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Activists Detail Frontline Struggles Against US Militarism In Asia

Above photo: US president Joe Biden, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol meet on the sidelines of the 2022 ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh.

The Asia-Pacific region has once again become a hotspot in Washington’s new Cold War.

Biden’s Indo-Pacific Strategy has been dead set on forging a new anti-China bloc across the region.

With the US President Joe Biden waging an all-out economic war against China and aggressively pursuing new forms of collective security alliances to reinforce the military encirclement of China, the Asia-Pacific region has once again become a hotspot in Washington’s new Cold War. From the expansion of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (US, Japan, India, and Australia) to include South Korea, New Zealand, and Vietnam in 2021, the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework in May 2022, the participation of Asian heads of state in NATO meetings in 2022 and 2023, and the cementing of the Japan-Korea-US trilateral alliance at Camp David this August, Biden’s Indo-Pacific Strategy has been dead set on forging a new anti-China Cold War bloc across the region.

This enlarging cache of US-led anti-China coalitions in the region, and the intensification of joint and multinational war games — such as the live-fire “Combined Annihilation drills” this May, the “largest US-South Korea military drills in 70 years,” or Ulchi Freedom Shield this August, which involved the use of nuclear assets — raises the threat of regional or even global war. To prevent war and build peace in Northeast Asia, and join forces with activists and groups working toward a growing non-aligned movement within and beyond the region, the Seoul-based International Strategy Center organized a two-day online forum on October 28, focused on frontline anti-war struggles in Northeast Asia, and the 29th, focused on peace and non-aligned movements around the world. This article details the key topics and discussions from the October 28th forum.

Opposing The “Axis Of War”

Simone Chun, board member of the Korea Policy Institute and an Advisor to Code Pink, began the October 28th panel stating, “The greatest threat to peace and stability in Northeast Asia is Washington’s imperialistic quest and its encirclement of China,” backed by “the US military industrial complex.” She warned in particular of the Japan-Korea-US trilateral alliance that was cemented at Camp David this August, but has been decades in the making since 1994. Chun asserted that this “axis of war” entails “the institutionalization of Japan-Korea-US war games, enhanced military intelligence sharing and military defense integration, sophisticated military equipment…as part of Washington’s anti-ballistic missile system targeting China, the use of allied nations as shields reinforcing first strike nuclear swords, the commitment to consult, and the creation of an anti-China economic bloc.”

While promoted by Washington as a “groundbreaking historical summit for peace in North East Asia,” the trilateral partnership, Chun claimed, is instead “expanding the threat of war in Northeast Asia,” including “nuclear war.” This “warmongering alliance,” not only provides “fuel to Japan’s rising militarism” while rolling back the “hard earned diplomatic framework…within the US-South Korea security alliance which even previous conservative and all liberal South Korean administrations have attempted to maintain,” but also ensures that “South Korea will be on the front lines of any US-led war in Asia.” The trilateral partnership poses special risks for South Korea and its citizens because of US wartime operational control of the South Korean military, which has remained in effect since the Korean War. As Chun explained, “the US maintains de facto and de jure control of the South Korean and US Forces in Korea.” Far from “a defensive posture for the benefit of South Korea,” these combined forces form “a US Imperial force and threat projection platform deployed on a de facto US outpost that is South Korea.”

At the same time, the trilateral alliance comes at the cost of “egregious historical revisionism.” Eager to serve as “subcontractor” in US’s new cold war, Yoon has even “nullified the 2018 supreme court decision holding Japanese firms liable for the conscription of forced labor during the occupation of Korea.” Far from having the support of the South Korean public, “80% of South Koreans oppose Yoon’s humiliating capitulation to Washington’s anti-China policies that are leading toward war.” Nonetheless, Chun reminded us that “the US may be dominant, but it is not omnipotent.” It is more important than ever for the peace movement to “oppose US military aggression against China and North Korea,” and work towards “lifting of sanctions on North Korea; stopping the sale of US weapons to South Korea and the withdrawal of US Troops; closure of all US military bases in South Korea; and join with the non-aligned movement and rising multipolar movements led by the Global South.” A peaceful vision of a “liberated, independent, and unified Korea,” argued Chun, is not only “doable” but also the most “sensible path.”

Korea Peace Appeal

Youngmi Cho, from the Korean Women’s Movement for Peace, reiterated that scholars who have long studied the situation on the peninsula have expressed alarm at the “unprecedented danger” of recent tensions. As this year marks the 70th anniversary of the 1953 armistice agreement that marked a ceasefire in the Korean war, the Korea Peace Appeal is campaigning for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War. The lack of a peace treaty, Cho explained, “not only contributes to inflated war spending by both North and South Korea, as both hold onto the cold war mentality,” but also forms the basis for “regular joint US-Korea and US-Korea-Japan war games, which employ both nuclear and conventional assets, and include scenarios for attacks such as the so-called ‘decapitation’ exercises.” In response to this “so-called deterrence strategy,” “North Korea is also including its nuclear program into its legislation,” and has “been conducting the most frequent missile tests including intercontinental ballistic missiles.”

