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Truth about Gureombi Rock
Amid the prolonged disputes over the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island, we often hear the unfamiliar word "gureombi." On her visit to the controversial construction site on March 7, Han Myeong-sook, chairwoman of the main opposition Democratic United Party, called for the government to “stop the blasting of Gureombi.” Some popular entertainers such as broadcaster Kim Mi-hwa and singer Lee Hyo-ri have joined the campaign, twitting that “Gureombi should be protected.”
"Gureombi" is a Jeju native dialect referring to the tree with the academic name Litsea japonica. There is an abundant amount of this evergreen on Jeju and the southern coastal districts of Korea. Then it should seem certain that so many people, including Chairwoman Han Myeong-sook, have not stood up to safeguard the commonplace tree. What they are trying to protect appears to be a rock outcrop on the shore at the construction site. It is called "Gureombi Rock" because of its location near a colony of gureombi tree.
Those who oppose the Jeju naval base construction have tenaciously adhered to their assertion that cultural relics and animals and plants at the construction site should be protected. All construction projects on an area over 30,000 square meters are required by the law to undergo a surface investigation to determine whether the site has underground cultural artifacts. Construction can be canceled if the site is judged to have buried cultural relics or it is feared to damage natural monuments. Indeed, back in the 1990s, the Korea Racing Authority scrapped its plan to build a racecourse in the Bomun Lake Tourist Complex in Gyeongju, as historical sites and relics continued to be unearthed in the process of surface investigation.
If the site for the naval base on Jeju contains truly valuable artifacts, or rare animals and plants, supporters of the construction project may change their minds. Cultural and environmental issues are that sensitive. When the Jeju naval base construction plan was finalized in 2007, the opponents first raised the issue of preserving a colony of soft corals near Bam Island, some 1.7 kilometers away from a breakwater for the base. Designated Natural Monument No. 442, the soft corals are a species with tender skeletons.
The Cultural Heritage Administration asked the Seoul National University`s Research Institute of Oceanography to investigate the possibility of pollutants from the proposed construction site harming the soft corals. The investigation found that ocean currents flow from the soft coral colony toward the construction site. It meant that even if pollutants were released from the site, they would not reach the soft corals.
Next, the opponents made an issue of Asian shore crabs and narrow-mouthed toads which inhabit in front of the construction site. Eventually, an agreement was made to capture all the Asian shore crabs and narrow-mouthed toads and relocate them to a nearby location that has a similar environment. That cost about 150 million won.
Folk religion was also on the list of problems raised by the opponents. They demanded that an old place for offering prayers on the construction site be preserved and named a state-designated cultural property. In response to their request, members of the Cultural Heritage Committee, an advisory body for the Cultural Heritage Administration, examined the place and reached the conclusion that it fell short of qualifying for designation as such in terms of historical and academic value.
Investigations were conducted over the entire construction site of 280,000 square meters to determine whether any section had cultural artifacts buried underground to be preserved. Some archaeological remains dating to the early Iron Age were discovered in parts of the site, but the total area considered worthy of cultural preservation only amounted to 2,400 square meters.
Gureombi Rock is the latest card of the opposing forces in their desperate effort to deliver a decisive, critical blow to halt the base construction. They are demanding that the rock be designated a natural monument, which would surely be a powerful tool to obstruct the construction. However, the Cultural Heritage Committee has already concluded that the rock has little topographical distinction compared to many locales along the island`s coastline.
Some netizens criticize the Cultural Heritage Committee as well as the Cultural Heritage Administration for its decision, but the committee is the highest decision-making authority. It consists of private experts who work independently. The committee is dedicated to the maximum possible protection of cultural heritage, so denouncing the committee lacks persuasion. The opponents have continuously attempted to halt the construction by raising one issue after another. It now looks evident that they are not trying to protect culture and the environment but are using them as political tools to condemn and obstruct the naval base construction.
When the blasting of Gureombi Rock began, Kim Jin-pyo, floor leader of the Democratic United Party, called for its suspension, insisting that the rock is located within a UNESCO biosphere reserve. But his assertion turned out to be ungrounded. Some netizens asserted that the rock belongs to a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site, which also proved untrue. Korean leftist forces have thus revealed their time-worn tactics of exaggeration, distortion and fabrication to achieve their goals.
Even those who are leading the anti-base campaign seem to be confusing the gureombi tree and the rock. Therefore, most ordinary citizens lack in-depth understanding of the environmental and cultural issues surrounding the naval base construction. Hence they are vulnerable to agitation. No matter how important our natural environment is, the value of Gureombi Rock cannot outshine the nation`s security benefits to be gained from the naval base. The majority of people should make cool-headed judgment based on objective facts.