Tuesday, February 25, 2014

TPP: Who Benefits? By Erick San Juan

 TPP: Who Benefits? By Erick San Juan

After the meeting of Trans-Pacific Partnership Ministers in Singapore in December 2013, the parties have not advanced significantly in working out the agreement on TPP. The US delegation doesn’t seem or intend to make concessions while many countries participating in negotiations like Malaysia and Vietnam are going to be firm in their positions on a set of fundamental issues most of which have rather socio-political than economic meaning.

The parties concerned have not managed to break a deadlock on several disputed issues. Among these are : 1) the US has not agreed to open sugar and milk markets to their partners and it actually undermines the idea of comprehensiveness of TPP. 2) A number of problems associated with getting access to goods markets remain unresolved. For example, if Malaysia provides zero export duty on palm oil, as it is demanded by the US, it will result in its national budget loss around $600 million. And the US refuses to discuss a possibility of any exceptions. 3) There are no rules agreed for producing goods. 4) There are no regulations agreed for state-owned companies. 5) Negotiations on drug patents and drug pricing are hardly progressing. 6) Controversial issue was proposed by the US scheme of settlement of investment disputes which gives a company the right to claim government’s compensation for its loss profit caused by the government agencies action. 7) A number of problems are connected to Japan’s accession to TPP. There is still no bilateral cars and other manufactured products trade treaty signed between the US and Japan. And even the US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg is not impressed with the Philippines entry to TPP.

US Congress is dissatisfied with the fact that only a few negotiators and registered corporate lobbyists have direct access to the text of the agreement to be worked out while US representatives can only get second-hand information regarding the issue. This has forced 150 members from the US Congress to declare their refusal to ensure the White House Trade Promotion Authority. And if the Authority is ensured, the White House in turn will have its own obligation to the majority of Democrats and part of the Republicans.

These conditions will narrow the opportunity for the Obama Administration’s domestic political maneuver. But not ensuring the authority will give rise to necessity of detailed discussion in the US Congress of each of the 29 chapters of the agreement. This could postpone the ratification of the treaty indefinitely.

In such situation, one can’t exclude some ASEAN countries and Japan will continue to stubbornly defend their national interests. Some of them like Malaysia are considering the option of output from the negotiations on TPP in 2014. The US aspires to end the talks before summer because of the Congressional elections that will be held in November. That is why in the near future, the US will intensify its efforts to achieve its goals by all means. And one shouldn’t expect any exceptions for ASEAN countries.

In such conditions, the countries that have doubts about whether to accede to TPP treaty or not should postpone making a final decision until the post-election period in the US to look closely into the advantages and disadvantages of future agreements.

Remember when the US government announced its ‘pivot to Asia’, the major element in this strategy is the TPP. A good copy for the big brother’s intrusion in the lives of sovereign states in the region. The mere fact that history of alliances and coalition among nations all boils down to economics under the umbrella of security through military partnership, the strategy for military modernization of small nations is actually under the auspices of economic survival, not for the small nations but for the big nation’s military-industrial-complex and similar corporations.

The bottomline is, who will benefit in such partnership like the TPP when right from the start secrecy is the name of the game. It is good that when 'wikileaks' exposed the true picture that shrouds the TPP, nations took a second look of the said agreement. It is only through transparency and honest to goodness partnership can nations be willing to bring their whole citizenry into such undertaking. As for us Filipinos, the talk over changing the constitution in its economic provisions and the law on the use of the internet are all heading towards the possible integration of the country in this economic farce that will shortchange us in the process.

Monday, February 17, 2014

CSD: Peaceful Asia? By Erick San Juan

 CSD: Peaceful Asia? By Erick San Juan

For Peter Lee in his article ‘Japan hawks ruffle dovish feathers’ - for some key stakeholders, there's more money in tensions than in peace. That's certainly the case for the defense industry and the national security apparatus, regardless of what civilian providers of goods and services might think. For people and organizations that work for the war side of the street, "Peaceful Asia" is boring and unprofitable.

Sounds familiar in the world of those sustaining their military industrial complexes or simply wanted to divert from other issues confronting domestic problems. I am referring to China and the United States but it seems Japan has its own agenda for creating a war scenario too.

Beijing’s two-front military confrontations in the offing both in East China Sea with Japan and in the South China Sea with the Philippines (and other claimants) has recently created tensions. And with the forthcoming visit of US President Barack Obama in the region particularly in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines, stirred up another round of speculations.

Although several pundits believe that in the end it is possible that the conflict will spark between China and Japan that might lead to another global war, dragging with them regional partners in the process.