Cho said, “A lasting solution to the conflict in the Korean peninsula, can only come from…a diplomatic solution, that is, the building of mutual trust and removal of the military threat.” Furthermore, we “find ourselves at a time when we need to be using our resources to combat climate change but we are using all our resources for war.” In the midst of “the War in Ukraine, and in Palestine, if we are to prevent such humanitarian crises in East Asia, it is imperative to develop a regional peace framework and lead the fight against climate change in an active struggle for peace.”

No To The US-PRC War

Speaking from Taiwan, Daiwie Fu, a professor at the STS Institute, Yang-Ming Chiao Tung University, introduced the anti-war petition against arms and for peace, climate justice, and autonomy, released this past March. The anti-war petition listed four demands. First, it called for “peace negotiations in Ukraine and the avoidance of conflict escalation.” Second, a “stop to US militarism and economic sanctions. Third, “No to the US-PRC war. Taiwan should preserve its autonomy and maintain equi-distance from the great powers. The beautiful land of Taiwan is not available to be rented as their battlefield. We do not welcome the visits of those high-ranking officials who would push Taiwan towards the precipice of war and necessarily sacrifice Taiwan.” Fu highlighted, “for example the visit of Nancy Pelosi last year.” And fourth, “the national budget should be used to meet social needs and to mitigate climate change, not for arms and war.” While met with “hostility from supporters of the DDP,” the current Taiwanese government, the petition also opened space for “supporting articles” along with “seventy more signatories,” and connecting “with local activists, anti-war groups and some left groups in Taiwan and especially young student groups.” In addition, they were also able to “connect with anti-war groups abroad in the US, Okinawa, Japan, and now in South Korea.”

The situation of Taiwan’s sovereignty is “different from South Korea and Japan” and “has been under controversy for many years. Fu explained, “For example, “a widespread opinion poll showed that most Taiwanese prefer to maintain the status quo.” But even this can be “misleading,” following from the redefinition of the status quo by the current secessionist DDP government since it has been in office, as opposed to the earlier status quo under the KMT, that sought a middle ground that was neither “for immediate unification, nor for independence, and not for war.” However, Fu stated, “DPP is totally for America and totally hostile to China…DPP thinks it already has de facto independence, but their independence claim has no legal status, no sovereignty.” Thus within this political background, “what we mean by middle ground” is “neutrality…and definitely not as part of the US’s First Island Chain,”— the US military strategy to “restrict sea access to China,” and which regards Taiwan as America’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier.” Thus, “when Taiwan does not become a US pawn or a link in the US’s First Island Chain…a neutral Taiwan should not be a troublesome for China but as before a friend,” that is, “as part of the One China policy.” However, at present, Fu stressed, “the anti-war movement in Taiwan is still small and we really need support from abroad, from East Asia, the US and other places around the world!”

Okinawa’s “Double Colonization”

Lastly, Hideki Yoshikawa, Director of Okinawa Environmental Justice Project, spoke about the enduring peace movement in Okinawa, with a focus on the twenty-year struggle to stop the Henoko Base construction project. “Okinawa is only 0.6% of Japan’s land mass, but bears 70% of US military bases in Japan,” Yoshikawa began, as he provided an outline of the nearly century-long history of both Okinawa’s “marginalization and militarization” following its colonization by Japan and the US He recounts, “During WWII, as “Okinawa became a battle site, one in four Okinawans died in the battle, over 200,000 people died, and 94,000 were civilians.” As soon as WWII ended, “the US military took over people’s and communities’ lands and turned them into US bases, which lasted for the next eighty years until today.” In addition, Okinawa became “staging points for the US military” during both the Korean War and the Vietnam War during the Cold War. As “B52 bombers took off from Kadena airbase with bombs that would kill Vietnamese people,” Okinawa became labeled “the ‘devil’s island’ by the Vietnamese.” When in 1972, Okinawa was reverted to Japan from US military occupation, it “did not end the massive presence of US military bases in Okinawa, but the reversion reformalized it under the US Japan Security Status of Forces Treaty,” subjecting Okinawa to “double colonization.”

