National Security and Press Freedoms in Australia

July 19th, 2019 by Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Australian society relishes secrecy and surveillance.  Forget the laid-back, relaxed demeanour that remains the great fiction of a confected identity; like all such creations, the trace should not be mistaken as the tendency.  The political culture of Australia remains shaped by penal paranoia and an indifference to transparency.  The citizen is not to be trusted; rather, the subject is to be policed and regulated into apathetic submission. 

The statute books of the federal parliament are larded with provisions of secrecy that make doing credible journalism in the country nigh impossible.  Journalists are left to their own devices, inventive as these might be, assisted by the odd prized leak. 

The Australian Federal Police raids executed last month on the home of a News Corp journalist and the Sydney headquarters of the ABC had, for the clandestine community operating in the capitals of Australia, a surprise.  A usually divided fraternity came together in one voice, attempting to challenge the warrants and seek reform on matters related to press freedoms. 

Media organisations would like to see parliament perform its functions, namely in the field of passing legislation that would enhance Freedom of Information provisions, arm press outlets with the means to contest warrants aimed at journalists, furnish whistleblowers with credible protections, and tilt the balance away from the national security grand inquisitor that seems to prevail in Canberra. 

Understanding Canberra and the public service, however, is to understand a form of studied stasis, an effort to stymy change.  Ideas tend to go there to find cold storage if not expire altogether.   The way to keep them in cold storage and throw away the key is to set up an inquiry, with all the baubles and tinsels of cheap accountability.   

This is the preferred approach of the Morrison government, knowing that such an inquiry will be guaranteed to kill off any reform drive.  (Four months should do it: the inquiry is due to report on October 17.)  In his letter to the opposition leader Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister Scott Morrison informed is counterpart that,

“The Government is committed to ensuring our democracy strikes the right balance between a free press and keeping Australians safe – two fundamental tenets of our democracy.”   

Knowing the hostility this government, and its predecessors, have had to the only press freedom that matters – exposing abuses of state and corporate power – the limitations have already been inked. 

One way of ensuring a smidgen of reform, if at all, is to use the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), a body of approved politicians who can be trusted to do the right thing by secrecy and security.  Independents are excluded; contrarians are barred. Morrison claims the PJCIS is “well placed to conduct this inquiry given its responsibility for, and experience in, handling issues concerning national security information and legislation”.  Whatever qualifications the sitting members will have, their most valued pre-requisite is the capacity for premature adjudication of the problem, adjusted to satisfy the security apologists.   

Andrew Wilkie, the independent MP more qualified than most to sit on the committee, makes the point starkly. 

“The Labor and Liberal-dominated PJCIS is part of the problem because it’s signed off on every unnecessary security reform in recent history.”

To permit the committee the means and latitude to decide that balance on press freedom and security would be the equivalent of granting full powers of determination to a taxidermist over your favourite pet.  Denis Muller sees this as foxes guarding henhouses or poachers overseeing game-keeping.   

The PJCIS has been one of the most important entities behind approving the shabby Australian national security state, a clumsy creation that does nothing to improve security let alone preserve freedoms.  Its members are terrified by technology and the Internet, and see any effort to restrain their reach as necessary to protect Australians.   

Wilkie reminds us of the dubious resume of the PJCIS.

“Who could forget the controversial data retention bill of 2015 and just last year the encryption bill?  In both cases the PJCIS recommended some tweaks around the edges, but… recommended the bills be passed, despite the serious concerns about both.” 

While the European Union makes strides against such inefficient and dangerous policies as data retention, Australian governments embrace them with a relish for anachronism. 

The inquiry hopes to assess, in part,

“Whether and in what circumstances there could be contested hearings in relation to warrants authorising investigative action in relation to journalists and media organisations; (and) the appropriateness of thresholds of law enforcement for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access electronic data on devices used by … media organisations.” 

A full agenda for reform is guaranteed to be avoided.

Labor, in turn, is trying to shore up its poor parliamentary performance of late in attempting to set up a second, separate inquiry free of the clutches of the PJCIS.  That inquiry makes explicit reference to the “public’s right to know and press freedom”. Senator Kristina Keneally, shadow minister for home affairs, notes a prevailing “culture of secrecy and perverting the public’s right to know that has been making its way through this government for too long.”  In unwittingly casting such stones in the glass house, she ignores the record of previous Labor governments with similar leanings towards the national security state. 

The parliamentary committee has its defenders in the Canberra set, relieved that the matter will be contained.  Jacinta Carroll, as director of national security policy at the National Security College at ANU, can be relied upon to sing the appropriate, pro-secrecy tune. 

“The PJCIS is the appropriate body to undertake this review, as it’s made up of elected representatives of the people in Australia, and it’s also an established and expert body in the matter at hand.”

Any praise for such committees should be met with scepticism, and her willingness to accept the supposedly useful function it performs suggests capitulation rather than engagement.  

Carroll’s they-know-best tone is schoolmarmish and characterises the befuddlement of the security hacks.  She accepts, in tokenistic fashion, that, “A functioning and vibrant democracy is characterised by engaged civil society and informed debate.”  As Australian democracy is not vibrant, and lacks oxygen for a civil society struggling to fend off the regulators and spooks, her observation has little bearing on reality.   

Given all that, she still insists, as the inquiry takes place, that all “maintain the focus on being informed about the complexities, nuances and competing interests at play, and not be lured into an oversimplified debate.”  Read: let bought parliamentarians seduced by national security briefs and their promoters dictate the balance.  The parents know best.


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Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  He is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research. Email: [email protected]

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Let’s assume that the Australian Medical Board and AHPRA are acting in good faith with their public consultation process on the future of complementary medicine, found here. Unfortunately, even in such a best-case-scenario, the process seems to stem from a series of misunderstandings about the patient body, chronic illness, and the services integrative therapists provide.

Chronic illness can be a hard nut to crack, draining years of energy and finances and taking a toll on personal relationships. The image of the chronic illness journey presented to the public by the mainstream media and AHPRA is that it is prolonged by a sub-culture of irresponsible “quacks” prescribing baseless, complex and absurd treatments and procedures, before the patient finally comes to their senses and finds their way to a conventional practitioner for a ten dollar packet of pharmaceutical pills.

I ask you, how likely is this scenario, really?

