News and Features

The US Asia Pivot: A trail of blood and violence

By Marjorie Pamintuan, Secretary-General, Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN)

I come from the Philippines, a country whose people’s struggle for independence and democracy against its Spanish and Japanese colonizers was hijacked by the United States through a mixture of deception and bloody military intervention, under the guise of ‘liberation’, and the offer of ‘civilization’ to our people. Little did we know that this process of ‘civilization’ led by the US itself would kill more Filipinos in 15 years compared to the number of deaths during the 300-year Spanish rule.

Even after the supposed “freedom” granted to the Philippines, the country, through the collaboration of the elites, remains beholden to the economic and political interests of the United States through different unfair trade agreements and military deals. Up to this day, the Philippines remain a bastion of US influence in the region. The history of the US intervention in the Philippines holds true for the rest of the Asia Pacific as well. The region as a source for raw materials, cheap labor, free markets, and its strategic sea trade routes all offer a very important role to play in the geopolitical strategy of US in its bid to become the world’s sole superpower.

By stopping the spread of socialism in the region through direct military operations during the Indo-China war, backing the creation of the ASEAN, APEC, and supporting oppressive regimes in suppressing people’s movements for genuine democracy, and imposing neoliberal trade policies through trade deals and loan conditionalities of the IMF-Word bank, the US continues to exert its unwelcome grip in the region.

Economic Rebalancing in Asia

Since 1945 onwards, Pax Americana has been maintained – a unipolar world where the US maintains political, economic and military dominance. However, Pax Americana has been winding down because of the prolonged economic crisis that is often described as worse than the Great Depression marked by increasing unemployment and poverty, falling wages, and worst income inequality in a century.

Demonstrators are blocked by anti-riot police in front of the US embassy during a protest against US military intervention in South China Sea disputes. (Photo: Francis R. Malasig/EPA)

Demonstrators are blocked by anti-riot police in front of the US embassy during a protest against US military intervention in South China Sea disputes. (Photo: Francis R. Malasig/EPA)

As a response to this crisis, the US is resorting to protect its own economy through greater regulation of trade with other countries and strategizing to entrench its hegemony in Asia Pacific for the region’s remarkable place in global economy and geopolitical sphere. The US wants to rebalance in the region to access the region’s resources in an effort to get itself out of the crisis, and also to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

To ‘pivot’ or rebalance in the Asia Pacific, the US uses a combination of diplomatic, economic, and military tools. Senator Clinton’s and Obama’s Asia tours spoke of the America’s Pacific century where the US as a Pacific nation, ‘will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future.’ Senator’s Clinton’s visit to Burma and Obama’s visit to India are all striking manifestations of a new determination on the part of the Obama administration to reassert the United States’ traditional interests in the Asia-Pacific. The US also wants to make it clear that it will remain a “Pacific power” fully prepared to meet the challenge of China’s rise and its regional ambitions.

The economic arm of this pivot is the recently concluded Transpacific Partnership Agreement or the TPPA. The TPPA seeks to further open the markets of the twelve nations (US, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan) in the Pacific rim and to allow wealthy countries and large corporations to reach across borders to impose constraints on a vast array of domestic non-trade policies that impact the environment, telecommunications, visas, labor, and intellectual property, among many others.

In its current composition, the TPP represents 40% of global GDP and one-third of world trade. Moreover, this dangerous trade deal was negotiated behind closed doors with exclusive access given only to the US and its corporate cohorts. What makes this deal more dangerous is the ISDS or the Investor-state-dispute-settlement mechanism wherein corporations are allowed to sue governments and influence their policy making to prevent profit losses, even at the expense of people’s rights and welfare. Moreover, this gold-standard deal will be THE standard for most FTAs following the TPP.

Increasing Militarization in Asia Pacific

Aside from diplomatic visits and trade deals, the US will secure its pivot to Asia by deploying more US troops and increasing its military spending in the region. Currently, there are 80,000 US troops in East Asia and the Pacific excluding South Asia and Central Asia. Records available to the public indicate existing military bases in New Zealand, Australia, Guam, Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In addition, the United States regularly engage in military exercise deals and security agreements with these countries.

According to the US Defense secretary, 60% of US navy, air force will be deployed in Asia Pacific in 5 years. That means the US army will have “more than 100,000 soldiers in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020.”

Asia becoming the most militarized region is quite alarming. China’s aggressive efforts to buildup its military arsenal has countries like Japan, Australia and Singapore quickly following suit. India remains to be the largest arms importer and has ambitions to become a major player in regional arms trade, a position which China has claimed as the 3rd, only behind the US and Russia. Japan too, has repeatedly shown signs of dropping its peace stance in its constitutions, one sign would be allowing its troops to participate in operations to “defend an ally/friendly country.”

Of course, these demand for arms and big ticket weapons greatly benefited companies like Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co and Northrop Grumman Corp. Sales agreements with countries in the U.S. Pacific Command’s area of activity rose to $13.7 billion in fiscal 2012, up 5.4 percent from a year before.

The US trail of violence and the peoples resistance

The militarization of Asia Pacific is a direct violation of people’s sovereignty and human rights. There are reports of rapes and abuses caused by US troops and sightings of US troops participating in local military operations even they are not supposedly allowed to.

Direct influence in security policies and operations violates the country’s sovereignty. In the Philippines, it jeopardizes existing peace talks as shown by the tragedy of the Mamasapano incident wherein Filipinos from both the sides of the Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) died in the US-led attempt to capture a supposed terrorist.

The impacts on the environment are also grave. Case in point is the destruction of a portion of the Tubataha reef in Palawan by the US navy. The new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed by the Philippines and the US is essentially a comeback of the US bases which the Filipino people successfully kicked out in the 1990s through building massive protest actions. In this new EDCA, the US will be allowed to build two bases in Palawan island, the Philippine’s last existing ecological frontier.

The trail of the US bringing death and violence along its path is spreading all over its neighboring countries where its military presence exists.

The trail of the US bringing death and violence along its path is spreading all over its neighboring countries where its military presence exists. The US continues to foil and hijack the people’s struggles to build genuine democracies by supervising anti-insurgency campaigns through the US Counter-insurgency guide coupled with heavy military funding.

Despite all this, the people remain indignant in fighting against US militarist policies and intervention in the region. People’s movements such as in the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Australia, and in New Zealand are launching campaigns and actions against US bases and US military deployment. The people’s demand and challenge for genuine democracy and development becomes ever more urgent.

Together we must strengthen this solidarity between our peoples, because in the end, we can only rely on each other to take justice and end militarism, pursue human rights for just and lasting peace.###

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