On Obama’s visit to East Asia

Prof. Jose Maria Sison
International League of Peoples' Struggle
April 22, 2014

The International League of Peoples’ Struggle views the upcoming visits of United States President Barack Obama to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines from April 23 to 29 as part of the US imperialist objective of further entrenching its hegemony and imposing its neo-liberal agenda while undermining the sovereignty and coveting the patrimony of countries in the region, in line with its avowed “strategic pivot” to Asia.

The US “pivot to Asia” is a multi-pronged offensive that includes the further deployment or “rebalancing” of US military forces and military bases into the region, the drive to forge a long-sought Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), and the consolidation and expansion of its strategic alliances with selected countries in the region. These objectives are part of the long-term efforts of US imperialism to advance its economic, political and military interests and reassert its preeminent power in the region.



The renewed US focus on Asia, highlighted since late 2011 by a series of policy statements and positions in various summits and country visits by top US officials and considered a cornerstone of current US foreign policy, will be further pushed by Obama in his upcoming four-country visit. He is expected to advance or finalize a number of multilateral agreements when he visits Japan from April 23 to 24, South Korea from Apr 25 to 26, Malaysia from April 26 to 28, and the Philippines from April 28 to 29.

Obama’s Asian swing has particular urgency especially in light of China’s steady rise as a major regional capitalist power while the US has had its hands full elsewhere. He had cancelled scheduled trips to Asia twice already, once in 2010 and more recently in October 2013 due to the US fiscal crisis. The US imperialist chieftain is determined this time to erase any doubt about the seriousness of the US pivot to Asia despite its growing problems on the domestic front and its worsening troubles on a global scale, especially in the Middle East and the Eurasian belt.

US military ‘rebalancing’

The ILPS reiterates the urgency of exposing and opposing the strategic scheme and maneuvers of US imperialism to strengthen its military bases, escalate its military intervention, and consolidate its geopolitical alliances in East Asia under the flag of “re-balance” or “pivot” to Asia.

The US is currently building new military bases in Japan, South Korea and Guam, pushing to deploy an increasing number of troops as well as preposition war materiel in Australia and the Philippines, and plans to move 60% of its warships to Asia by 2020.

To this end, the US is aggressively seeking or renewing basing opportunities, access agreements, mutual defense pacts, and bilateral and multilateral military exercises in the region. It is pushing its treaty allies such as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia to host an increasing number of US troops as well as naval and air force assets on a so-called “rotational” but effectively permanent basis.

Faced with its own fiscal crisis aggravated by huge military expenditures due to its self-appointed role as global cop, the US now wants host countries not only to provide land for new bases and access to existing bases, but also to impose on them the burden of paying for base construction and maintenance, accommodation of troops, environmental degradation, and other social costs. These other costs that typically come with foreign bases and foreign troops include worsened prostitution of women and children, drug trafficking, other vices in the name of troop “rest and recreation,” abandoned Amerasian children, and violent crimes including rape and murder.

The strategic military, political, and economic objectives of the US pivot to Asia are stated in Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, a Department of Defense strategic guidance document. The US seeks to dominate strategic sea lanes and control the sources and flow of strategic resources such as oil in this vast global region. At the same time, it wants to use this tremendous clout to force countries to accede to neoliberal economic dictates, and to impose a virtual embargo on countries that may resist such dictates and assert their own national interests.

On the TPPA

The US is desperate to finalize as soon as possible a multilateral consensus with 11 other countries on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), if only to mitigate its own imperialist economic and financial crisis. As designed and dominated by the US, this comprehensive trade agreement would encompass 40 percent of the world’s GDP and would include countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Chile, Canada, Mexico and Peru. Notably, the TPP talks have excluded China for now although Obama’s national security advisor Susan Rice recently said the US will “welcome any nation” to join the pact.

While the trade pact’s details have largely been kept secret from the public, a recent draft revealed by Wikileaks has triggered controversies even among some Western policymakers and US allies, who question clauses that favor US monopoly control and undermine governmental processes. The TPPA’s main provisions are expected to require member-countries to remove any remaining barriers to investments, to strictly enforce intellectual property laws that would raise pharmaceutical costs and stifle digital innovation and freedom of expression, and to allow private corporations to sue states before an international tribunal. In effect, countries joining the TPPA will have to surrender big chunks of their national sovereignty to the trade pact’s imperialist masterminds.

US-China relations as key issue

China has become the single biggest factor in the US imperialist agenda in East Asia. Despite its own internal problems, China is fast rising as a regional power, with a growing capacity to project its power in the rest of Asia and beyond. While the US eyes China as a potential long-term rival, the two capitalist powers remain in an uneasy partnership, comprising trade and investment ties, on top of some USD 1.28 trillion in US debt to China. The collusion and contention of the US and China operates not just in East Asia but throughout the world. The BRICS, in which China is a stalwart, provides a counterpoint to the US in certain respects, but it also promotes the US-instigated neoliberal policy in many other respects.

