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FOCUS December 1997 Volume 10

The Impact of Asia in Pacific Today

Lopeti Sinutuli - Pacific Concerns Resource Center

(This is an excerpt of the paper of the same title presented by the author in the Third Joint Meeting of the Asia and the Pacific Ecumenical Regional Groups in Tahiti in August 1997. - Editor's note)

In October this year, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto hosted a Summit with the leaders of the 14 Pacific islands countries of the South Pacific Forum (Australia and New Zealand were not invited). This is the first time that Japan has invited the leaders of the Pacific islands to a Summit.

Although the summit has no formal agenda, Japan has various environmental, strategic and economic interests it wants the Pacific to support.

First, Japan is seeking international support for a permanent seat in a restructured UN Security Council and the Pacific Islands vote, despite their size, can swing the vote in favor of Japan in the UN General Assembly.

Second, Japan wants to continue the transshipment of spent nuclear fuel to France for reprocessing and in return receive plutonium and high level radioactive waste through the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of Pacific Islands countries. All of its previous shipments have been met with verbal hostility from the South Pacific Forum. Similarly, Japan (together with South Korea and Taiwan) are privately interested in the Marshall Islands proposal to turn some of its islands into permanent nuclear dumps.

Third, Japan has over the past twelve years spent US $ 100 million mapping the Pacific seabed and surveying its minerals. Preliminary results show enormous deposits of manganese, copper, and cobalt on some parts of the South and Central Pacific seabed within the EEZ of Pacific Island countries including French Polynesia and Cook Islands. (This is one reason why France wants to hang on to French Polynesia in post-nuclear test era !) Having little mineral resources of its own, access to these deposits in the next century is critical to the Japanese economy.

Fourth, Japan wants to continue to have access to the Pacific islands' tuna fishing grounds which is the source of 50-60% of the world's annual tuna harvest with a market value of US $2 billion. During 1993 a total of around 1300 tuna fishing vessels were licenced to fish in the Pacific EEZs. The vast majority of these vessels and the corresponding total fishing harvest was accounted for by Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the US. China and the Philippines also have a significant presence.

In that year, the Forum Fisheries Agency (whose membership corresponds with the South Pacific Forum) received around US $ 60 million in access fees from foreign fishing vessels. Pacific island countries' own fishing fleets only generated a total revenue of around US $ 66 million. In other words, the Pacific island countries only received US $ 126 million from a resource that is worth US $ 2 billion annually. This daylight robbery is particularly significant to non-Melanesian countries who have little or no land-based resources. Japan has for a number of years wanted to be a full member of the Forum Fisheries Agency but the Pacific island countries have resisted. Taiwan, South Korea and the US are waiting in line should Japan be admitted.

Last month His Majesty the King of Tonga did what no other Head of State has done. He visited both China and Taiwan and had meetings with Chinese President Jiang Zemin in Nanjing then later with Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui in Taipei. Tonga established diplomatic relations with Taiwan twenty years ago and does not have diplomatic relations with China. The invitation to China came from a Chinese company interested in satellite communication.

The competition for the hearts and minds and votes of the Pacific island leaders between China and Taiwan is really heating up after the return of Hong Kong. Although both are dialogue partners of the SPF, the actual dialogue between Taiwan and the SPF is held after the discussions with the other dialogue partners is completed. Quite a few Pacific island countries privately support Taiwan's membership in the UN but so far only the Solomon islands has signed this year's proposal for Taiwan's membership in the UN.

Fiji recently felt the wrath of China after announcing that it was opening a Trade Promotion Office in Taipei. In the second week of August, China withdrew the special import duty rates it allowed Fiji for its sugar. The special rates consist of a 12% import duty plus 17% Value Added Tax. But for countries that recognise Taiwan there is a 40% import duty plus the 17% VAT.

One of the most luctrative businesses that Pacific island countries have embarked on in recent years is the sale of passports and the market is primarily Asia. Governments that have done this include Tonga, Samoa, Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Vanuatu. In fact, Tonga's Minister of Police, who is responsible for passports, stated in the Tongan parliament last week that his initial sale price was US$ 40,000 per passport but he has had to reduce it to US$ 20,000 because of the increased competition from his island neighbors. Samoa's sale of passports has been going on for a number of years without government approval. In July, five government employees were suspended and investigations are continuing into the illegal sales. Although the sale of passports is used to attract Asian entrepreneurs it seems that the majority of the buyers are from the Asian underworld or migrants whose ultimate destination is the US or Australia and New Zealand. In 1996, the US government forced the Marshall Islands to stop its passport sales because the buyers are using the visa-free entry agreement between the two countries to enter the US .

From these examples of the interaction between Asia and the Pacific States one can discern a pattern of exploitation reminiscent of colonial times with the Pacific region continuing to be on the periphery while the locus of the empire has relocated from London, Washington and Paris to Tokyo, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Canberra and Wellington.

