Press Warns of Dangers of Right-Wing Agenda
John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM; Japan Fellow, Stanford University)
The agenda for the upcoming APEC Summit scheduled to take place in Bangkok, Thailand between October 20-21 reminds us of how much things have changed in Asia since September 11, 2001. APEC was originally formed in 1989 as a forum to address economic and trade issues. In fact, delegates attending APEC summits often objected furiously to those who tried to use the forum to discuss political or security matters. As Surin Pitsuwan (Member of the Thai Parliament) explained to Stanford faculty and students recently, Chinese president Jiang Zhe Min used this rationale to reject former South Korean president Kim Dae-Jeung's plea to include the issue of East Timor in the 1999 APEC meeting agenda. Apparently, things have changed. Today, the press reports that the issue of global terror will "dominate" the upcoming APEC summit in Bangkok (Channel News Asia, 11 October). In addition, Bush plans to take up the North Korean nuclear issue and Iraqi reconstruction. Even at APEC, economic matters now take a back seat.
The fundamental shift in orientation at APEC from economic to security issues is explained by Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as recognition that, "the economy and security go hand in hand". However, many journalists and academics see this as part of a general attempt by right-wing hard-liners in the Asia-Pacific region to take advantage of a paralyzed intellectual environment to hijack forums and issues to serve their political and economic ends.
The APEC summit is not the only example of this. Iraq is the most obvious. A severe humanitarian and human rights crisis in Saddam era Iraq was turned into a bogus global security issue based on non-existent weapons of mass destructions in order to further the neo-conservative agenda in the U.S. Since the invasion, the humanitarian situation has worsened and very little is being done to improve matters. Most Iraqis remain without electricity, running water, sewage and adequate food supplies and yet "security" concerns continue to dominate. As this situation worsens, the press increasingly laments about president Bush's spending spree, especially after he asked for $55 billion more for Iraq (see Gail Schoettler, Denver Post, 12 October). In Japan, similar questions are being asked by Asahi Shimbun journalists who wonder where prime minister Koizumi will get the $5.5 billion he is about to promise president Bush for Iraqi reconstruction (6 October).
Another case in point relates to North Korea. Freelance writer David McNeill and editor Andreas Hippin's recent article on Znet argues that the right has hijacked the abductee issue in Japan. They claim that right-wingers Sato Katsumi (chair of the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea or NARKN), Abe Shinzo (recently appointed secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party) and defense minister Ishiba Shigeru's rise to prominence in Japan has come as a result of their taking political advantage of the abductee issue. The editor of the People's Korea in Japan, Cho Kwan Ik agrees and adds Washington to the mix. According to him, "the media and the right in Japan, under the influence of Washington, are trying to frame North Korea, with the ultimate aim of forcing a regime change." Gregory Clark, former Australian diplomat and Japan Times columnist, debates along the same line stressing that, "the North Korean issue is clearly being manipulated by hard-line and right-wing elements who have been looking for a way to get at Pyongyang for years." None of the protagonists highlighted above (Sato, Abe, Ishiba) deny that charge. Instead they refer to a meeting of the minds with U.S. policy makers who want to slap stringent sanctions on North Korea. Some, like Ishiba, have even advocated Bush's pre-emptive strike option.
The obvious negative outcome of this apparent right-wing take over has been to push all issues deemed contrary to right-wing interests aside. Consequently, farmers in developing nations were sacrificed at the most recent WTO ministerial meeting. Conservatives in the U.S., Europe and Japan refused to remove their protectionist measures and price distorting agricultural subsidies. The human rights of "enemy combatants", rebel groups, civilians and those simply caught on the wrong side continue to be undermined as governments in the U.S., the Philippines and Russia advance their own versions of the "war on terrorism". The ethnic Korean community in Japan, an unwanted group as far as the hard-line nationalists such as Sato are concerned, continue to face severe and worsening forms of discrimination as the conflict with North Korea heightens. Concurrently, unconfirmed reports that Japanese immigrants to North Korea are being victimized and tortured by Kim Il Jong's regime as a way to get back at Japan continue to spread.
The ultimate result, as the past two years have demonstrated, is a downward spiral towards chaos, mistrust and hatred. Although, president Bush and his administration argue that the war on terrorism has been successful, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin-Laden remain at large, the Taliban is regrouping, North Korea says it will test nuclear weapons soon and anti-Americanism throughout the world has heightened exponentially since that war began. It is simply impossible to argue that the world is a better place than it was two years ago. In conclusion, the opinions highlighted above should warn all individuals about the dangers posed by the current policies some leaders are promoting. Two years is long enough to prove that the right-wing agenda has brought no solution to the problems we face, including terrorism. It is high time to reconsider.