-Pacific region. Their sacrifice has enriched the soil for the Island of World Peace to bloom, an island of peace at risk of losing its credibility. In other words, Gangjeong's resistance is providing a foundation for the soft power through which Korea can harvest reunification and build the peaceful community in the region.

The South Korean government has to listen to the voice of Gangjeong if the nation wants to increase its soft power. Firstly, the government needs to immediately withdraw the naval base project, and secondly, it needs to develop long-term policies designating Jeju Island as a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the Asia-Pacific region through an international treaty. When the island becomes the DMZ of the Asia-Pacific, then global citizens will easily recognize Jeju as the true Island of World Peace. What the villagers and the peace activists want is very clear. Instead of building the controversial military base, they urge the government to build facilities such as a peace park and an international peace center, a home for the global peace activists and NGOs.

Many islands in the Asia-Pacific region are being forced to sacrifice their homelands for the forward bases of powerful nations as they compete for regional hegemony. Including Jeju, Guam, (Saipan, the Spratly Islands), Okinawa, and Hawaii are well-known islands for the struggle against the naval base occupation. Now it's time for the islands in the Asia-Pacific to come together, share their stories and experiences. Together we can build a soft-power alliance within the Asia-Pacific.

Therefore, I suggest the establishment of 'Solidarity of the Islands for Peace in Asia Pacific'.

(Translated by Han Che-soon)

Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von Peace Network


Peace Network, a peace movement organization, is located in Seoul, Korea. This Movement is dedicated to realizing an active peace by promoting anti-war, anti-nuclear, disarmament, and unification of the Korean Peninsula.

#102, Sinu Bldg., 376-13, Hapjeong-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul 121-897, Korea
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