People always take the cheap, easy way first and indeed I can report that the medical rubric is the other way around: patients seek integrative and complementary practitioners because they have exhausted the regular system and are still not well. In the case of chronic illness, such as CIRS (mould exposure) or PANS or tick-borne infection, anywhere between 2 and 30 doctors before making the switch has been known. Sometimes, the difference between the two systems that makes changing worthwhile is not even the chemical solution (which can be identical, since integrative doctors use pharmaceuticals too) but the attitude: what can really be solved in a ten minute GP appointment, if someone has been sick for five years? In this time slot, the patient themselves is forced to more or less “sell” their own symptoms and Googled self-diagnosis, and a bad sell will land them with a pack of anti-depressants — nothing more.

What AHPRA does not consider is that patients who have chronic, new and emerging conditions, and conditions with environmental factors, are falling through the cracks of conventional medicine and are being picked up in complementary healthcare, which is uniquely equipped to get to the bottom of lifestyle factors. They assume perfection on the part of the conventional system, when none exists. One only need look at statistics regarding mainstream medicine as a cause of death, or some of the other recent articles being published about the state of our healthcare to see that for the good of our society and well-being, we need to release ourselves from a medicine which is clearly, to those who can see past the undeserved hero-god archetype, an uncompassionate multi-billion dollar drug business structured around individual symptom suppression. We must move intelligently and creatively towards holistically treating the individual. Anti-depressants cause suicidal thoughts, statins drain life-giving enzymes, antibiotics destroy the microbiome, estrogen has been linked to breast cancer and painkillers cause life-shattering addictions. Why pretend that there couldn’t possibly be a better way?

If one is considering herbalism or plant medicine specifically — of any tradition — one again detects intellectual dishonesty in the proposal. Most of these compounds have been studied, some more widely so than pharmaceuticals, but there is generalisation and a lack of nuance in the language when it comes to the definition of “complementary”. It simply means not corporate. How is this treating patients and practitioners like free-thinking adults in an open, capitalist society? It would be anti-science, if I could endorse such a term, but I prefer unscientific, illogical, counter-productive and anti-competition. The sad truth is, these ancient medicines are a lifeline for patient cohorts who are waiting for grindingly slow academic processes to fund, then come up with, a cure, to which they are in no way ideologically opposed, though that is often the suggestion.

Of course, if one was feeling cynical, one could suspect very little good faith in a process which has shown itself in the past to be unyielding to plain forces of global profit and the limited, unworkable and disembodied epistemology they encourage and allow. One only hopes, such fears are irrational, this time.


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Leisa Woodman is a journalist, filmmaker and activist from Adelaide, Australia.

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The Adani conglomerate should be best described as a bloated gangster, promising the earth even as it mines it.  Like other corporate thugs of such disposition, it will do things within, and if necessary outside, the regulatory framework it encounters.  Where necessary, it will libel detractors and bribe critics, speak of a fictional number of as yet non-existent jobs, and claim that it is green in its coaling practices. It will also hire legal firms claiming to be trained attack dogs and hector the national broadcaster to pull unflattering stories from publication and discussion.

As a marauder of the environment, the Indian mining giant has left little to chance.  It has politicians friendly to its cause in Australia at both the state and federal level, but it faces an environmental movement that refuses to dissipate.  It also has a problem with environmental science, particularly in the area of water management.  Conditional approvals have been secured, albeit hurried in the aftermath of May’s federal election, and even here, further testing will have to be done.    

Given the inconveniences posed by scientists wedded to methodology and technique, the company did not surprise in freedom of information findings by the environmental group Lock the Gate that it had asked the federal environment department for “a list of each person from CSIRO and Geoscience Australia involved in the review” of the Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan (GDEMP) and Groundwater Monitoring and Management Plan (GMMP). 

In a bullying note to the Department of Environment and Energy (DOEE) in January 25 this year, Hamish Manzi, head of the company’s environment and sustainability branch officiously gave a five day limit to the request, claiming that it “simply wants to know who is involved in the review to provide it with peace of mind that it is being treated fairly and that the review will not be hijacked by activists with a political, as opposed to scientific, agenda.”  Manzi had noted “recent press coverage regarding an anti-coal and/or anti-Adani bias potentially held by experts reviewing other Adani approvals.” For Manzi, the only expert worthy of that name would have to be sympathetic to the mining cause.

The corporate instinct is rarely on all fours with that of the scientific one.  The former seeks the accumulation of assets, profits and dividends; the latter tests hypotheses using a falsification system, a process that can only ever have fidelity to itself.  The corporate instinct is happy to forget troubling scientific outcomes, and, where necessary, corrupt it for its ends.  Where the science does not match, it is obviously the work of ill-motivated activists or those inconvenienced by conscience.  

The Union of Concerned Scientists in February 2012, through its Scientific Integrity Program, supplied readers with a list of fields where science, and scientists, have been attacked or compromised.  More importantly, it notes how governments become the subject of influence, their decisions ever vulnerable to wobbling. 

“Corporations attempt to exert influence at every step of the scientific and policy-making processes, often to shape decisions in their favour or avoid regulation and monitoring of their products and by-products at the public’s expense.  In so doing, they often attempt to fundamentally alter the decision-making process.”

The methods of corrupting science are not exhaustive, but the UCS report suggests a view tried ones.  Research, for instance, is either held up by the company in question or terminated.  Scientists are intimidated or coerced through threats to job security, defunding and litigation.  Defective methodologies in testing and research are embraced.  Scientific articles are ghost written, with corporate sponsorship blurred.  Negative results are slyly underreported; positive results are glowingly celebrated. And never forget good old fashioned vilification.

The FOI documents regarding Adani’s conduct show the company as a witchdoctor wooing the federal government into timed releases of information and an obsession with preventing a broader public discussion of findings.  A January 9 email from Adani to DOEE demanded that CSIRO/GA reports not be circulated to third parties or the public.  The next day, the department obligingly informed the company that it would only share advice with Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science. 

The uncovered documents also show a certain degree of cyber stalking at play.  On January 15, a staff member of Geoscience Australia wrote to DOEE expressing concern that the company had viewed LinkedIn profiles of employees.  Such concerns did little to ruffle the growing accord between the department and the company.    

The abdication of government to the corporate sector is one of the more troubling features of this tawdry chapter in Australian non-governance.  Corporate giants know they must enlist the support of representatives who they can trust to be of sound mind.  History is replete with successful lobbying efforts in the name of corrupted science. 

