A delegation from an Asian ecumenical group has called upon the South Korean government to stop building a naval base on Jeju Island off the country’s southern tip.

In a statement following their visit from Aug. 8 to 10 to the site, the delegation from the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, said that they have identified concerns about U.S.-led militarization, destruction of the environment and community, undemocratic process, and overwhelming police presence during the base construction.

“The proposed Jeju Island base would constitute an additional military base outside the mainland of the Korean Peninsula,” the group said. “Jeju, like Okinawa [in Japan], will represent an expansion of the geopolitical influence and military control of the USA, countering China’s growing economic and military influence in north-east Asia.”

The delegation called upon the U.S. and other governments “to support peace in North East Asia and promote human rights and security in the Korean Peninsula and to protect the environment and seek alternative models of holistic development.”

It also called upon churches “to pray with the Korean people, to offer advocacy and solidarity support in terms of this issue.”

However, a South Korean embassy official defended placement of the base. “[It is] solely for the defense of the Republic of Korea and has no connections to American military installations. There are no plans to use the base for American missile defense, nor have Korea and the United States had any discussion regarding this issue,” said Jin-Soo Nam, public affairs official of the South Korean embassy in Washington, D.C., in an article in The New York Times published on Aug. 10.

“The construction site was selected after accommodating opinions of local residents in a legitimate process, including town hall meetings,” Nam said. “The Korean government intends to construct an eco-friendly base. Environmental assessments show that the project will have no effect on the environment. Additionally, preservation measures are being taken to protect vulnerable species native to Jeju Island.”

Jeju has long been considered a tactical location to secure southern sea-lanes for transporting energy supplies and to conduct operations in case of an emergency in Northeast Asia.