Obama’s forthcoming trip to Asia does not include a visit to China. However, a basic premise of the US agenda is to further contain China’s ambitions as a regional power, pressure it to keep within the present limits of the US-China partnership, and more strictly hew to the neoliberal framework. The US imperialists are further pushing China to further dismantle its state enterprises so that Western multinationals can more freely exploit its vast market and cheap labor.

The US is wary of China’s inclusion of the South China Sea as among its “core interests”; its fast-rising military capability to project its own “String of Pearls” maritime strategy in the Asia-Pacific and South Asia-Indian Ocean; its use of “soft power” and various diplomatic initiatives in its expansion of trade, investment and aid in and outside the region; and its growing alliance with Russia at the core of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). These moves, directly or indirectly, pose a counterpoint to the US strategic pivot to Asia.

Despite China’s territorial disputes with neighboring countries over islands islets, reefs and rocks in the East China Sea and South China Sea, it maintains a good leverage including strong bilateral ties with Cambodia, Laos, and Sri Lanka; a standing offer of “joint exploitation of the South China Sea for mutual benefit” directed at the Philippines and Vietnam; and the potential for a China-ASEAN FTA and a China-South Korea-Japan FTA as its counter-balance against the US-led TPPA.

The US exploits territorial disputes involving China and its neighbors such as Japan, South Korea, and some ASEAN countries. It pretends to help these countries against China as a pretext in expanding US military forces and operating military bases in these countries. But the US interest is not in supporting territorial claims in the South China Sea, but in gaining control of the sea lanes. The US would not risk open war with China in the near future as the US has far greater economic interests there compared to countries like the Philippines or Vietnam.

Russia, Japan, and China also view the vast territories covering the East China Sea and South China Sea as strategic in terms of natural resources, shipping, and military access. For now, all the big powers collude and compete for a bigger share of the Asia-Pacific pie without resort to war, although they beat their war drums to signal a readiness to escalate conflict whenever it fits their strategic plans.

Specific agenda in the four country visits

On April 23, Obama is scheduled to attend the Japan-US summit to affirm the two countries’ military and economic alliance. Even as it has been in the economic and political doldrums in recent decades, Japan hosts a wide range of US military bases, serves as its second largest trade and investment partner, and has long been the main US ally in the post-war Asia-Pacific. The Obama visit intends to enhance the US-Japan military and economic alliance.

A few days before Obama lands, on April 20, a new US military installation will be inaugurated in Ukawa district, Kyotango City, Kyoto. An X-band radar facility will be installed as an essential part of the US Missile Defense network in East Asia, in connivance with the Japanese government.

Despite the transfer of a big US Marine contingent to Guam and the unresolved relocation of the sprawling Futenma Marine Corps Air Station from a heavily populated part of Okinawa to Nago City, the US continues to enjoy strategic basing rights in Japan. Some 49,000 US troops are deployed in Japan-hosted bases, through which the US is able to project its imperialist power in East Asia, encircle China, and threaten the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).

The TPPA is also on the agenda of the Japan-US summit. The US wants Japan to join the trade pact as a crucial member, but it must convince Japanese big business that the TPPA has more advantages for them compared to a more localized trade pact such as a China-Korea-Japan FTA. The US also wants Japan to settle its disputes with South Korea.

In Seoul, Obama is expected to meet with South Korean President Park Geun Hye, affirm the US military alliance with South Korea, and review the continuing US-led program of economic, political, and military pressure against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). Despite calls from both sides to move towards peaceful reunification, the US has refused to defuse tensions by continuing to maintain a heavy military presence of 30,000 troops in the peninsula (including nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction), instigate repeated armed provocations along the so-called demilitarized zone and through offshore naval exercises, and seek to isolate North Korea by focusing on the DPRK’s nuclear program and imposing sanctions.

Despite strong opposition from the Korean people, the US is preparing to use a military base being constructed by the Korean government in Jeju Island near its border with China.

Next, Obama will visit Malaysia as the first US president to do so in the past half-century, to make another pitch for the TPPA. Past Malaysian governments, with strong Islamic influence especially during the premiership of Mahathir Mohammad, had been critical of US foreign policy, opposed US wars in the Middle East, and supported the setting up of a Palestinian state. Obama intends to sweeten US-Malaysia bilateral ties by offering economic advantages to the Najib Razak government in exchange for keeping to a moderate and pro-US Islamic position.

Obama’s last stop will be the Philippines, a former US colony that hosted a major US Air Force base in Clark and a major US Navy station in Subic, and a long-time postwar ally under successive pro-US regimes. He is expected to meet with President Benigno Aquino III and sign a de facto basing pact disguised as an “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement” (EDCA).