In 2007, ReGen Biologics, a New Jersey company, faced a sceptical Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concerned with Menaflex, a device intended to replace knee cartilage.  With the FDA’s rejection came a mobilisation effort.  Politicians were sought and cultivated.  In December that year, Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and Rep. Steve Rothman all wrote to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach.  The Commissioner’s ear had been bended sufficiently to lead to a new review headed by Dr Daniel Schultz, head of the FDA’s medical devices division.  Scepticism vanished; the product was approved.  In 2010, a shamefaced FDA had to concede that it had erred and duly revoked approval.

Instead of defending practices of departments and professionals engaged in the task of assessing the merits of such ventures, individuals such as the Australian deputy prime minister suggest that Adani might have a point in is heavy-handed enthusiasm to root out contrarians.  In Michael McCormack’s view, Adani “were made to jump through more environmental hoops than perhaps any previous project in the nation.”  They merely “wanted to determine… that those arguing against their proposals were not just some quasi anti-development groups or individuals.”  The thug’s narrative has found a home in the hearts of the anti-scientific representatives that currently rule the Canberra roost. Scientists have been warned.


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Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  He is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research. Email: [email protected]

This article was originally published in December 2018.

Peera Ram Bishnoi is a mechanic who earns his livelihood working at his small puncture repair shop near National Highway-65. But there’s something extraordinary about the story of this ordinary man.

In the last decade, he has saved over 1,180 injured and distressed wildlife!

When I ask him what keeps him going, he reiterates the words of slain Amrita Devi Bishnoi that every Bishnoi child is asked to memorise from the time they start to speak.

‘सर सान्टे रूख रहे तो भी सस्तो जाण’

(If a tree is saved even at the cost of one’s head, it is worth it.)

Amrita Devi had yelled at the kingsmen of Marwar in 1730, as she and her three daughters (Asu, Ratni, and Bhagu) and 300 other Bishnois were beheaded, while they clung to the Khejri trees to prevent their felling.

“‘Jeev Daya Palani’–Be compassionate to all living beings and ‘Runkh Lila Nahi Ghave’–Do not cut green trees–these were philosophies that I was not only taught as a Bishnoi child but also encouraged to live.”

Peera Ram was born to marginal farmers in a border village of Western Rajasthan, with Gujarat on one side and Pakistan on the other.

As a child, when he toiled with his parents on the farm, he often saw peacocks, rabbits, deer, and other wildlife enter their fields from the forest areas. They would run around the fields, devour the crops and sometimes just rest there with careless abandon.

“I remember asking my parents, ‘These wildlife species are damaging our crops, why do we let them? Can’t we drive them away?’ And my father had said, ‘It isn’t the wildlife that causes damage to humans, it is the other way around. The existence of the entire universe is dependent upon the Pancha Maha-Bhoota, (five great elements)–earth, sky, wind, fire, and water. And every living being that co-exists with us, has to be protected. If they dwindle into extinction, how will humans survive?’”

Through a decade of experience, Peera Ram rescued rare species like the Chinkara, Blackbuck, Hanuman Langur, Indian Hare, Migratory Demoiselle Crane, Common Crane, Small Indian Civet, Peacock, and Desert Fox among others.

Trudging down memory lane, the humble mechanic recalls the incident that triggered his journey into wildlife rescue.

“When I would run my tire puncture shop close to the highway, several drivers would tell me how wildlife crossing the road would often be run over or killed by speeding motorists, four-wheelers, and heavy-duty vehicles. A 300-km radius around my shop which was close to the forest area had no guards or authorities to keep a check. But back then, I often felt helpless. How could one man stop it?”

But the Bishnoi blood in his veins was running strong.

It was a regular day when Peera Ram was travelling from his home towards the highway when a speeding motorist ran over a chinkara.

“The chinkara was severely hurt and dragged itself across the road before collapsing. I saw it gasp for breath, cry in pain for help. My heart shivered. I ran to the spot, picked the distressed animal in my lap, hailed a vehicle and took it to the veterinary hospital.”

He paid for the treatment from his own pocket, and when the hospital asked him to take the treated animal to a shelter, he decided to take it home.

For the next five years, the work continued, where he took all kinds of distressed animals and birds home, nursed them back to health with home remedies. His family, animal lovers themselves, extended their complete support to him.

While he couldn’t register for an NGO independently, he set up the ‘Shri Jambheswar Paryavaran evam Jeev Raksha Pardes Sanstha’ on June 5, 2012 (World Environment Day), along with four different activists.

His work inspired people around his village of Dhamana and neighbouring villages to bring him any casualties. But it also drew ire from hunters, poachers, and trophy hunters. Some of whom complained to the forest authorities that he was keeping wildlife within the confines of his home against the law and not taking good care of them.

He shares, “The forest authorities and the police arrived at my home with their team with the intention of arresting me, but when they met me and looked at the love with which my family and I took care of the animals, they congratulated me. I showed them my membership as part of the larger organisation conserving wildlife, and they decided to help me. They helped us acquire government land. While we did not get any financial help from the government, we set up a small centre to treat distressed wildlife. My opposers were either unsatisfied by the work or wanted to sabotage it.”

The forest department ensured that he was given guards to patrol the sensitive area regularly.

But that was not all.

He also faced a few threats on his life. Was he scared, I ask him.

“If I watch someone shoot wildlife, I’d rather die protecting it than watch that brutal massacre. I will not bow down to these hunters and poachers. We have a legacy of sacrificing our lives to defend trees and animals. These species are more precious than our own lives. Recently, about 365 km away, one of our activists was shot by a few Rajputs while trying to protect an injured deer. Despite the attempt on his life, he managed to save the deer and get one of the hunters caught as the other two escaped.”

Whether it was 25-year-old Bhinya Ram Bishnoi who chased poachers to save blackbucks or 38-year-old Gangaram who was killed while saving deer, hundreds of Bishnois have been martyred for the cause of protecting the environment and the wildlife, says Peera Ram.

When they began a 50×50 ft shelter, Peera Ram put in his own money to the construction, facilities, medicines, and food for the animals. But it is the goodwill of his well-wishers that has helped the shelter in its functioning over the years. They have donated fodder, medicines and water tankers, among other things.