Remember that basically the issues on the territorial disputes has something to do with historical rights of the countries involved. As much as each nation wanted peaceful resolution on the problem, tensions from provocation,  propaganda and counter-propaganda had made it more difficult to achieve such peace in the region.

From establishing an air defense zone to visit to ‘forbidden’ shrine, and a lot of rhetoric and saber rattling, this continuous provocations might lead to mutually assured destruction if not handled with cooler heads. One such recent act by Japan is something to watch out especially by China.

As the Diet kicked off an ordinary session on Friday (January 24), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in his policy speech that he will tackle the issue of the exercise of the right to collective self-defense on the basis of a report to be issued by a panel of experts, which is a private advisory body for him. For the first time in his current tenure, he mentioned the issue in a Diet speech. Although he did not use a direct expression, his intention is clear: to change the government’s long-standing constitutional interpretation. Under the war-renouncing Article 9 of their Constitution, Japan cannot exercise the right to collective self-defense.

If the Abe government achieves its goal, it will pave the way for Japan to engage in military operations abroad with other countries, especially the United States. Such a change would completely alter postwar Japan’s basic posture of “defense-only defense,” which is designed to ensure it will not repeat the mistake of walking the path to war as it did in the last century — with tragic results for both the region and Japan. The “defense-only defense” posture helped Japan regain the international community’s trust in the postwar period.
Japan’s embracing of the right to collective self-defense would cause friction with neighboring countries and perceived to destabilize the regional security environment. It is deplorable that Abe is trying to discard this stance, which has allowed the nation to prosper, on the strength of a report of a private advisory body. The Diet should stop Abe’s effort, which is tantamount to revising the Constitution without following the standard procedure for doing so. (Source japantimes.co.jp editorial - Abe’s dangerous path, 1/27/2014)

For a long time, the United States has been keen to enable certain joint US/Japanese operations under the current pacifist constitution, with the Japanese side moving beyond its traditional "only defend Japan" restrictions to provide benign, non-aggressive services such as minesweeping, reconnaissance and ballistic missile defense, especially for new regional security missions only tangentially related to the defense of Japan. Scenarios for increased Japanese participation in joint activities, while still within the bounds of the current constitution, have been painstakingly parsed by American and Japanese  strategists.

Collective Self Defense would add another facet to this kind of operation. A joint flotilla could be sailing around outside Japanese waters, protecting sea lanes and what not, with the Japanese vessels sweeping mines, launching helicopters and surveillance planes, etc, in full pacifist constitution mode. Then, if things get ugly - for instance, if a US vessel and equipment of an unnamed Asian power get into a scrape - then it's showtime! And the Japanese ships are free to blast away to protect the US ship, protect themselves, launch pre-emptive strikes - the list of kinetic operations possible under the label of collective self-defense is probably quite extensive.

With this sort of scenario in mind, perhaps US planners might believe that "collective self defense" kills two birds with one stone. First, it will allow Japanese forces to be more easily and effectively integrated into new US regional missions beyond genuinely defensive ones. Second, it will keep Japanese forces in a "defensive" posture, so the United States and countries around the region don't have to worry about the Japanese military going off on independent military adventures.

In other words, the "collective self defense" will give the US the best of both worlds: Japan pulls its military weight in the alliance, but Japan's military ambitions remain under the thumb of the pacifist constitution. (US blind to barbs in Japan defense plan by Peter Lee, 2/13/14)

But not for long, for Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “using the right to collective self-defense can be tolerated by reinterpreting the Constitution without amending it.”

The scenario-building that the abovementioned developments in Abe’s military policy will not create the needed peaceful resolution to disputes but actually setting the stage for the next war. And the drummer beating the war drums is obviously will not back off.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

VFA Sellout by Erick San Juan

VFA Sellout by Erick San Juan

It was only in January 25,2014 when the Philippine government and representatives from the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agreed on the last chapter of peace talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The conclusion of the talks pave the way for the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that will allow the rebel group to set up an autonomous government to run parts of the poor, but resource-rich southern island of Mindanao -- in exchange for decommissioning their weapons. The said signing is the final and most challenging Annex on Normalization -- the fourth part of a peace roadmap that was set out in October 2012. (Source: Reuters)

Only a little over one week that the said pact was signed that another controversial issue was raised by the progressive block in the House of Representatives through Representative Carlos Zarate of the Bayan Muna. He based his allegations from the paper “In Assertion of Sovereignty: The Peace Process” authored by Cesar Pobre and Raymond Jose Quilop, a political science professor from the University of the Philippines who has been providing policy directions to the AFP over the last two decades through the Office of Strategic and Special Studies (OSS), a unit under the military based at Camp Aguinaldo.