Within this history of “colonization, past and present” the twenty-year struggle to stop the US military base construction in Henoko-Oura Bay continues today. The base project was proposed in 1996 as a replacement for the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Ginowan City “and rooted in the appalling tragedy,” the brutal abduction and rape of a 12 year-old Okinawan girl by 3 US military servicemen in 1995, which “ignited an anti-base movement in Okinawa.” However, “the Henoko-oura bay has proven to be one of the richest biodiversity marine areas in Japan and the world as habitat for 5300 species including 262 endangered species such as dugongs and blue coral.” Thus “Okinawa’s environmental movement is a peace movement,” maintained Yoshikawa, and it has been fighting to stop the Henoko base construction with the cooperation of “international communities in the fields of environmentalism, human rights, military experts, and international politics.”

Yoshikawa asserted, “Okinawans understand that the facade of pacifist Japan has been maintained by the overwhelming presence of US bases in Okinawa, and the US nuclear umbrella.” This facade has been rapidly thinning, however, behind Kishida’s foreign policy, such as doubling of the military budget, advances toward rearmament, and as Yoshikawa emphasized, the “vicious cycle of fears and threats—the propagation of the ‘Chinese threat,’ the ‘North Korean threat’ and the ‘Taiwan contingency’ following the US—without any genuine efforts for diplomacy.” The Japanese government has already declared Okinawa a “combat zone” in the event of a “Taiwan contingency.” In response, Okinawans have “bolstered the peace movement,” holding “almost weekly peace rallies, and involving people from South Korea, Taiwan and other places. Yoshikawa added, “We are especially happy to see the younger generation taking part.”

Towards International Solidarity

Echoing all of the speakers’ calls to act now and bolster diverse forms of international cooperation and support for anti-war peace movements across Okinawa, South Korea, and Taiwan, the two discussants, Seishi Hinada from ZENKO (National Assembly for Peace and Democracy) in Japan, and Sunghee Choi from the Gangjeong Peace Network on Jeju island, South Korea, reinforced the importance of expanding and strengthening international solidarity networks in the struggle against US militarism in the region with experiences of ongoing organizing activities.

Starting in 2017, ZENKO has conducted national speaking tours. Recently, it held its 13th nationwide tour to “expand awareness of base issues in solidarity with anti-base movements in South Korea.” As “the Japanese government has abandoned the constitutionally bound principle of strictly defensive military policy, openly declaring enemy base attack capabilities, doubling the military budget and strengthening SDF bases while stoking the ‘Taiwan contingency’ plan,” Hinada stated, “the prevention of war is not only an Okinawan issue but a national one.” In addition, the ZENKO Henoko Anti-base Project, together with DSA’s International Committee, has been seeking support from US legislators. ZENKO also collected “3500 street level signatures,” as well as sending representatives to Seoul events” to participate in the Korea Peace Appeal. ZENKO, which was formed in 1970, in the wake of the student movements of the 60s, continues to campaign “to stop shared military bases on the basis of the ‘Taiwan contingency,’ to stop the Henoko base construction, and the close of Futenma base, the reduction of military tensions, armament, and NATO-like militarization, and for the immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and Palestine.”

Sunghee Choi, from the Gangjeong Peace Network, said that “since the completion of the Jeju naval base, Canadian and Australian warships have docked at the base, and four US ships entered the Jeju naval base this year, including 3 US Aegis destroyers and a nuclear submarine. The 4th one arrived yesterday, and until they leave the island, we will be yelling “US military OUT!” Moreover, having been “assigned with strategic implications for Northeast Asia by the US 7th fleet in the case of a “Taiwan contingency,” the Jeju naval base has become weaponized in the US military encirclement of China. In addition, “the Korean government is pushing ahead the construction of an airport in Jeju, which is suspected to become another airbase, including a runway that can land US strategic bombers, as well as provide temporary storage facilities for nuclear weapons.”

Observing that “warships from Jeju currently being sent to Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines,” Choi also pointed to the shared experience between Jeju and Okinawa of Japanese and US militarism and occupation, recalling how, “Jeju immediately came under occupation of the US Army Military Government in Korea in 1945, and upon the Jeju uprising against the division of Korea, became branded as a “red” island leading to the massacre of 30,000 to 80,000 Jeju islanders.” She also recalls how “Jeju in the 1930s was used as ‘a springboard’ for the Japanese invasion of China, just as Okinawa was used as ‘a stepping stone’ in the Vietnam War.”

Among the Gangjeong Peace Network’s international solidarity activities, the “Inter-Island Solidarity for Peace was launched in Jeju in 2014 to build up the anti-imperialist struggle, and the Peace for the Sea team left Jeju to visit Okinawa and Taiwan for 110 days to build peace in Northeast Asia.” Continuing the struggle for the demilitarization of Jeju, Choi asserted “international solidarity makes this struggle for peace possible” and “true peace is only possible with the closure of military bases around the world, not just in one place. Our peace movement must become stronger.”

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