The shelter, which is a lush farm, is now spread across 2.5 hectares, where 450 animals are cared for. It requires Rs 1 lakh every month. And his group has 2,000 people.

In the last five years, he has saved over 1,180 animals, of which 100 were released into the forests after full recovery.

“When an injured animal is brought in, it is very difficult for them to recover fully. We try our best. Our survival rates at 45 per cent are higher than the veterinary hospitals, which are as low as 11 per cent. Sometimes with fractures in the neck, limbs do not heal completely, rendering them dependent on lifelong care. But finding their own species or families in the shelter help many of them heal faster.”

I ask him about the difference in the care at his shelter and a veterinary hospital.

He answers,

“In government veterinary hospitals, people work in shifts and for salaries. Our work, however, is ruled by emotions, is straight from the heart and round-the-clock. Many times, wildlife do not get follow-up treatments in hospitals, but here, we keep a strict check on their progress.”

Peera Ram was recently bestowed the Earth Heroes Award by the Royal Bank of Scotland Foundation at the eighth edition of the award.

Speaking to The Better India about the award, N Sunil Kumar, Head of RBS Foundation, says,

“Peera Ramji is an example of how an individual has brought his passion to an extent where he is not only putting in a significant amount of time and resources but has also managed to build a community around it. Conservation and compassion are two different things. And Peera Ramji’s work is taking compassion to an institutional level.”

“If a farmer’s son can rescue over a thousand wildlife, imagine the work we could do together if we all join hands. Devote your time and energy. At several times, rescuers working on the ground don’t have the financial backing to sustain their work. If privileged people back them up financially to make a replicable model, we could make the world a more compassionate place,” Peera Ram signs off.

If this story inspired you, get in touch with Peera Ram on [email protected]


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Jovita Aranha is a lover of people, cats, food, music, books & films. In that order. Binge-watcher of The Office & several other shows. A storyteller on her journey to document extraordinary stories of ordinary people.

The confluence of environmental factors and economic policies will probably trigger the large-scale migration of India’s hundreds of millions of mostly small-scale farmers and their families to the cities, completely upending the country’s social fabric and presenting the unique opportunity to finally change the system once and for all if the opposition can skillfully exploit this crisis to that end.

India faces a looming agricultural crisis brought about by the confluence of environmental factors and economic policies, one which could result in forever changing the face of what will soon be the world’s most populous country. Severe water shortages and scorching droughts are imperiling the livelihoods of India’s hundreds of millions of mostly small-scale farmers, and the recently re-elected Modi government‘s promised “Big Bang” hyper-neoliberal reforms might eventually end in a free trade deal with the US that sees American agricultural products flooding the country’s marketplace and putting its farmers out of business.

The predictable displacement of these over quarter-billion people would trigger a large-scale migration into the country’s already densely populated urban areas, compounding existing infrastructural and socio-economic problems there but with the macroeconomic “benefit” of providing low-wage labor to international corporations eager to take advantage of this trend under the cover of supporting the “Make in India” domestic manufacturing program. This would be even more so the case in the event that the so-called “trade war” encourages more Chinese-based companies to re-offshore to India, enticed by the perks that it provides.

In fact, predicting a shortage of labor that would make the “Make in India” program impossible to pull off (agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58% of India’s population), it could be cynically put forth that the government’s controversial policy of so-called “demonetization” in late 2016 was designed to force the population to open up bank accounts and therefore prepare its rural majority for their eventual migration to the cities in search of work at the many international manufacturing centers that it hopes to attract within the next decade at precisely the point when the agricultural crisis is predicted to begin.

Concurrent with that, India is expecting to rely on “Israeli” expertise to assist with the hydrological aspect of this crisis while possibly replacing its domestic agricultural production with US and African imports, seeing as how the latter has 60% of the world’s uncultivated land and therefore enormous potential to feed the world if properly utilized. What this means is that India might be able to weather the physical consequences of the agricultural crisis if it succeeds in ensuring its population’s access to water and affordable foodstuffs through “Israeli” and US-African assistance respectively, thus leaving the question of what to do with the farmers.

Put another way, India’s leaders might be of the opinion that this mass migration is inevitable, so the best that they can do is try to responsibly manage it by facilitating these former farmers’ reintegration into the labor force by making it easier for them to get jobs at the international companies that they expect to flock to the country as a result of the “Make in India” program, the “trade war”, and a possible free trade deal that it might clinch with the US. The problem with this policy, however, is that it overlooks the immense social disruption that the possibly uncontrollable influx of former farmers might have on the cities that they flee to.

Despite portraying itself on the world stage as the peaceful land of yoga and Bollywood, India is actually rife with countless identity fault lines pertaining to caste, religion, ethnicity, regionalism, and linguistic nationalism, all of which could easily be exacerbated by these “Weapons of Mass Migration” and the unpredictable consequences that they could have on this already very fragile balance in the country’s cosmopolitan cities. Nevertheless, the chaos of an ultra-diverse rapidly urbanizing population that will increasingly be comprised of the proletariat in the classical Marxist sense provides a unique chance to change the entire system.

Should the opposition be skillful enough in exploiting events, this “New India” doesn’t necessarily have to turn into the Hindu Rashtra of Akhand Bharat that the ruling BJP envisions but could end up being a more egalitarian society that gets along well with its neighbors if the country’s (and more broadly, one of history’s) largest-ever social transformation is properly managed to prioritize workers’ interests and equitable development. Any efforts to reform India’s fascist economic model will be fiercely opposed by its fascist social cohorts in the streets, however, which could trigger an entirely new conflict that encompasses all the existing ones.

The broad contours of this clash would essentially be religiosity/corporatism vs. secularity/class as epitomized by the Hindu fascists and labor activists respectively, thus becoming the frame of reference through which all of the country’s many other conflicts could be understood in this future context. Should the agricultural crisis come to pass and catalyze the expected large-scale migration of former farmers to the cities, then it’s all but inevitable that the aforesaid scenario will eventually transpire too so long as the state continues along its fascist socio-economic path, but that also presents the unique opportunity to change the system once and for all.


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This article was originally published on Eurasia Future.

