Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Asia - Against Terrorism but Ambivalent Towards Bombing
ICHIMURA Shinichi / Director of the International Center for the Study of East Asian Development

November 20, 2001
The Shanghai political declaration announced by leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum was curious in content. All the leaders - including China's President Jiang Zemin - agreed to take a resolute stand in combating terrorism under the leadership of U.S. President George Bush, and expressed their support towards providing economic aid and applying pressure on the financial front as the means for achieving that end. Then again, nowhere did the declaration say they approved of military action. The New York Times reported that U.S. government officials were nevertheless "thrilled." That is understandable, since the U.S. side probably hadn't expected to gain support even at that level, considering that many Asian countries within APEC have sizable Islamic populations.

Almost all of Indonesia's 200 million nationals and the Malays who comprise as much as 60% of Malaysia's 22 million population are for the most part Muslim. In Mindanao in the southern region of the Philippines, radical Muslim groups are even at this moment engaged in repeated terrorist attacks. China too, has minority Muslim populations such as the Mongols and the Uighurs, and has especially been troubled by disturbances caused by the Uighur, Kyrgyz and Kazak peoples in its northwestern region. And as for North Korea, the country has been unable to brush off suspicions of itself being a terrorist nation. It would only have been natural for the U.S. government to be pessimistic about any possibility that APEC leaders would agree so easily on fighting terrorism.

Moreover, parties that govern Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines all have weak political foundations. Maintaining power would become difficult once they lose the support of part of their Muslim constituencies or if domestic security deteriorates. For example, while the political party of Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri is the largest, it holds only a third of the seats in parliament. At the moment, the stability of her government is ensured by the support of the second-largest Golkar Party - the former leading party under the Suharto regime, 38 members of the military and the PPP, the biggest Muslim party led by Vice President Hamza Haz. But as was the case under her predecessor President Abdurrahman Wahid, once Muslim discontent spreads and the PPP allies with Wahid's Muslim party PKB, both the Golkar Party and the military establishment are expected to quickly withdraw their support. Furthermore, the government's battle against radical separatists calling for the restoration of the Acheh Kingdom is underway, and there are advocates for the independence of Irian Jaya to contend with.

The Philippine government has yet to suppress the Muslim guerrillas in Mindanao. In Malaysia, while the government has long ago succeed in deterring communist guerrillas, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is still at pains dealing with his opposition. China meanwhile has been unable to extinguish the serious kindlings of insurrection among the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities, which is similar to Russia's situation in Central Asia. Governments in these countries therefore share a common dilemma, where they would lose credibility should they appear faint-hearted in the campaign against terrorism, but could lose power altogether should the general public begin to show sympathy and support for the terrorist cause.

Furthermore, the masses in these less developed countries are caught up in a swirl of emotion -envy towards people living in affluent countries, namely the United States, and exasperation concerning the desperate plight of those unfortunate people who are being bombed. There is also an undercurrent of accumulated discontent towards an America that continues to support Israel in the face of United Nations resolutions regarding the conflict in Palestine, and an America that concentrates most of its foreign aid to Israel and Egypt and not to helping the poor. This is why their Muslim blood churns as scenes of tragedy involving innocent people are televised repeatedly, even though they know it is part of an anti-terrorist campaign.

Why then did these Asian countries - setting aside countries such as Japan, Korea and Thailand where not many Muslims live - offer their support to the battle against terrorism? The reasons may be as follows: (1) Less developed countries will be unable to pursue their course of modernization if they tolerate terrorist activity; (2) Terrorism can cause serious direct damage to tourism and exports; (3) Their heavy dependence on the U.S. economy and U.S.-led international finance; (4) Government finances have been strained following the financial crisis, giving them no choice but to fall into line with the United States and Japan.

As has been demonstrated in the Gulf War, U.S. military power is important in resolving domestic and overseas conflicts, and it is difficult not to support the United States in its war of defense.

However, let me make a point here. APEC, as its name suggests, originated as a forum for economic cooperation, not for political discussion. It was U.S. President Bill Clinton who steered APEC in the wrong direction by holding his first meeting with Chinese leaders at the Seattle meeting following the Tienammen Square incident in 1993. Then in 1999 U.S. and Chinese leaders discussed the East Timor issue at the New Zealand meeting. And marking the third occasion, leaders of the two countries held their first meeting in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York.

I consider this the "politicization" of APEC and believe it is undesirable. There is an overwhelming number of extremely important international economic issues in the world today that require solutions, and the resolution of these issues would in turn be effective in resolving the political problems. I would also add that, one step at a time - from the Osaka Declaration to the Bogor Declaration - we have been setting course in the right direction towards global economic development. As a matter of fact, the main part of the Shanghai declaration calls for forcefully promoting liberalization of trade tariffs in line with the Bogor Declaration, and has reconfirmed the need for regional cooperation. For example, it expresses powerful support for the Chenmai Initiative engineered under Japanese leadership - an alternative proposal to the Asian Monetary Fund that was discarded due to opposition from the United States and China. APEC should not stray from such a path of economic cooperation.

The writer is Director of the International Center for the Study of East Asian Development. He contributed this comment to the Sankei Shimbun.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

市村 眞一 / 国際東アジア研究センター所長

2001年 11月 20日








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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Asia - Against Terrorism but Ambivalent Towards Bombing