The end of the Cold War has seen a shift of emphasis from territorial security to human security. Human security is not just a concern of nation-states involving freedom from war, the safety of territory from external aggression or the protection of national interests or foreign policy. It involves the active participation of peoples who understand that true security is not based on military force. Human security addresses people's concerns for security in their daily lives: protection from the threat of disease, hunger, unemployment, social conflict, political repression and environmental hazards. Human security includes the enhancement of the environment, economic equality, the empowerment of traditionally oppressed or marginalized peoples like women, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, and the institutionalization of political democracy.

Despite the high growth rate in ASEAN countries, inequality in income distribution exists within societies and between them. High economic growth has not necessarily translated into human security for the whole population.

According to the World Bank, per capita income in the Asia and Pacific regions for 1994 in US dollars range from 200 in Vietnam, 800 in Indonesia, 1,000 in Samoa, 1,240 in PNG, 1,590 in Tonga, 2,250 in Fiji, 2,410 in Thailand and 3,480 in Malaysia. These averages hide internal differences. For example, in Thailand 10% of the population share 37.1% of income or consumption, in Malaysia 10% of the population share 37.9%.]

A UNICEF study of the Pacific islands in 1993 showed that 50 Pacific children die per day from causes which are easily preventable through low-cost means available in each country: around 1,100 Pacific island women die each year from pregnancy related conditions: more than 1.4 million Pacific island adults can neither read nor write ; pockets of deprivation and poverty are becoming more visible in an increasing number in Pacific island countries. ]

These are what constitute the real threat to human security and are not amenable either to military intervention alone or to military action at all. Rather, if not addressed in a cooperative and constructive manner, they may well deteriorate into traditional modes of military violence thereby threatening the state, its government and the society as a whole.

But the downsizing of US military presence in the Asia and Pacific region has not seen the dismantling of national security legislations that were designed during the Cold War era. In fact, these national security legislations are now being reinforced by massive increases in the military budgets of all Asian and especially the ASEAN countries and China. In the Pacific ten years ago, only PNG, Fiji and Tonga had standing armies. Today, Vanuatu and the Solomon islands have the equivalent of a military corps which is the beginning of a national army.

It is conceded that the creation of the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1993 as the venue to discuss regional and security matters is a positive initiative. This has been created as a result of the uncertainties brought about by the end of the Cold War and the potential conflicts over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan. It has been positively described as, "Though incomplete and embryonic it provides a flexible instrument for high-level dialogue and consultation and in the near future for preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution". On the negative side, it is still primarily concerned with territorial security as opposed to human security and as mentioned earlier despite this new initiative in preventive diplomacy ARF members are still increasing their military budgets. And notwithstanding the acceptance by most Asia and Pacific states of the new conception of human security they still have not discarded the Internal Security Acts that have been frequently used in the immediate past to silence and to lock up those who dare to seek justice and equality.

I will end by reading one of the works of Malaysian poet and human rights activist, Cecil Rajendra. The poem is entitled "The Animal and Insect Act" .

Finally in order to ensure
absolute national security
they passed the Animal and Insect
Emergency Control and Discipline Act.

Under this new Act, buffaloes
cows and goats were
prohibited from grazing in herds of more
than three. Neither could birds
flock, nor bees swarm...
This constituted unlawful assembly.

As they had not obtained prior
planning permission, mud-wasps
and swallows were issued with
summary Notices to Quit. Their
homes were declared subversive
extensions to private property.

Monkeys and mynahs were warned
to stop relaying their noisy
morning songs until an official
Broadcasting Licence was issued
by the appropriate Ministry.
Unmonitored publications and broadcasts
posed the gravest threats
in times of National Emergency.

Similarly woodpeckers had
to stop tapping their morse code
messages from coconut
tree-top to chempaka tree

Java sparrows were arrested in
droves for rumor-mongering
Cats (suspected of conspiracy)
had to be indoors by nine o'clock
Cicadas and crickets received
notifications to turn their amplifiers
own. Ducks could not quack nor
turkeys gobble during restricted
hours. Need I say all
dogs - alsatians, dachshunds
terriers, pointers and even
little chihuahuas - were muzzled.

In the interest of security,
penguins and zebras were
ordered to discard their
non-regulation uniforms.
The deer had to surrender
their dangerous antlers
Tigers and carnivores
with retracted claws were
sent directly to prison
for concealing lethal weapons.

And by virtue of Article
four, paragraph 2 (b)
sub-section 16
under no circumstances
were elephants allowed
to break wind between
the hours of six and six.
Their farts could easily
be interpreted as gunshots
might spark off a riot...

A month after the Act
was properly gazetted
the birds and insects started migrating South
the animals went North
and an eerie silence
handcuffed the forests,
There was now Total Security.