Occupy APEC with Aloha

Christine Ahn wrote an brilliant article in FPIF on the Moana Nui conference and peoples’ resistance to the APEC neoliberal – militarization agenda.   I quote liberally from the article below.  You should read the full article here.

“The time has come for us to voice our rage,” the Hawaiian artist Makana sang as he gently strummed his slack-key guitar. “Against the ones who’ve trapped us in a cage, to steal from us the value of our wage.”

Makana wasn’t serenading the Occupy movement; rather his audience included over a dozen of the world’s most powerful leaders, including President Obama and China’s Premier Hu Jintao, at the world’s most secure, policed, and fortified event: the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) dinner in Hawaii.


Makana, however, wasn’t the only one voicing his outrage during the APEC summit. As government and corporate leaders from 21 Asia-Pacific economies plotted how to expand a global free trade agenda, civil society activists from throughout the Asia Pacific gathered across town at the Moana Nui (the Great Pacific Ocean) conference to discuss pressing issues facing people and the planet, such as climate change, income inequality, and militarization of the region.

Organized by Pua Mohala I Ka Po and the International Forum on Globalization (IFG), scholars, activists, policy analysts, lawyers, labor union leaders, practitioners, and artists traveled from Guam, Marshall Islands, Palau, Tonga, Fiji, Micronesia, New Zealand, Australia, Rapa Nui, Samoa, Japan, Siberia, Okinawa, Philippines, South Korea, Vanuatu, and the United States.


What’s significant is what preceded and then followed Obama’s China bashing. Ahead of the summit, both State Secretary Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta outlined the United States’ expanded role in the Asia-Pacific. In “America’s Pacific Century,” an article in Foreign Affairs, Secretary Clinton writes that the United States will “substantially increase investment—diplomatic, economic, strategic and otherwise—in the Asia-Pacific region.” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also echoed Clinton on his last trip to Asia, where he promised greater U.S. military presence throughout the Asia-Pacific—that is, more than the 300-plus U.S. bases that have already been there for over half a century.

After APEC, President Obama visited Australia to announce the arrival of 250 U.S. marines to northern Australia next year, with the eventual buildup to reach 2,500. “The goal, though administration officials are loath to say it publicly,” writes Mark Landler of the New York Times, “is to assemble a coalition to counterbalance China’s growing power.” Although Washington is posing China as a military threat, the reality is that in 2010, the United States spent $720 billion on its military, compared with China’s $116 billion, and it’s the United States that has over 300 military bases in the Asia-Pacific, whereas China has none.

Moana Nui: The Alternative to APEC

Moana Nui brought together several social movements—the indigenous and native communities fighting for sovereignty with activists working to stop corporate globalization and militarism. It was significant to be gathering in Hawai’i, a once-sovereign nation whose Queen Lili’uokalani was overthrown by American gunboat “diplomacy” in 1893. Moana Nui opened with a daylong conversation among indigenous and native communities from throughout the Pacific. This was an important reminder of the United States’ long history of stealing indigenous peoples’ lands, without treaties, without democratic process. Moana Nui participants also reframed the Pacific in aquatic terms as the “liquid continent” instead of the continental approach used by hegemonic powers.

Their voices were soon joined by those who have been organizing and resisting against the onslaught of trade liberalization and militarization, the new and more subtle face of colonialism. Moana Nui participants shared how transnational corporations, empowered by free trade and structural adjustment policies, have destroyed local economies, cultural properties, natural resources, and ultimately the sovereignty and self-sufficiency of communities. Jane Kelsey, Professor of Law at the University of Auckland, warned that the TPP will further impact domestic policy and regulation and “give more ammunition to corporations to challenge governments,” by granting foreign investors stronger intellectual property rights and further facilitating corporate global supply chains.

The corporate-led free trade agenda, however, needs the military to secure its profits. Kyle Kajihiro of Hawaii Peace and Justice reminded the audience of Thomas Friedman’s classic quote, “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist—McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.” The military has gone hand-in-hand with free trade by forcing open new markets for investment and new natural resources for exploitation (let’s not forget Iraq). Although it may allow for the safe and secure transport of vital natural resources such as oil and natural gas, the military is there to project force, a lethal force that could intervene militarily if U.S. interests were compromised.

[…]What was clear during Moana Nui was that the peoples of the Asia-Pacific refuse to fall victim to the growing arms race between the United States and China. Echoing a proverb widely known in the Pacific, Gerson warned, “When the elephants are battling or making love, it’s the ants that get squashed.” Activists from Guam and Okinawa shared how the decades-long presence of U.S. military bases had destroyed their livelihoods, culture, and sovereignty, but also how their organizing has led to victories, such as delaying the transfer of 8,000 U.S. marines from Okinawa to Guam, and mass protests that brought nearly 100,000 Okinawans to the streets to protest the transfer of U.S. bases within Okinawa.


The final sessions of Moana Nui carried a clear message: the only way to address these challenges to sovereignty is to fundamentally roll back the conditions and laws imposed by FTAs, the WTO, and structural adjustment. As Walden Bello put it, “We need to de-globalize economies instead of being subordinated to free trade and global markets if we want to achieve food security, human livelihoods and ecological sustainability.”


The final declaration that emerged out of Moana Nui united the struggles of those who traveled across the great Pacific Ocean. “We invoke our rights to free, prior and informed consent. We choose cooperative trans-Pacific dialogue, action, advocacy, and solidarity between and amongst the peoples of the Pacific, rooted in traditional cultural practices and wisdom.”

The declaration also included a Native Hawaiian prophesy which echoes the principles of the Occupy movement: E iho ana o luna, E pi’i ana o lalo, E hui ana na moku, E ku ana ka paia. “That which is above shall be brought down, that which is below shall rise up, the islands shall unite, the walls of our foundation shall stand.” E mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono. “Forever we will uphold the life and sovereignty of the land in righteousness.”

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