Editor’s note: This is the second of three articles on the views of speakers who will participate in the Moana Nui 2011 conference during APEC. Read an article by the coordinator of the alternative conference.

Read the other articles in the series: Moana Nui Speakers Say APEC is ‘Colonization Today in Real Time’ and Moana Nui Speaker Says Hawaii Should Take Its Cue From New Zealand .


Ask Christine Ahn, executive director of the Korea Policy Institute, and she’ll tell you: APEC is bad for workers, bad for economies, bad for the environment. If that wasn’t enough, Ahn says APEC supports a military structure which increases tension and the likelihood of confrontation, causing instability and insecurity in the Asia-Pacific region.

Referring to a 2008 report on global trends by the office of the Director of National Intelligence and National Intelligence Council, Ahn notes the U.S. government’s own recognition that increasing global resource scarcity will continue to fuel conflicts. It’s ironic, Ahn says, that the government doesn’t recognize that by promoting what she calls “the destabilizing, deregulating and destructive economic policies from institutions like APEC and the WTO (World Trade Organization),” that it is actually causing greater scarcity.

According to Ahn, the Korea-U.S. FTA recently approved by Congress and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) FTA, which is currently being negotiated by the U.S. and eight other APEC economies, are prime examples of APEC agendas that support corporations at the expense of workers, indigenous people, the environment and local economies.

Ahn urges people to examine the history of free trade agreements like NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the recently approved Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. She points to South Korean farmers as examples of people who have been “squeezed out of their livelihoods” by WTO [policies].

APEC meetings, attended by 21 heads of state representing some of the world’s largest economies and top corporate heads, are exclusionary and unrepresentative of the true interests of the people of the Asia-Pacific region, Ahn says.

“I was listening to Hillary Clinton’s speech [recently] and there was this whole thing about women and the economy. I was mesmerized by what she was saying because she calls the 21st century the age of participation where everybody, irrespective of gender, age and ability can participate. There’s something very enticing about that but at the same time I thought, ‘who is present at these [APEC] meetings? How come members of civil society are not really present? What about workers at the factories that produce profits for all these multi-national corporations that move their industry and capital all around the region? How come those laborers are not present?”

Free Trade for Who?

Contrary to what many are calling a “once in a lifetime opportunity” and an “economic boon” for Hawaii, Ahn challenges people to examine APEC more closely and ask themselves how ordinary people are faring today under APEC.

Ahn, an expert in Korea policy matters, will be speaking on November 10 at an international forum in Honolulu called Moana Nui that challenges the APEC agenda on many fronts: the environment, indigenous rights, local economies, resource depletion and the military.

She says Moana Nui offers the opportunity for the parallel anti-globalization and demilitarization movements to converge, exchange ideas and experiences, and sharpen their analysis and reaction to APEC.

“If we can bridge these two movements, we’ll have a much sharper analysis of how capitalism and militarism depend and feed upon one another,” Ahn says.

She and other academics and activists argue that heavily militarized places like Okinawa, Guam, the Korean Peninsula and Hawaii, all in the APEC sphere, represent a system of governance and control that comes at the expense of the people in those places, without providing real human security.

Whose Security?

“I think this is where we have to ask, ‘whose security?’ We are allowing security to be defined by retired generals and the military. We don’t ask people in the communities in Hawaii who are suffering from Superfund toxic sites caused by the Pacific Fleet,” Ahn says.

“We don’t hear from communities in Guam still suffering from bases for decades and we obviously have not been hearing from South Korean communities living around U.S. military bases whether it’s contamination from Agent Orange or sexual violence.”

Much of Ahn’s work at the Korea Policy Institute today focuses on the struggle against a planned naval base on South Korea’s Jeju island where she sees strong parallels with Hawaii, Okinawa, and Guam.

Jeju is small volcanic island at the southern tip of the Korean peninsula and home to nine UNESCO World Heritage sites. It has a rich natural and cultural history, unrivaled biodiversity and botanical endemism, yet it has been chosen as the future home of a 120-acre naval base (land and sea area).

The Korean government’s official line is that the base is for the Korean navy to protect sea lanes and defend against the possibility of a North Korean missile attack, but Ahn says she and others have been told point blank by Korean officials that the base is being built under strong pressure by the United States.

Despite overwhelming local opposition, the base is planned to port Korean and American war ships with Aegis Missile Defense technology, the same missiles tested at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on Kauai. The Aegis system can link Aegis home ports in Hawaii, Okinawa, Guam and Australia and eventually Jeju.

By speaking at Moana Nui during APEC, Ahn hopes to raise awareness and inspire people to carefully reconsider the impact of APEC, free trade agreements and the ongoing presence of U.S. military bases throughout the region.

“At a time when we are facing not just economic, but ecological crises, Hawaiians and the people of Hawaii, just as the people of Okinawa, and Guam and Jeju value and treasure their own paradise.”

Ahn asks, “Are these assets going to be preserved for future generations or are they just going to be destroyed?”


DISCUSSION: *What do you think about Ahn’s views of APEC? Share your thoughts about APEC below. And don’t miss our APEC survival guide.

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