Andrew Korybko is an American Moscow-based political analyst specializing in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, and Hybrid Warfare. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

Central banks have invariably been used by their governments to create money for war funding. Britain, in fact, was able to maintain its edge over its rivals like France in the 17th – 18th Century because it had a money-creating central banking institution the Bank of England, which others lacked. The official website of the Bank of England tells us that “It was primarily founded to fund the war effort against France.” The secret of Britain’s edge over France was quickly discovered by the latter.  Thus, Fond Montyon, a senior civil servant in the French Finance Ministry, recommended in 1770 that France should adopt a similar mechanism by espousing the same institution.

“Great Britain finances by taxation neither all nor part of the costs of war, it finances them by loans and increases the annual tax burden only by the amount necessary to face the interest and redemption of the loan. That is the regime that France must adopt,” said Montyon.

In the same period the kings in the Indian subcontinent, fiercely resisting the increasing power of the British East India Company, mainly depended on the traditional methods of collection of taxes, gifts, and donations. They remained either oblivious of or abhorrent to the introduction of a central banking institution of their own and were thus beaten at the hands of the Company. Americans, on the other hand, established their first de facto central bank, the Bank of North America, in Philadelphia in 1781, and the war of independence, they were fighting against the British, settled in their favor in two years.

When and why was the first bank established in India?

Up until the British interventions, plenty was evident in India everywhere, especially in the eastern province of Bengal (Now Bangladesh and the Indian states of Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha), which later had to become the first seat and stronghold of the British in the subcontinent. “This was a time when India accounted for around a quarter of all global manufacturing. In contrast, Britain then contributed less than 2% to global GDP,” according to William Dalrymple. About Bengal, Madhusree Mukerjee reports on the authority of physician François Bernier who arrived there in late 1665 that Its rice traveled to Sri Lanka (called Ceylon by the British), and the Maldives, its sugar to Arabia and Mesopotamia, and its silks to Europe; ships at its ports were loaded with such exports as wheat biscuits and salted meats, opium, varnish, wax, musk, spices, preserved fruits and clarified butter. The currency in circulation was the silver coin Sikka, but before the British rule, the Moghul king’s viceregent, the Nawab of Bengal used to collect taxes as a proportion of the produce, in kind, not in currency. This meant that if due to vagaries of nature, the peasants produced less, they had to pay proportionately less tax. If they could grow nothing, the government would support them from the produce of the charitable farms attached to temples and mosques.

Things changed utterly, once the East India Company took over Bengal. They were now, not allowed to pay their taxes in kind as a portion or percentage of their produce. They were required to pay a “fixed rent” in silver. The demand for silver coins during the revenue collection season resulted in complete drains of the available currency. The peasants had plenty, in the form of grains but were unable to pay the revenues. Default in timely payment of taxes now was fraught with severe consequences. The Company’s revenue collectors, would strip naked their wives, drag them from their homes, “put the nipples of the women into the sharp edges of split bamboos and tore them from their bodies” as Burke stated in some of the most sensational testimonies of the time. As a result, the farmers had no option, but to sell their produce at a throwaway price for silver coins to middlemen, which then supplied it to the British, getting the reward for their service in the form of some profit. The British still got the produce extremely cheap, and even an ordinary British soldier was able to make a personal fortune in India.

Currency, however, in the collection season remained a scarce commodity even for the traders, to purchase the farmers’ products. Thus, to remedy the situation arising from the contraction of the currency in circulation at the time of the collection of revenues, Warren Hastings, the governor of Bengal, proposed the ‘General Bank of Bengal and Bahar,’ in the year 1773. A meeting of the Council of Revenue was held at Fort William in Calcutta (now, Kolkata), on April 13, 1773. The proceedings of the conference containing the ‘Plan’ for the establishment of the ‘General Bank in Bengal and Bahar’ recorded that: “[T]he great complaints which are made from all the northern districts of the two provinces, of the inability of the Farmers to pay their rents, on account of the uncommon plenty and cheapness of grain, are primarily owing to the great drains, which have been made of the current coin in the districts by the collections.” This is recognized as the first systematic effort for the establishment of a central banking institution in India, and its purpose was to help the British occupant rulers smoothly fleece the ordinary Indian people.

The Reserve Bank of India

A crushing defeat of Indian freedom seeking forces in 1857 at the hands of the East India Company in what the British call the Sepoy Mutiny, culminated into the transfer of administration of India to the Crown through the India Office. This direct rule of the Crown is known as the British Raj. The Raj, through its subtle machinations, tweaked the Indian monetary standards from its freely convertible silver standard to a paper currency standard, expandable as per their perceived “requirements of the public.” They debated for long about the form, type, and control of the central banking institution for India, separate from the Bank of England. Especially after the conclusion of the WW1, they urgently wanted it, so that they might create money in India to get access to its resources, supply as well as soldiers, without casting shadows of the monetary expansion on the British economy. They wanted the institution in India, but not under Indian control. In a cabinet meeting Neville Chamberlain, the Chancellor of Exchequer in November 1932 thus said likening the bank to a “knife,” and the Indians to “a spoilt, willful, naughty child” that the problem was “so to present the knife to the child that it shall be satisfied that it has a knife, and yet it shall not be able to open it.”

India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), finally came into being, commencing its business on April 1, 1935. It served the purpose for which it was formed well, acting like a big suction pump sucking Indian wealth, especially gold to England, up to 1947 when India gained independence.

This bank, in fact, remained the primary source of British finances for the second world war as becomes glaringly evident by a comparative study of its assets and liabilities before the beginning of the war and after its end. For example, the RBI expanded the currency notes in circulation in India 6.57 times during the war, while the FED stretched the bills supply in the USA 3.69 times, and the Bank of England expanded the notes circulating in England 2.56 times only, over the same period.

Comparative growth in bank notes during WW 2 in the USA, England, and India. Image Source: Promise to Pay (Vol I): Banks, Battles & Bellies |Masood Rezvi

The balance sheet total of the RBI expanded 17.29 times during the war, while the balance sheet total of the Bank of England swelled 2.21 times only.  The gold reserve of the RBI though appeared to remain the same expressed in terms of Indian Rupees, its worth in terms of Sovereigns, in fact, dwindled from 18.55 million Sovereigns before the war to 7.83 million Sovereigns only, at the end of the war.

Promise to Pay (Vol I): Banks, Battles & Bellies |Masood Rezvi

This is how the Raj used the RBI, the ‘sheathed weapon’ to provide inflationary purchasing power, to swindle not only the Indian markets of all necessities of life which caused famine in India but also helped the Crown procure war supplies from elsewhere too.


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Masood Rezvi, a freelance author, based in Lucknow, India has authored two books “Promise to Pay (Vol. I): Banks, Battles & Bellies” and “Tightening Noose of Poverty” and many articles and essays on social justice, economics, and politics. He has also compiled the compendium of the papers presented at the seminar “Growth with Justice.” He can be contacted on email at [email protected] and on Twitter at @RezviMasood. His articles are available on his Facebook page.

You will never read about it, but Dayak people, the “First Nation” of the enormous island of Borneo, are broken, robbed and brainwashed.

“Unity in diversity” it says; the motto of Indonesia. But it could be argued that the opposite is true. There is very little unity, and less and less diversity, as the country is controlled from Jakarta, an enormous, overpopulated stinky and sinking megapolis which is located on the island of Java.

Jakarta does not want to allow any dissent. For half a century it has made sure that everyone on this huge and unfortunate archipelago thinks the same, while desiring no improvement. Here, everyone is religious, everyone anti-Communist and fanatically pro-capitalist. The result is: the country collapsed, a long time ago, but ‘no one noticed’. While the Western media is paid ‘not to notice’.

“It is a modern-time colonialism”, I heard thousands of times. Java is perceived by many who are living on those proverbial thousands of islands (the Indonesian archipelago has over 17 thousand isles which are spread over a great area), as a colonialist, aggressive and morally corrupt entity. No wonder: after independence from Netherlands, the country was formed, generally, along the old colonial boundaries.

During the era of the progressive anti-imperialist President Ahmed Sukarno, Indonesia was at least a co-founder of the Non-aligned Movement. It nationalized its natural resources, while building an enlightened socialist motherland.

That did not last very long. Following the West-sponsored brutal military coup of 1965, socialism was destroyed, Communists and atheists murdered, and the US-style neo-colonialist rule managed to smash all hopes for a better future.

Ever since, most of the islands have been run as colonies: pillaged, and oppressed. The ‘transmigration’ policy has been turning local people into a minority, at least in the various ‘strategic’ areas. Those have literally been flooded with state-sponsored immigrants from Java, Southern Sumatra, and other densely-populated Sunni Muslim parts of the country.

Logging in Kalimantan

Modern-day Indonesia has lived through three cruel genocides in its modern history: one triggered during and after the fascist coup (1965/66), then one that was perpetrated in (formerly) occupied East Timor, and the one, on-going one, in the conquered West Papua. But that is not all: terrible inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts have been shaking Indonesia for decades: from Aceh to Sulawesi, Ambon, Kalimantan (Borneo), to name just a few. Anti-Chinese pogroms have been common for centuries.

If there was to be a referendum, most of the islands, including the tourist island of Bali, would opt for independence. But that is a hushed fact, as it would never be allowed. The unproductive and depressingly over-populated island of Java virtually lives off the plundering of the riches of the entire archipelago. Indonesia’s ‘wealth’ mainly comes from commodities; from unbridled plundering of the outer islands.

That of course is true about one of the biggest booty – the enormous Kalimantan.

Many of the filthy rich Javanese families are connected to the plunder. Their wealth comes directly from destruction of the archipelago. The five-star hotels surrounded by Jakarta’s slums, malls with overpriced European brand names, and tasteless villas in gated communities, are built on blood and robbery.


The island of Borneo is the third largest island on earth, after Greenland and Papua. It is shared by Indonesia (where it is known as Kalimantan), and also by Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam. And it has, or more precisely, it used to count on all kinds of imaginable treasures, from oil to coal, gold, uranium and timber.

It also used to be one of the most pristine and stunning parts of the world, covered by plush native forests, which grew all along the mighty and clean tropical waterways.

Borneo’s native people, the Dayaks, used to live in true symbiosis with nature. Whatever their internal problems were, they never tried to conquer other islands.

But this self-contained paradise had been brutally penetrated and eventually destroyed; first by the Dutch colonialists, and later by the legendary Javanese greed united with Western multi-national companies.

Today, Borneo, or at least its Indonesian part, is almost entirely ruined. Most of its forests have been cut down, giving way to the endless and toxic oil palm plantations. Rivers where gold is being mined both legally and illegally, are poisoned by mercury, while entire mountains are levelled by local and foreign mining companies. Coal mines are of tremendous proportions, and expanding.

The wisdom of the local people is still alive, but only deep in what is left of the native forests. Most of the ‘modern-day’ Dayak people have been cannily incorporated by the regime into the system which thrives on plundering of the land and of all that nature holds above and below the surface.

Palm oil


Mr. Krisusandi, the chief of “Dayakology Institute” located in the city of Pontianak, West Kalimantan, does not hide his frustration, when he sits across the table from us, in his office:

“West Kalimantan has more than 150 ethnic groups of Dayaks. Each has its own language and culture… and that’s only in the area of West Kalimantan! To call them all by the same name – Dayak – is derogatory, inaccurate.”

“Local people used to inhabit some of the richest lands on earth, in terms of natural resources,” I suggest. Mr. Krisusandi agrees:

“Precisely. And this is precisely the curse; the key to understanding why, compared to other indigenous societies, the oppression of Dayaks is the worst.”

“During Suharto’s ‘New Order’, the regime developed stigmas and stereotypes, belittling and humiliating Dayaks; like that they are ‘backward’, ‘primitive’ and ‘uncivilized’. The military, the fascists, got used to judging Dayaks as forest dwellers and destroyers. The result: Dayak society got discriminated against, losing its culture, independence, and even began feeling shame for being what it is.”

“Because of that shame, Dayaks have been lulled into converting to Islam, or to Christianity. And after that, they were not Dayaks, anymore! Consequently, they were forced to accept the centralized education system, which has been totally ignoring the local knowledge.”

That was, of course, not all. The so-called ‘New Order’ of Suharto’s pro-Western cronies and collaborators, was determined to liquidate all left-wing beliefs. That’s what it was ordered to do by Washington. And Indonesian culture before 1965 was at least ‘communitarian’, if not out rightly Communist. The cultures of Dayak people were no exception.

Mr. Krisusandi confirmed, readily:

“’New Order’ believed that it had hegemony on ‘modernization’. And they saw even traditional ‘longhouses’ as something ‘Communist’. They used to call them ‘filthy’, or even ‘fire hazards’. The regime was totally anti-Communist, and it branded all Dayaks as ‘Communists’. Actually, it went to such an absurd extreme that each and every person who refused to abandon his or her longhouse and traditional way of living, was branded as a Communist.”

