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A Challenge to Build a Community of Peace for All in Asia

Antonio Tujan, Jr.1

The 21st century is touted to be an Asian century. Asia is considered to be the center of growth and development with the highest rate of economic growth in the world. This is not only East Asia, but also including Southeast and South Asia. Many countries in Asia, not just China, lead in terms of industrial growth, technological development, growth in investment, and in other economic sectors.

In contrast, the majority of the world’s poor can also be found not only among poor countries in Asia, but also because countries with dramatic growth in Asia are also home to millions of the world’s poorest. The contrast and disparity of wealth is quite dramatic in Asia.

It is no wonder that many countries in Asia are battered by social and political unrest, instability and violence. On another plane, Asia is also the locus of the “war on terrorism” launched by the US since the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and other US targets four years ago. The so-called “Axis of Evil” declared by US President Bush cuts a swath across Asia from Iraq in the Southwest to North Korea to the northeast.

Indeed, building a community of peace for all is an urgent, preeminent concern for Asians, and a difficult challenge considering the problems presented by globalization and war that Asians in the different countries face in various ways.

Globalization and Unpeace

The process and phenomenon of globalization is very much associated with Asia where several centers of globalization can be found since the start of this process in the 1960s. The so-called tigers like HongKong and Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea are epitomes of globalization being free ports or the prominent role production subcontracting and export trade had in their industrial development.

Globalization is not about prosperity for all from economic growth and technology. Rather it is a process of economic integration that is driven not by technology but by the global crisis of capitalism and the need to find ways to sustain super profit. Technology became an instrument for new means of production subcontracting, services outsourcing, financial speculation and expanding profit through trade and various forms of investment.

Several centers in Asia were pioneers of globalization since the 1960s. Transnational corporations from industrialized countries in Europe and North America, among others, took advantage of trade and investment liberalization and deregulation to reap super profits from cheap labor, cheap natural resources, and the opportunity for financial speculation in Asia. The workers bear the brunt of this cost cutting as a result of fierce competition in the light of economic crisis due to overproduction. Production subcontracting has not brought economic improvement in the lives of millions of workers across Asia who are forced to work for measly wages, without job security under various labor flexibilization schemes, without benefits or union rights. Moreover, trade liberalization has also meant the flood of cheap industrial products from monopoly TNCs (transnational corporations) resulting in bankruptcies and job losses for uncompetitive countries in Asia and elsewhere. As a result, unemployment has escalated in such countries as the Philippines, Indonesia and others. Consequently, TNCs become more and more monopolized, national enterprises and small and medium enterprises are pushed to bankruptcy and workers bear the brunt of this monopoly control whether in terms of loss of job security and wages, as producers or protection and welfare as consumers.

Trade liberalization has resulted in the flood of cheap subsidized food and agricultural products from commercial plantations in industrial countries, resulting in the bankruptcy of subsistence peasant agriculture and fisheries, and even of traditional commercial crops produced by small backward farms across Asia. Subsequently, transnational corporations take over these farms through crop conversion, lease and other schemes pushing peasant families out of their farms and communities and leaving traditional agricultural workers jobless.

Traditional and marginalized sectors that make up the majority of developing countries in Asia and elsewhere are the worst affected by imperialist globalization. Indigenous communities are displaced economically as their livelihood and ancestral domain are taken over by development schemes, infrastructure projects and natural resource extraction industries by transnational corporations. Displacement has resulted in an increase of migration and proliferation of enclaves of poor settlers in urban and coastal areas, as well as in affluent cities and countries. Women and children are the first to bear the brunt of economic and physical displacement resulting in intense misery for poor families and leading to trafficking of people especially sexual trafficking of women and children.

These effects of globalization are what make Asia a continent not so much of diversity but of sharp contrasts where small enclaves of prosperity lie in the midst of widespread poverty and underdevelopment. These sharp contrasts between high growth enclaves and backward countries and, within countries, between those few classes and socio-economic groups that have benefited in some limited way from globalization, and the vast majority that suffer from the adverse effects, are what Asia has inherited from decades of history under globalization.

Most countries in Asia did not implement globalization willingly. Freeport economies of Hongkong and Singapore provided the cue as the touted tigers of globalization, but still countries would not willingly dismantle mechanisms for national economic development, or mechanisms for the protection and support of marginalized sectors. The policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization demanded by TNCs as a precondition to increase investment and trade were forcibly implemented through structural adjustment programs by the international financial institutions.