According to the OSS, General Santos City in South Cotabato is being considered as the future site for a US base. Why is this so? Because  -  “One thought is about an American-led plot to lend a debt of gratitude by helping Mindanao become independent and get repaid in terms of grant of US rights to set up bases there.”

The book went on further that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has also a hand on this through USIP(United States Institute for Peace). It stated that the OSS book said Washington was considered a “major stakeholder” in the peace process and had actually used organizations that were believed to be fronting for the Central Intelligence Agency. One of these agencies is the US Institute for Peace (USIP) through the Philippine Facilitation Project.

The OSS, citing several sources, said the USIP’s “true objective is to infiltrate the MILF.”

“The US through the USIP guided the crafting of the [defunct] MOA-AD [memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain] to serve its tactical and strategic objectives in the country as well as in the Southeast Asian region,” it noted.

The allegations were denied by then US Ambassador Kristie Kenney who pointed out that the USIP acted on its own in preparing a study paper on the peace process that did not reflect Washington’s position, but “she did not mention, however, that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was among the ex-officio members of the institute.”  The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported  last February 3,2014 that Cong. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna condemned and called for an investigation of the alleged participation of US troops in the military operations against BIFF(Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) in Maguindanao. US forces were seen providing medical assistance to wounded soldiers and two journalists who were hurt in a bomb attack. But Zarate said that the VFA(Visiting Forces Agreement) does not cover participation in any form of activities inside a military camp during an ongoing massive operation. He even cited the US involvement in the Vietnam War which started from providing "humanitarian" assistance, which he said was a clear euphemism for low-intensity conflict and intervention. Cong. Zarate concluded that the assistance in disguise strengthen the 'maneuvers' of the US government for a more permanent presence in the country.

We have written a lot about this move by Washington through Pentagon of actually having the bases already set up in the south (Mindanao) since Uncle Sam launched its global war on terror (GWOT) in 2001 after the September 11 terror attack. This was carried out successfully by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in joining the coalition of the willing in the war on terror. Remember that Mrs. Arroyo was given the title as the Asia coordinator in the said perceived bogus war by former US President George Bush Jr.

Whether we like it or not, our country will always be under the spell of the big brother’s whim through the collaborators in the government that will drag us all into a war not of our liking. Now that the said agreement on the Bangsamoro Political Entity is in its final stretch, the perception of allowing a US base in the said ‘new territory’ is not farfetched especially in theses exciting times where the Philippines is believed as the possible epicenter of the next global war. Unless the present administration together with the people in PNoy's loop will have the balls to say no to its master and be treated fairly as its ally and in the process be given what is due us.

John Mangun of the Business Mirror, an American stock market expert and a very pro-Filipino American journalist cited the State of the Union address last January of US President Barack Obama mentioning the Philippines, telling Americans and us that the US would always be ready to help a friend which made the Filipinos glow with honor. But Mangun doubts the sincerity of Obama. He concluded that the truth is, "those foreigners are not your friends and they actually do not like the Philippines."

 It's very clear that the US has their interests to protect but what about us? Can President Obama and the US Congress give us the same privilege they gave to Japan, like an immediate response and retaliation in case of an attack? Just asking!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Japan-China Psy-ops by Erick San Juan