To be a ‘Communist’ was, for decades, synonymous with the highest crime, punishable by death.

“It was terrible suffering to be a Dayak then, and in many ways, it still is now. On top of it, all this was accompanied by the theft of land.”

“As I mentioned before, most of the Dayaks were forcibly converted to Islam, or Christianized. For some, it was the only way how to get ahead. Those who accepted Islam were registered as ‘Malays’, and as a ‘reward’, some were even allowed to became government officials.”


Julia, a female activist and researcher from West Kalimantan, now a PhD student at Bonn University in Germany, gave a similar testimony as Mr. Krisusandi’s:

“The marginalization and stigmatization of Dayak people in West Kalimantan during the New Order era occurred in a structured and in a systematic way. For example, at the beginning of the New Order period, there was a massive demolition of longhouses, Dayak traditional settlements, in West Kalimantan. Only few survived, and those that remained were only in the inland areas, such as Kapuas Hulu. Infrastructure facilities (mainly roads) to access Dayak settlements in remote areas were also very far behind, with the consequences such as the lack of access to education, health services, etc. The social stigma was created: Dayaks were perceived as backward, stupid, and primitive. Most of Dayak people have been feeling embarrassed to be associated with their Dayak identity. There were even attempts made to rename “Dayaks”, calling them “Daya”.”

Ms. Fidelia, a retired schoolteacher, who lives in Singkawang, West Kalimantan:

“Based on my experience as a primary school teacher during the 1980s, I felt that compared to the other students, my Dayak pupils found it relatively more difficult to grasp knowledge. Most of the Dayaks live in the interior of Borneo. For more than three decades, Suharto’s government made the conditions of the rural Kalimantan very tough; the interior of the island remained underdeveloped and very hard to access. Because of this isolation, people have been experiencing lack of basic services and facilities, such as education.” 

Misery in rural Kalimantan is widespread. Enormous palm oil plantations turned huge areas into monocultures. Local people who stayed, are now forced to basically import everything from outside. Life has become extremely expensive. Thousands of villages are literally surrounded, choking by commercial entities. The traditional, natural way of life is totally ruined.

Mines in Borneo


To obtain any substantial information in the cities and villages of Kalimantan, is almost impossible. That is why the tragedy of this plundered island is almost ‘undocumented’.

People are scared to talk, or they do not comprehend their own conditions and their position in the Indonesian and global context.

In Banjarmasin, Palangkaraya, Pontianak and in other urban and rural areas of Kalimantan, people who live in absolute destitute, are refusing to even admit that they are poor. The inhabitants of filthy and hopeless slums lacking almost all basic services, consider their life ‘normal’, and most of them describe their state as ‘pasrah’, which means ‘abandoning, surrendering their lives to fate and God’.

Just as in the rest of Indonesia, oppressive forms of religion (mainly Saudi-style Wahhabi Sunni Islam) have already managed to take full control over the population. Under such conditions, no rebellion is possible. This is of course a brilliant arrangement for savage capitalism and for the bunch of corrupt captains of the Indonesian regime.

Since 1965, the logic of pro-Western rulers was simple and effective: ‘Do not allow the arts, philosophy and creativity to ‘pollute’ people’s minds. Kill everything socialist and communist. Make Indonesian citizens simple, pious, uniformed, and uninformed. Smash everyone who is different.

Native people in the resource-rich parts of the archipelago (such as Kalimantan) were the most affected. They have been treated precisely as the South Americans were treated by their Spanish or Portuguese colonialist masters and tormentors: all the resources have been stolen, while local beliefs and languages smashed. Simultaneously, totally foreign religious concepts have been pushed down their throats. Those who were willing to collaborate, were given important government and academic positions, ridiculous titles, and at least some cut from the loot.

The price was terrible: the destruction of both land and the original population. The ‘primitive people of the forest’ were actually much more advanced than their conquerors. They knew how to live with their nature, their environment. Before colonialism, rivers and forests, mountains and villages were intact and thriving. The destruction of local culture led to the collapse of the environment, and in the case of Borneo, of the entire island.


I am making a long documentary film here: about this damaged culture, and about the whole island that used to be much closer to ‘paradise’, than any other place on Earth. As I film, in all the corners of Borneo, I feel terrified. What I see is indescribable. I have to use visuals, images, to prove the point. Words are not enough. It often feels that the destruction is unreal; that all this is just a nightmare, that I will wake up, that the horror will go away. But it is real; nothing goes away. People, their greed, are capable of ruining anything, even the most stunning places on our planet.

Mr. Krisusandi speaks about his Institute of Dayakology with pride: “We established it, in order to return dignity to our people.”

Then he recalls the terrible on-going struggle:

“In the beginning, when the destruction of the longhouses began, there was a fight. But the government was canny; it introduced so-called logging concessions. It also accelerated trans-migration from several over-populated parts of Indonesia, predominantly from Java. In the name of ‘development’, government took over all land, and sold it to companies that began planting palm oil, or introducing indiscriminate mining. Dayaks could do nothing. They became powerless; coolies on their own land.”

“During the so-called ‘reform period’, after Suharto stepped down, the situation marginally improved; but by then, the Dayaks had almost no intellectuals. And those who were ‘educated’ during ‘New Order’, had typical ‘developmentalist’ mindsets. They sold out; they even began oppressing their own people.”

A prominent educator from West Kalimantan, who did not want to be identified out of fear of losing his job, clarified:

“On my island, being so-called educated could lead to something negative. A Dayak person who goes through the formal Indonesian education system, could and usually would end up following only his or her own mercantile interests, and consequently do harm to both community and nature.”

What he meant is that the person often chooses to work for the companies or the government, that are intensively ruining the Borneo island, while further indoctrinating and disempowering local population.

While deep in Borneo, one year ago, we visited a longhouse, where we were told by Mr. Paulus, the elder in a traditional Bali Gundi longhouse in the Putusibau area:

“People who go to school; they get smarter and cannier and then they work for the government and companies, they forget to help their villages and hometowns. As long as they get money they do not care anymore.”

Recently, President Jokowi decided to at least give some land back to the Dayak people. It was a symbolic gesture, but practically, nothing changed, and almost nothing was returned to the native people.

