Calling APEC “a game changer for Hawaii,” (11/19/2011) Honolulu City Council member Stanley Chang gushed that “This was Hawaii’s biggest media event since Pearl Harbor.” And to him, “good press” included headlines like “Leaders’ close call with grass skirts and coconut bras.” Or APEC agent Christopher Deedy fatally shooting local Kollin Elderts in a 3 AM altercation in a Waikīkī McDonalds.
Seriously? You can’t make this stuff up. Calling “Pearl Harbor” a “media event” trivializes the tragedy and horror of World War II.. But if APEC, and militarization in Hawai’i are only about the money, which is how these events are seen by many government and private sector leaders, then why not link APEC to Pearl Harbor? After all, “Pearl Harbor” is a myth that sells.
However, digging deeper into the comparison between Pearl Harbor and APEC, more profound similarities emerge. Both represent the policies of powerful countries vying for dominance in the world system. During WWII, the U.S. and western powers prevented Japan, a rising power from effectively and peacefully integrating into the world economic system. The rules of the game were also set by the ruling powers to reward countries that behaved in an imperialist manner, and Japan, ever the diligent student, was happy to oblige. The Pacific War was the collision of American and Japanese imperialisms vying for dominance in the Pacific.
APEC was the backdrop for President Obama to announce his new ‘pivot’ to the Asia-Pacific region. He pushed hard for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), which would create a U.S. dominated economic bloc without China. Obama then announced that he was increasing the U.S. military troops and activities in Australia. These more aggressive moves signal a shift to a more containment-oriented strategy towards China. These moves will increase tensions with China, a rising power that the U.S. wants to contain.
In the prelude to World War II, Japan sought to ensure its economic growth by creating a Japanese-dominated economic bloc called the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. Today, the U.S. wants to ensure its economic recovery by creating a U.S.-dominated Asian economic bloc through the Trans Pacific Partnership. As Michel Foucault observed, inverting the Clausewitzian maxim, policy and economics has become a form of war by other means. But will it turn into guns and bombs? In the Pacific, we know what the consequences would be of such a turn. Quoting Philippines anti-bases scholar/activist Herbert Docena, Joseph Gerson noted at the Moana Nui Conference, “When elephants battle or make love, it is the ants who are crushed.”