President Obama is set to tour the Asia Pacific starting April 23 to strengthen military alliances and promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) in line with the U.S. “Pivot to Asia” strategy.
Zoom in Korea spoke with progressive activists in three of the countries Obama is set to visit – Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines – about what’s on the agenda for his upcoming trip and how progressive movements in Asia Pacific are preparing for his visit. This is part 3 of a 3-part series.
Yukiko Nagaya is a member of the Japan branch of the Asia Wide Campaign against U.S.-Japanese Domination and Aggression of Asia
Keisuke Fuse is the Director of the International Bureau of Japan’s National Confederation of Trade Unions Zenroren. He is also a Steering committee member of the World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen bombs, Director of the Japan Peace Committee, and part of an international network against the TPPA.
What will be on President Obama’s agenda during his upcoming summit with Prime Minister Abe?
Nagaya – Strengthening the US-Japan alliance and U.S. bases, as well as promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
Fuse – They will affirm and even beautify the US-Japan alliance, but Obama’s hidden agenda is the TPPA, the Okinawa base relocation, and Abe’s historical revisionism.
And what is your view on this?
Nagaya – We do not welcome Obama’s visit.
We denounce Obama for aiming to increase U.S. military presence and strengthen U.S.-led military alliances in the Asia Pacific through his upcoming visit to the region. The U.S.’ “pivot to Asia” strategy is aimed at isolating China and threatening North Korea and increases military tensions in the region. The U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review, released in March 2014, reaffirms U.S. plans to transfer 60% of U.S naval forces to the Pacific region by 2020.
In his meeting with Abe, President Obama will continue to pursue the strengthening and new construction of U.S. bases in Henoko Okinawa, as well as in Iwakuni, Kanagawa, and Kyotango. In South Korea, he will pursue the Pyeongtaek military base expansion as well as the Jeju naval base construction and advancing war plans against North Korea. And In the Philippines, he plans to sign the Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation, which allows the United States to station its troops and preposition weapons in Philippine military facilities and is, for all intents and purposes, a base treaty. Malaysia is seeing more frequent port calls of U.S. warships and the United States also plans to strengthen its troop presence and bases in Australia, Guam, and Hawaii. We strongly oppose the increase of U.S. forces in the Asia Pacific region.
How does increased U.S. presence threaten peace in the region?
Nagaya – In addition to integrating the U.S. and Japanese militaries and enabling the deployment of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces abroad, the United States is accelerating expanded militarization in each country in the region. This is a grave threat to peace in the region.
We also denounce the Obama administration for exploiting historic territorial disputes to justify increased U.S. military presence in the Asia Pacific region. This is precisely the justification the Obama administration is using to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance. This scheme only intensifies military tensions in the region and needs to be stopped immediately.
What about the TPPA?
Nagaya – President Obama is using his Asia tour to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). The TPPA is the economic aspect of the U.S. strategy for hegemony in the Asia Pacific region. It will only benefit multinational corporations and monopoly capital and aggravate exploitation and violation of rights for working class people. In order to conclude a basic agreement between the United States and Japan on the TPPA before Obama’s visit on April 23, currently the U.S. government is aggressively pursuing negotiations with Japan. Japan and Malaysia are already participating in TPPA negotiations, South Korea has expressed its intention to join, and the Philippine parliament is discussing revisions to its constitution so that it can join the TPPA. We oppose U.S.-led free trade agreements such as the TPPA, which goes hand in hand with stepped up U.S. military presence, and will fight against the neoliberal offensive.
Fuse – This US-led free trade framework is not just a trade agreement; it destroys democracy and undermines national sovereignty. U.S. and Japanese corporations, multinationals in particular, exert huge pressure to reach an agreement as soon as possible, but the deal has not been made yet.
Market access is a big challenge for many nations, especially Japan and the United States. Many of Abe’s supporters are family farmers in Japan, and they demand the protection of five agricultural products – rice, sugar, beef, pork and dairy – by maintaining the current tariff level. But the principle of TPPA is 0-tariff for all items, and US agricultural companies demand 0-tariff. Japan is forced to make some concessions, but Japanese civil society and even conservative organizations are working to stop Abe from compromising and get Japan out of this deal.
Do you think Abe will concede on the TPPA?
Fuse – As you know, Abe is in trouble with South Korea, China and the United States for his historical revisionist policy. He may feel he owes one to Obama, and I’m afraid he may concede on the TPPA in exchange for maintaining a strong alliance with the United States. Abe will have to either abandon his historical view or concede on the economic front.
There are many critical issues in Japan, such as more deregulation of labor laws and the introduction of a special economic zone. But in relation to the US-Japan summit, the TPPA is the main issue. If Abe makes a deal with Obama, he will lose his farmers votes. If he does not make a deal and gets Japan out of the TPPA negotiations, U.S. and Japanese businesses will be very upset and fire him. He is now in deep trouble.
What is your view of the leaders that Obama will be meeting on his Asia tour?
Nagaya – By meeting with reactionary leaders such as Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye, and the Philippine’s President Benigno Aquino, President Obama is supporting governments that oppress their people. These governments need to be overthrown through people power.
Fuse – Abe’s cabinet members visited the Yasukuni Shrine for the spring festival and outraged Korea and China, as well as peace loving people in Japan. If Abe visits the Yasukuni Shrine, he will gain support from the right wing voters. If he does not, he will lose their votes. I don’t want people outside of Japan to believe ordinary Japanese people support Abe. Even conservative and apathetic people do not believe he is doing the right thing in relation to the Yasukuni issue. Most opinion polls show that the majority of Japanese believe Abe should not visit the Yasukuni Shrine. We must stop Abe’s runaway policy. That is the top agenda for Japanese progressive forces and the trade unions.
What actions are being planned for Obama’s visit?
Nagaya – We are unifying with other organizations to hold mass protest actions in front of the U.S. embassy in Tokyo on April 23 and the U.S. consulate in Osaka on April 24.
We will mount a unified struggle to oppose the increase of U.S. military forces and strengthening of U.S.-led military alliances in the Asia Pacific region, as well as the TPPA and neoliberal polices.
Fuse – Also, the anti-TPPA campaign will be holding a sit-in protest in front of the Diet building and the Prime Minister’s office. And many other protests will be organized locally.
Zenroren’s medical workers union will hold a mass rally in Tokyo on the 24th. This was not originally planned against Obama’s visit, but their demands are to defend universal healthcare, improve the working conditions of medical workers, and oppose the TPPA.
Go to Part 1 – Interview with Nato Reyes, Secretary General of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), Philippines
Go to Part 2 – Interview with Ju Jejun, Policy Director of Korean Alliance of People’s Movements; and Oh Hye-ran, former Secretary General of Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea