The Emperor Goes To Asia and Talks Terror
By Aziz Choudry
Fresh from visiting California's Governor-Terminator, His Imperial Majesty jetted off to Asia ...
Congressman Crispin Beltran, from the leftwing Bayan Muna party,
described the nature of George Bush's eight-hour Philippine visit, on
the eve of the 2003 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in
Bangkok, as "one a master does to the home of his slave, an emperor
surveying the territories of his empire, and inspecting the lay of the
land". It is an apt description for the whole Asia/Australia trip.
Beltran, a veteran trade unionist with the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno
(KMU), was one of seven Filipino Representatives to walk out in protest
at the start of Bush's address to the Philippine Congress.
It has been 43 years since a US President - another tough-talking Texan
- Dwight Eisenhower, addressed Congress in the Philippines to rally
Philippine support against communism.
USA Today journalist Richard Benedetto (20/10/03) noted the striking
similarities between the two speeches, suggesting that Dubya's
speechwriter had clearly read Dwight's Cold War address.
Eisenhower had said: "Communism demands subservience to a single
ideology, to a straitjacket of ideas and approaches and methods. Freedom
of individuals or nations, to them is intolerable... They use force and
threats of force, subversion and bribery, propaganda and spurious
This time the Emperor warned: "A new totalitarian threat has risen
against civilization". The remark was clearly not meant to be taken as
"Like other militarists and fascists before them, the terrorists and
their allies seek to control every mind and soul. They seek to spread
chaos and fear, intimidate whole societies and silence all opposition,"
Tellingly, it was opponents of Bush's militaristic and imperial policies
who were facing intimidation and being silenced in Asia in honour of his
visit. Philippine President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in her ongoing
crackdown against progressive organizations and social movements
critical of her ardent support for US economic and military dictates, is
the latest in a long line of US-backed Philippine Presidents - from the
Cold War to the War on Terror - which have waged wars of terror at home.
In another part of his speech, Bush said: "America is proud of its part
in the great story of the Filipino people. Together our soldiers
liberated the Philippines from colonial rule. Together we rescued the
islands from invasion and occupation." Millions of Filipinos would
disagree with Bush's revisionist version of the history of US
involvement in their country.
In fact, one reason for the strength and resonance of anti-war
sentiments in the Philippines is the fact that under the guise of
"training and advising", in this "second front" in the "war on terror"
the troops of its former colonial ruler, the USA, are back on Philippine
soil, with a vengeance. And - especially in Mindanao - many people know
the sickening realities of war all too well. Death, displacement,
disappearances, rape, torture, and despair. On his visit, the Emperor
promised yet more US military aid and thanked his loyal subject for
supporting his imperial exploits. According to his national security
adviser, Condoleezza Rice, the Philippines "is a very good warrior in
the fight on terrorism."
Beltran noted with irony that both Bush and Arroyo are the children of
former presidents, both "became presidents not through victory in the
polls. Mr. Bush became president through a decision of the United States
Supreme Court. Mrs. Arroyo ascended to the highest office because of
People Power 2 and also on the say-so of the Supreme Court. Both have
been hounded by election-related scandals - Bush was haunted by the
contributions made by Enron, while Mrs. Arroyo is being linked to money
laundering charges". And both want to stay in office past next year's US
and Philippine elections.
Urban poor dwellings near Congress were demolished before he arrived.
Thousands of police and armed forces turned Manila and parts of Central
Luzon into a militarized zone. Surveillance and harassment of activists
was stepped up. It is estimated that Bush's eight-hour stay cost the
Philippines US $1.45 million. After all, the Emperor of the World was in
town. And nothing is too much fuss to keep the Emperor happy.
Then it was on to Thailand, which like the Philippines, has sent troops
to Iraq and is viewed as a key US ally in the region.
A rectal swab, anyone? It's OK, I will understand if you say no. But at
least you have a choice in the matter. Hundreds of catering and waiting
staff at the hotels accommodating dignitaries for the APEC Meetings in
Bangkok didn't. They were forced to have rectal swabs to ensure that
they were not carrying any infectious diseases that might contaminate
the VIPs' food.
The mice that were injected with samples of dishes before they were
served to the Emperor didn't have much choice either. The Thai
government excelled in the APEC summit security and sanitization stakes.
Its attitude towards the homeless, the poor and its critics was little
different from the treatment it meted out to the rodents.
In the weeks leading up to the meeting, thousands of stray dogs were
rounded up. Some 10,000 homeless people were pushed off the streets
before APEC and the Bush state visit on the orders of Bangkok Governor
Samak Sundaravej who likened them to "stray dogs". 900 street people,
originally from Cambodia, one of the WTO's newest members, were rounded
up and flown to Phnom Penh by a Thai Air Force plane. Sex workers and
street hawkers were ordered off the streets, schools and many businesses
were closed for a week, and sections of the city received a cosmetic
makeover. As in Manila, a large US security contingent swept into
Bangkok, with 20,000 Thai police, troops and other security militarizing
large parts of the city.
The Thai government has not divulged the costs of hosting this year's
APEC Summit. As with other such operations, many locals have questioned
the priorities of the government, which seems far more interested in
projecting a contrived international image than addressing their needs.
Writing in the Bangkok Post on 20 October Thai journalist Heamakarn
Sricharatchanya expressed her irritation with the priorities of the Thai
government: "As a Thai citizen, I can't help but feel that the leaders
of my country care more about the health of foreign VIPs, who will only
be here for a couple of days, than the health of residents who live here
their whole lives. In all my life, I have never known the government to
pay such serious attention to the food that its citizens consume".
It is axiomatic for governments which advocate neoliberal model of
development, to try to render all evidence of the failure of this model
as invisible as possible when an international spotlight is shone on
them. Repressive security operations go hand in hand with state visits
and summit meetings all over the world. APEC summits are synonymous with
security overkill, human rights abuses, and lavish expenditure.
A huge banner featuring a giant picture of Bangkok grand palace, placed
strategically to hide urban poor dwellings by Chao Phraya river was
emblematic of the way in which advocates of free market capitalism will
do almost anything to stop the facts getting in the way of a good story
- or photo-op.
Thailand's billionaire former police officer/telecommunications
magnate-turned-Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, demanded that there
be no protests during APEC and stepped up surveillance on a number of
social movements, activists and NGOs. The Thai government warned that
immigration police would stop foreign activists from entering Thailand
to join anti-APEC and anti-Bush mobilizations.
Displaying an adherence to a Bush-like understanding of democracy, Thai
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow defended these moves in
a media interview, saying demonstrations could deflect from the
importance of the APEC Summit:
"Thailand is a free country where democracy activities of this kind are
allowed ... but I think that for this APEC event we want to concentrate
on holding a successful APEC meeting."
"We wouldn't want activities that would side-track us from the APEC
meeting and that is the purpose of some of the steps we have taken with
regards to the activities ban on NGOs."
And what of APEC itself? It's the same 21-member forum, but not quite as
we knew it at the height of regionwide mobilizations against its
neoliberal agenda and its profoundly anti-democratic nature.
Its goals of free trade and investment by 2010 for industrialized
members and 2020 for developing ones remain. With the region's free
marketeers licking their wounds after Cancun, the Bangkok APEC Leaders
Declaration, "Partnership for the Future", and this year's APEC
Ministerial statement threw their support behind the WTO multilateral
trade system and sought to re-energize the talks.
Among other things, the Ministerial statement promoted structural reform
and agricultural biotechnology. While APEC meetings have been ridiculed
for their lack of concrete achievement, they still function as
opportunities for bilateral and subregional trade and economic deals to
be discussed. Both within the Asia-Pacific, and beyond, these
lower-profile agreements are proliferating. The three "pillars" of APEC
- trade and investment liberalization, business facilitation and
economic and technical cooperation - remain. But since 2001 they have
become increasingly obscured by the long shadow of a new raison d'etre
thrust upon the forum - security, according to the Dubya Doctrine. On
the eve of her Emperor's departure, Condoleezza Rice had told
journalists that he would "stress the need to put security at the heart
of APEC's mission because prosperity and security are inseparable."
Just as former Thai Deputy Prime Minister and current WTO Director
General Supachai Panitchpakdi claimed after Doha that the September 11
attacks had been a "blessing in disguise" for the WTO, the Bush-led "war
on terror" has breathed new life and meaning into the APEC forum which
had barely managed to limp into the 21st century.
Just as we argued in the 1990s that it was the US-driven neoliberal
agenda that defined the dominant version of economic development
promoted through APEC, so now Washington seeks to shape the forum for
its own economic, military and geopolitical ends in the region. The
empire continued to strike back, however. Besides the walkout from
Congress, throughout the Philippines, in many cities and towns, tens of
thousands took to the streets to oppose Bush's visit, US military and
economic imperialism, and denounced Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as the
number one puppet of the US Administration.
In Manila, protests, ignoring threats of violence from the police,
delayed his speech to Congress by almost an hour while the government
bussed in "pro-Bush" supporters to wave flags for His Imperial Majesty.
In Manila, effigies of Bush and Philippine President Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo were burnt along with dozens of US flags.
Despite the climate of repression and Thaksin's threats of "long and
painful consequences" for organizations involved with protest actions,
Thai activists in Bangkok and elsewhere took to the streets to protest
Bush's visit, US war, and APEC's free trade and investment agenda.
After a demonstration at the US consulate in Chiang Mai, in Thailand's
north, a ceremony was conducted in which a shaman captured his spirit in
a clay pot to be thrown into the Ping river in protest at US
agricultural policy, US militarism, and a proposed US-Thai free trade
agreement which Bush has pledged to begin negotiating next year.
"This is a traditional northern Thai ceremony aimed at keeping his
spirit down on the riverbed so he could not come and exploit our natural
resources or suppress our (farming) brothers with his superior
influence," Weerasak Wan-ubol, an executive of the Northern Farmers
Alliance explained to reporters.
As the Emperor climbs back onto his throne after smiling at Muslims in
Indonesia and visiting his "sheriff" in the region, Australia's John
Howard, and as Chile prepares to take on the hosting responsibility for
APEC in 2004, two things are for sure.
All the rectal swabs in the world won't protect us from contamination by
Bush's belligerent bullshit.
And resistance against imperialism, war and neoliberalism will continue.
Mediocre times produce the very worst that the world has to offer:
Laden, Bush, Hussein, Sharon, and Blair. None but the feeble minded
inspiration from such a ghastly lineup of "leaders".
Turn Off TV and Turn On Quantum
Humanity's most valuable possessions are Clean Water, Clean air, and Trees