 Japan-China Psy-ops by Erick San Juan
Political pundits believe that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe under the guise of making Japan ‘a normal state’ is systematically turning to the policy of re-militarization of the country and spreading nationalistic values especially among the youth of Japan’s society in the process. Along with the changes in their constitution towards gradual moving away from the postwar principles, attempting to forget some shameful pages in world history, Japan’s leader pays much attention to the restoration of the positions of the original Japanese confession – Shintoism. But ideas of Shintoism based on the myth of the divine origin of the Emperor and the Japanese nation have largely contributed to the growth of nationalism and militarism in prewar Japan and in great part has actually caused the beginning of the Second World War.
PM Shinzo Abe and many members of his administration are closely related to shintoists. Abe is one of the leaders of the biggest parliament association “Shinto” which comprises 240 MPs of both chambers of the country’s Parliament including 16 of the 19-member ministerial cabinet. For 84 years, Abe is the first Japanese leader to visit the main Shinto ceremony in Ise Grand Shrine which serves as the Emperor’s family sanctuary and to show the unanimity of religion and state power.
PM Abe is known, as always been in touch with the administration of all-Japan Shinto association combing more than 80,000 shrines.
In April, 2013 a pilgrimage of almost 170 Japanese lawmakers and cabinet ministers including my friend, Finance Minister Taro Aso (also former Prime Minister) visited the Yasukuni Shrine, honoring Japan's war dead, including 14 World War II leaders convicted of atrocities. Such visit has sparked protests from neighboring countries especially from China and South Korea. Although for the former PM Taro Aso, there is nothing new about this that could create a negative effect on foreign relations among neighboring countries.
But this is not the way China and South Korea view such homage to a shrine of which is a clear reminder of militaristic Japan especially the recent visit of PM Shinzo Abe to Yasukuni Shrine last December 2013 that has created another wave of protests from its Asian neighbors particularly China. Why is this so?
Here is what Wikipedia has to say - 'The government of the People's Republic of China has been the most vocal critic of the shrine and some Japanese observers have suggested that the issue of Yasukuni Shrine is just as heavily tied to China's internal politics as it is to the historical conduct of Japan's military and the perceived degree of its remorse for its actions. They state that tolerance on the part of Communist Party of China authorities for large-scale public protests in mainland China against the shrine contrasts strongly with the authority exercised against any kind of domestic political dissent.'
One controversy of political visits to the shrine is the constitutionality of visits by the Prime Minister. In the Japanese Constitution, the separation of state and religion is explicit. Because the clause was written for the express purpose of preventing the return of State Shintoism, many question the constitutionality of the Prime Minister visiting Yasukuni Shrine. Often the first question Japanese Prime Ministers are asked by journalists after a visit is, "Are you here as a private person or as Prime Minister?" In addition, whether the Prime Minister has signed the visitors' book indicating the position of signatory as shijin (private person) or shushō (Prime Minister) is diligently reported. All Prime Ministers have so far stated that their visit was private. However, although some leave the signature section blank or sign it as shijin, others sign it as shushō.
Prime Minister Koizumi recently gave a somewhat cryptic answer, stating that he visited the shrine as Junichiro Koizumi, the Prime Minister of Japan. Some consider such statement as a move towards making visits somewhat official; others consider that it is pointing out that the whole issue of shijin vs shushō is somewhat meaningless. Some journals and news reports, such as one made by Kyodo News Agency on August 15, 2006, question whether in the case of Koizumi's visits, which are consistently claimed by Koizumi to be private, can be considered individual in nature when they are part of a campaign pledge, which in nature is political. Currently, most of the Japanese public and most jurists have agreed that there have been no constitutional violations yet.
The latest homage of PM Abe to Yasukuni shrine has added more fuel to the already fiery tense relations with Beijing and even from its close ally, the US through its new ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy who also stated disappointment with Abe’s government.
Mr. Abe has shown, however, that he is willing to take on big political risks to steer the country away from its postwar pacifism. He ignored blistering criticism from political opponents as well as the news media and steamrollered through Parliament a law that would tighten government control over state secrets. The law was presented by the government as a mechanism to aid in the sharing of military intelligence with allies, and create an American-style National Security Council.
Mr. Abe has also increased military spending for the first time in a decade, and loosened self-imposed restrictions on exporting weapons. A new defense plan calls for the acquisition of drones and amphibious assault vehicles to prepare for the prospect of a prolonged rivalry with China.
Experts say that this year, Mr. Abe could start taking concrete steps to reinterpret, and ultimately revise, Japan’s 1947 pacifist Constitution, something he has described as a life goal. Proposed changes could allow the country to officially maintain a standing army for the first time since the war, and take on a larger global security role.
“The past year has given Mr. Abe confidence to start flying his own colors,” said Koji Murata, president of Doshisha University in Kyoto. “He is signaling to his supporters that he is a politician who will fight for his convictions.” (Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times)
This also explains why a Japanese news report claimed that China has drafted another air defense identification zone (ADIZ) this time over the South China Sea including of course the contested areas. And Beijing is quick in making its pronouncement through the official Xinhua news agency that the Chinese government shrugged off a Japanese news article about its plan to replicate an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) it set up on the East China Sea in the more contentious South China Sea accusing Japan of heightening regional tensions with “rumors.”
Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said right-wing forces in Japan had repeatedly made such allegations with the intention of shifting international attention from the “plot” to change Japan’s pacifist constitution.
“We sternly warned these forces not to mislead public opinions with rumors and play up tensions for their own selfish benefit,” he said in a press release Saturday quoted by Xinhua.
If this saber rattling and word wars will continue between China and Japan, a regional conflict is not farfetched and it is quite obvious that with the alliances already in place, such conflict might lead to another world war.