The pressure to implement these destructive neoliberal policies have intensified especially through the World Trade Organization and the myriad of regional, bilateral and plurilateral economic partnership agreements that have sprouted in support of the WTO agenda for accelerated deregulation, privatization and liberalization of trade, investment and finance.

Neocolonialism and global domination

This is neocolonialism plain and simple. Countries are not subjected to direct rule and military occupation, but are nevertheless subject to economic and political domination through a combination of mechanisms including international, regional and plurilateral with global imperialist powers like the triad, US, EU and Japan. This process of neocolonialism started with the end of World War II and continued even during the Cold War. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Bloc this process has exploded through the political economic process called neo-liberal globalization, riding on free market triumphalism and driven principally by the political and military domination of the US as the sole global superpower.

For several decades, opposition by anti-imperialist countries led by the likes of Libya, Cuba, Iraq, Iran and North Korea have been silenced through the politics of international isolation, pressure and attack in the name of “anti-terrorism”. This has increasingly intensified as many countries are accused as ‘rogue states’ and part of a so-called ‘Axis of evil’ of supposedly terrorist-coddling governments. On the guise of fighting terrorism, drug cartels and the like, countries and their governments are subjected to economic blockades up to outright invasion.

Militarization and pacification reached its height with 9/11 and the US-led war on terrorism. In the guise of weeding out accused terrorist organizations, countries like Afghanistan and Iraq have been invaded and now occupied by US and allied military forces.

US economic survival, which depends on its continued domination of a globalized world economy depends in turn on its political-military domination as the sole superpower acting as the world’s globocop. The US political military domination and militarization of the world is essential not only on the long term but also in the short term in ensuring global stability. Through expansion of trade and investment, the effects of the recessionary crisis in the industrialized countries are passed on to the poor countries and their poorer populations. This results in balance of payments deficits and worsening debt, which translate to extreme social unrest and destabilization. As a result, poorer countries have become increasingly restive and combative in multilateral bodies such as the WTO and UN.

Militarization and war have recently shown their historically essential role in securing immediate economic benefits – such as control over oil and gas reserves in Asia and strategic political positioning and control over an increasingly important Asia.

Terrorism does not grow out of poverty and underdevelopment. Neither is it the result of dehumanization from violent occupation or misery borne out of war. Rather, it has emerged as a conspiratorial movement divorced from the people, a proto-fascist movement that no longer distinguishes the people from its enemies in its singular desire to create terror and exact revenge. However, terrorism also serves the purpose of imperialism as an excuse to demonize people’s resistance and legitimate liberation movements.

Similarly, it is a fascist ideology that drives the US-led war on terror, feeding the racism and xenophobia that support its right-wing militarist agenda. It similarly promotes a culture of hate, distrust, and intolerance resulting in the global demonization of Muslims and Arabs as terrorists, and the targeting of migrants and other minorities as their supporters. This can easily cultivate fascist consciousness of supremacy by the dominant race or nation.

A challenge for peace

Peace can never be realized under imperialist globalization. Peace can never be achieved through pacification.

Globalization creates the fundamental problem of injustice as the livelihood and rights of the majority are destroyed resulting in intensifying displacement, impoverishment and misery. This provides the foundation for a situation of unpeace among Asian people, resulting in widespread social, economic and political unrest and destabilization.

Authoritarianism and police rule creates a veneer of calm as a result of pacification, but cannot be interchanged with genuine peace. Many affluent Asian countries remain under the clutches of dictatorship and authoritarianism, where dissent is criminalized and human rights are absent. In many other countries militarization and counter-terrorism in the name of counter-terror is the government response to social and political unrest.

The only way that peace can be realized is through justice, by changing the fundamental relations between people in their communities and societies. This is achieved through a combination of efforts, including the building of people power to initiate genuine social, economic and political reform in society and the establishment of building blocks of a new society through transformation of individuals and communities of peace.

These propositions may seem simplistic and far from reality, but they are in fact being implemented and realized by people in many countries in Asia. Just as Asia remains a continent challenged by poverty and violence, Asia is also a continent rich in experience and efforts of people’s movements in building new societies that respond to the needs and aspirations of its people for a prosperous and peaceful future.

Social movements have an important role in bringing this about. These include Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and faith-related organizations which are crucial in changing the people’s hearts and minds, in building transformed communities, in challenging the distorted values promoted by globalization and war, and providing fonts of survival and life amidst misery, violence and death promoted by imperialism. We need a culture of peace based on tolerance, love for neighbor, community and diversity.


1 Antonio Tujan, Jr. is President of IBON Foundation in the Philippines. He presented this keynote address at the People’s Forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand.


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