Statement of the International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS) Commission 13 on the occasion of the 31st ASEAN Summit and 12th East Asia Summit
Behind its lavish $300-million trappings of mutual benefit and parity, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia Summits to be held this year in Manila, Philippines are nothing but a staging ground for fierce imperialist rivalries in the region jockeying for economic and geopolitical control.
The meetings, in particular, highlight the growing competition between rising imperialist China and the superpower United States. ASEAN is host to vital trade routes such as the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea, lanes which the US wants to secure from Chinese encroachment to ensure the continuous flow of its goods, supplies, raw materials and particularly oil, natural gas, and other fossil fuels, all estimated to constitute one-third of global shipping.
The South China Sea itself is a resource conflict arena where claimant countries are competing in territorial and maritime disputes to secure natural resources in its waters. ExxonMobil, an oil and gas giant whose former executives now work in US President Donald Trump’s administration, has oil and gas exploration stakes together with Russian fossil fuel corporation Gazprom.
ASEAN member states are themselves sources of raw materials, strategic satellites along trade routes, and markets for surplus products of advanced capitalist countries. As such, the US, China, and other imperialist countries are working to establish lopsided Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) to secure lucrative extractive and trade deals their overproduction.
Both countries have diverged in their tactics but remain the same in their imperialist designs. Trump has abandoned multilateral FTAs previously through the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement in favor of bilateral agreements with individual countries to ensure that the US gets the upper hand.
China’s Xi Jinping continues to promote an even more expansive FTA through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, as well as an assortment of financial tools such as its One Belt One Road Initiative and its capitalizations for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as against the US-dominated World Bank and Japanese-dominated Asian Development Bank.
To complete the neoliberal ‘carrot and stick’, full-scale militarism is employed as the main tool of imperialism to control the region. The US engages in “freedom of navigation” operations and holds muscle-flexing military exercises with the Philippines in areas adjacent to the South China Sea. US president Donald Trump has even made threats to put the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the hell of invasion and nuclear war. Meanwhile, Beijing continues to reclaim reefs in the South China Sea to establish military bases in the strategic area, now covering almost 2,000 hectares of marine expanses.
If the economic power grabs of US, China, and other imperialist interests in the Asia-Pacific region continue to play out, the dangers of unbridled war and plunder, and the catastrophic collapse of our environment and climate that will ensue from it, will affect millions of lives of the poor and dispossessed across the region.
Pollution and Plunder
Year by year, the concentration of excess greenhouse gas from man-made sources, such as carbon dioxide, is increasing. Recent measurements made by scientists on the ground and using orbiting satellites have shown that the concentration of carbon dioxide has passed beyond 400 parts per million (ppm). The last time that global carbon dioxide concentration was this high was over 3 million years ago. The rate of increase of carbon dioxide concentrations have also sped up, from 0.7 ppm per year to 2.1 ppm per year since 2005. At current rates, carbon dioxide concentration will hit 500 ppm by as early as the year 2050.
Sea-level rise is set to affect coastal cities and communities such as Manila, Bangkok, and Jakarta, and lead to flooding in those areas. Forest fires from drought and expansion of palm oil plantations will become the norm in Indonesia, affecting neighboring Malaysia, Singapore, and even Thailand and Cambodia with the thick smog from the fires which will also add to more GHG’s.
Warmer oceans means more energy to power typhoons, which is bad news for ASEAN countries in the typhoon belt, especially the Philippines. Ocean acidification, a twin sister of ocean warming and global warming, will impact coral reefs and carbonate organisms, impacting the livelihood of coastal dwellers in the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia.
Despite the global effects of increased GHG emissions, only a small minority of rich and powerful countries and corporations are responsible for releasing the most amounts of GHG’s while the poor and most vulnerable countries such as those lying in the Asia-Pacific and ASEAN region bear the brunt of the effects of climate crisis.
According to the Carbon Majors Report 2017, just 100 companies worldwide are responsible for around 71% of accumulated global GHG emissions since 1988. Among them was US oil giant Exxon Mobil, where the current US Secretary of State and climate change skeptic Rex Tillerson was the erstwhile Chief Executive Officer (CEO). In the same report was listed Chinese state-owned enterprises in coal which accounted for the highest emissions since 1988.
FTAs will pave the way for the further plunder of natural resources and destruction of the environment. Palm oil plantations are being expanded in Indonesia, in Malaysia, in Thailand, and in the Philippines to meet the increasing demand by foreign multinational companies in the food and cosmetics industry, as well as increasing demand for biodiesel fuel, supposedly a more environmentally-friendly fuel.
Malaysia and Indonesia together account for 80% of global palm oil production, with the Philippines trying to expand its share of the palm oil export market by clearing up forests in Palawan and in Mindanao. Thousands of hectares of forests in the palm oil-producing countries are being cleared or are set to be cleared to pave the way for the expansion of palm oil plantations. Other monoculture cash crops intended for cleared forests are coffee, rubber, and exotic tree species such as acacia.