The Filipino people had successfully driven away these US bases in 1991, but pro-US regimes continued to allow US ships, troops, armaments, drones, and electronic espionage facilities on the excuse of “non-permanent” presence as covered by the US-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Nevertheless, the EDCA that may be signed during the Obama-Aquino meeting would further expand the questionable premises of the VFA. This would allow the US practically unhindered access to Philippine facilities in order to station its troops and equipment, to even set up its own exclusive military facilities within Philippine bases or virtual “bases within bases,” and for its troops to operate in any part of the country in the guise of joint military exercises or humanitarian missions. Like the US-RP VFA, the US-PH EDCA would be in brazen violation of the country’s 1987 constitution that bans foreign troops and weapons of mass destruction on Philippine soil.

The US imperialists and their local puppets have been hyping the Philippine-China maritime dispute over the exclusive economic zone and extended continental shelf of the Philippines under the UNCLOS, and terrorist scares as well in the southern islands bordering Malaysia and Indonesia, in order to justify the urgent signing of the EDCA and the entry of more US armed forces. Alarmingly, they are pushing the Philippine government to construct or renovate more bases, such as in Oyster Bay near the disputed Spratly islands, supposedly to counterbalance the Chinese presence in the area. They also rode on supertyphoon Haiyan’s disastrous impact by calling on the US Seventh Fleet to play the high-profile role of “savior”, suggesting it can do more humanitarian good if only it is allowed unhampered operations within the country.

Obama is also expected to quietly urge Manila to remove any remaining constitutional restrictions to foreign investments, including land ownership, and thus pave the way for the Philippines’ joining the TPPA.

Call for broader struggle vs US imperialism in East Asia

In the face of the current global crisis, the US wants to rush its military rebalancing act in the Asia-Pacific even as it is harried by major troubles in other global regions and in its own backyard. But the people in all countries of East Asia will not allow this imperialist scheme to ride roughshod over their national sovereignty. The International League of Peoples' Struggle and a broad range of patriotic and progressive forces in the region are calling to oust US bases and troops from their shores, and to resist the intensified imperialist plunder of the region’s human and natural resources through the TPPA.

The ILPS calls on all the oppressed peoples in the region, as elsewhere in the world, to resist the US imperialist agenda and to fight for national and social liberation in all possible realms of struggle. We support the East Asian peoples’ broad opposition to the US bases, military buildup, and aggressive actions in their respective countries and throughout the region as a whole. We support their equally broad opposition to the neoliberal economic agenda in all its despicable aspects, including the US-dictated TPPA. We support their aspirations and demands for peace, genuine development, and social justice.

We reiterate our full support for the Japanese people’s protest actions against the new US base in Kyoto, and stand in solidarity with the AWC-Kyoto, the Kyoto Coalition, and the Kinki Coalition that are in the forefront of the anti-bases protest. We likewise express our support for the Okinawa people in opposing the plan to relocate the Futenma US base to Nago City, and hope that their struggle leads to the full ousting of all US bases from the Okinawa islands.

We again express our solidarity with the Korean people on both halves of the Korean peninsula in their long-aspired-for peaceful reunification, against the heavy US military presence in the south and US-instigated provocations against the north, and against the planned construction of a US naval base in Jeju.

We call on the Malaysian people to resist the sugarcoated pills being offered by the US through the Obama visit, with the intent of pulling their country deeper into the neoliberal trap of the TPPA. We are confident that anti-US imperialist groups in Malaysia will join hands and launch common protest actions to confront Obama and local pro-US reactionaries.

We salute the Filipino people in their century-old struggle against US imperialism. We commend Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) and other ILPS member-organizations in the Philippines for exposing and opposing the so-called US-PH Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, for their planned week-long protest in time for the Obama visit, and for linking up with other anti-bases and anti-imperialist organizations in the United States, Japan, South Korea, China, and elsewhere.

We extend our solidarity to the people of the United States, who are as victimized by US imperialism as the rest of the world. We welcome the increasing ranks and growing militancy of anti-war, anti-globalization, and anti-imperialist organizations in the US, especially in opposing domestic repression, military adventures overseas, and increased spending for war while the American people suffer the burden of the crisis.

All over the world, as in East Asia, countries and peoples are resisting US imperialism’s desperate efforts to extend its talons and dig its claws deeper as it continues on a path of long-term decline. The ILPS is one with them in the struggle until victory.

No to US bases, and imperialist wars and intervention!

US troops, out of East Asia!

Resist neoliberal economic dictates! Fight the TPPA!

Down with US imperialism and its domestic puppets in East Asia!

Long live the people of East Asia! Long live international solidarity!