Aside from the purpose of expanding plantations, the forests are also being targeted for precious hardwood timber, such as teak in Myanmar and in the Philippines. Deforestation threatens wildlife living in the targeted forests, such as the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros of Indonesia, saola of Vietnam, and the Philippine Mouse deer of Palawan, contributing to biodiversity loss. The Philippines has already lost 93% of its forest cover, most of which occurred during the American colonial regime and the neocolonial governments that followed it. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that Indonesia will lose 98% of its forest cover by 2022 at the rates of deforestation it had in 2007. The clearing of forests which serve as carbon dioxide sinks and the associated forest fires that come from plantation clearing would also aggravate the problem of climate change and global warming.
The specter of mining plunder is also expected to worsen. ASEAN members host among the most enviable mineral resources in the world: sapphires in Laos and Vietnam, nickel in the Philippines and Indonesia, bauxite in Malaysia, tin in Thailand, and jade and asbestos in Myanmar. Mining companies from China, Australia, Canada, Japan, and the US are salivating over the prospects of profits from these mineral resources, while industrial companies in these countries are eager to get their hands on these cheap minerals to be processed into materials with higher value.
Megadam projects in the ASEAN are also set to set fire a construction boom that will adversely affect the people and the environment. The Mekong River traversing Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia has witnessed the construction of dams along its upstream parts, such as the Xayaburi Dam in Laos.
The fisheries livelihood of downstream dwellers were affected as fish migrations and the flow of fish food sources from upstream were blocked and downstream flood cycles disrupted by the dams. The megadams will also reduce the flow of nutrients downstream and threaten the food security of the entire region as bulk of rice production in ASEAN occurs at the Mekong River delta downstream. The Jalaur megadam in Iloilo threatens to inundate communities living adjacent the proposed dam embankment.
Country governments that will attempt to regulate these big businesses will be hostage to Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms inscribed in FTAs. Corporations can file multi-billion lawsuits against countries while governments cannot slap charges back at businesses.
Militarism and War
Competing economic interests between imperialist countries drive increasing militarization within the ASEAN and Asia-Pacific region. US combat exercises, nuclear tests, and establishment of bases left toxic wastes and pollutants in their wake. Concentrations of heavy metals such as mercury and lead along Subic Bay were found to be higher than safety standards. The heavy metals could have come from batteries, weapons, and heavy equipment that the US troops used and deployed for their training. Sewage and bilge water from US military facilities have been also casually dumped into the bay, as what the recent case of the MT Glenn Guardian showed.
Globally recognized protected areas are not safe from militarization. The South Korean Supreme Court upheld the legality of the construction of a joint US-South Korea Naval Base in the Jeju Island in South Korea, threatening the safety of soft corals and marine denizens living in the area which has been designated as a Biosphere Conservation Area by the UNESCO.
Meanwhile, US warship USS Guardian ran aground the Tubbataha Reef Protected Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The US only paid the Philippines a paltry sum of $1.97 million for the damages to the reef. Donald Trump’s son even had the gall to complain over the costs that his government incurred in salvaging the ship, saying that retrieving the ship intact was more important than the protecting the reef.
Radioactive fallout deposits from the atmospheric nuclear bomb tests of the US during the late 1940s up to the early 1970s still pose a hazard to Pacific Islanders up to the present with the radioactive materials’ half-lives being very slow, needing several more decades to decay before the radiation levels become safe for humans again.
China has also began reclaiming the reefs it occupies in the South China Sea to assert its control over the vital sea lanes that cross the area. Its reclamation activities have led to the degradation of almost 2,000 hectares of coral reefs and consequently, the death and disturbance of marine life living and dependent upon the reefs for food and habitat. It has encouraged poaching of marine wildlife as part of its assertion of sole sovereignty over wide swaths of the South China Sea.
As Trump continues saber rattling against North Korea’s assertion of sovereignty instead of negotiating a diplomatic solution, the threat of nuclear war hitting home looms wherever US military forces are present, including its many bases across Asia and the Pacific.
Solidarity and Resistance
The peoples of ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific are facing the challenge to strengthen the people’s unity, determination, and resistance against imperialist plunder and intervention in the region and across the entire world. We will need bigger and broader solidarity among the people of the world in standing up against US imperialism and the various emerging elite powers in this increasingly multipolar world.
As we remain vigilant and militant in opposing big business plunder from various imperialist nation, we must also be steadfast in standing up against what remains to be the biggest war machine in the world–US imperialism. We must intensify our protests and various other forms of action to stop imperialist plunder and war.
Trump is not welcome in Asia. He shall be met by massive protests by the people. The ASEAN and East Asia Summits happening now in the Philippines will become a battlefield of the people’s anti-imperialist resistance as we clamor to #BanTrump and the plunder and war he promotes from our homeland.
US IMPERIALIST, No. 1 POLLUTER!
US-TRUMP, NO. 1 CLIMATE DENIER AND CRIMINAL!
STOP THE PLUNDER IN SOUTHEAST ASIA!