As confirmed by Mr. Krisusandi:

“It is now actually almost impossible to give anything back to the people. West Kalimantan consists of roughly 12 million hectares of land. Concessions, those for palm oil, mining and other commercial activities, were already given 13 million hectares. With national parks, a total of 16 million hectares is already committed. So, just calculate: it is 4 million hectares more than total area of West Kalimantan!” 

I think about those once mighty and pure rivers, endless tropical forests, deep and ancient cultures of local people. I close my eyes, trying to imagine hundreds of already vanished species of fauna and flora. Then, I imagine the huge, repulsive, kitschy dwellings of local ‘elites’, in Jakarta and Surabaya. I imagine European and North American cities built from the loot of places such as Kalimantan.

“Will Dayak people fight for their rights?” I asked.

“Maybe the next generation will,” comes the hesitant reply. “But not this one. Definitely not this one.”

In Palangkaraya city, we spoke to one of the most prominent Dayaks, an author J.J.  Kusni, a man who spent long years in France, but finally returned to his native land.

I filmed his long, passionate testimony, in which he expressed sadness, even outrage over the state into which the Dayak people were reduced.

“Philosophically, a Dayak is a fighter,” he said.

But the spirit of Dayak people was obviously smashed. Most of them have become victims, while others were convinced to convert themselves into collaborators. The entire Indonesian part of the Island of Borneo is now burned down, poisoned and logged out. There are few ‘protected parks’, but even in the middle of them, commercial activities are now detectable. Entire original cultures here are humiliated. People are confused. Most of them gave up, accepted, resigned.

Destruction and thorough ruin are being propagated as ‘progress’, by the Indonesian regime. Brainwashing is passed as ‘education’.

“Through the national and even village government structures established by Suharto, everything in Kalimantan became “Javanized”,” explained J.J. Kusni.

“So, what are the Dayak people doing?” I asked.

“They are crying,” he replied curtly.



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This article was originally published on New Eastern Outlook.

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Four of his latest books are China and Ecological Civilizationwith John B. Cobb, Jr., Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism, a revolutionary novel “Aurora” and a bestselling work of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”. View his other books here. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky “On Western Terrorism”. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter. His Patreon

All images in this article are from the author

It has been a history of turns and the occasional betrayal, but Hong Kong’s experiment with democracy, incubated within the Special Administrative Region, was always going to be contingent on some level.  Its colonial past is a poke, a reminder of British bullying, the corruptions of opium and a time when Qing China was torn and a compulsive signer of unequal treaties.  The 99-year lease over the New Territories, along with some 235 islands arose from the second Convention of Peking, signed on June 9, 1898 by Li Hung-chang under the official gaze of British interests. It was never recognised either by the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek nor Mao Zedong’s victorious communists.   

In 1993, former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher revealed how China’s reformist Deng Xiaoping had been more than forthcoming about threats regarding Hong Kong in their September 1982 meeting in the Great Hall of the People.  In The Downing Street Years, Thatcher recalls how an “obdurate” Deng “said that the Chinese could walk in and take Hong Kong back later today if they wanted to.” 

Thatcher’s retort was one of admission and promise: the British would not be able to stop them but “this would bring about Hong Kong’s collapse.  The world would then see what followed a change from British to Chinese rule.”  Deng, despite this threatening account from Thatcher, was happy to entertain an idea that would become the basis of arrangements after 1997, namely, the principle of one country, two systems. The official Chinese account of the meeting is naturally more tepid, with Deng merely suggesting that Beijing might “reconsider the timing and manner of the takeover” should the road leading to the takeover prove rocky.

Thatcher never quite understood the reality that Hong Kong’s continued existence under British rule till the handover date was very much, as the veteran journalist Murray Sayle noted, a case of approval from Beijing precisely because it was in its interests.  Mainland China and Hong Kong were entwined in a way the mainland and Taiwan were not. 

The subsequent Joint Declaration in 1984 between the PRC and Britain came with the proviso that China’s takeover of Hong Kong in 1997 would abide by certain conditions, including the retention of certain democratic structures and an independent judiciary. The expiry of those arrangements is set for 2047. 

Hong Kong’s fragile independence has had prodding reminders from Beijing’s ever suspicious functionaries. In 2015, Chinese security agents whisked off five men involved with the Causeway Bay Books store.  Its name had been made on the sales of books describing the risqué private lives of Communist Party officials.   

Each of the abductees duly appeared on Chinese television to confess to a range of crimes, the usual potpourri of violations expected from a repressive apparatus.  A statement had been made, though the owner and manager of Causeway Bay Books, Lam Wing-kee, continues to play the game of smuggling everything from smut to history, hoping that officials on the mainland will be able to turn a blind eye when needed.  And a large eye it has to be, given the range of items deemed contraband by the Communist Party’s Central Leading Group for Propaganda and Ideology. 

None of this is to say that mass protest has not had its gains, though suggesting that Hong Kong has a history of obstreperous civil dissent is pushing it a bit far.  The attempt to implement a national security law in 2003 by then Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa promising life sentences for treason, secession, subversion and sedition resulted in its indefinite suspension after half-a-million protesters turned out to vent their anger.  This was despite the troubling existence of Article 23 in Hong Kong’s Basic Law which expressly authorises the Special Administrative Region to pass laws prohibiting treason, secession, sedition and subversion.  Subsequent Chief Executives Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Leung Chung-ying had little stomach to push through legislation under the section.  Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is biding her time, waiting for a “suitable climate”.

The latest round of mass protests have suggested that the climate in question is some way off in forming, though it is fearful of the authoritarian winds coming from President Xi’s mainland.  Xi’s speech on his 2017 visit for Lam’s swearing in was prickly and threatening: “Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government… or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible.” 

The current crop of protests have a fundamental object: taking the Extradition Bill off the books.  The bill, should it become law, would see local and foreign criminal suspects make their way into the labyrinth of mainland justice, puncturing the one nation, two systems principle.  The protesters, numbering some 2 million over the weekend, did witness the unusual spectacle of Chief Executive Lam issuing an apology, though the bill remains suspended.  Nothing less than her resignation is demanded, though she retains the backing of the power that counts. 

The democratic movement in Hong Kong has, in short, been one of fits and starts, often discouraged, an erratic example of changing attitudes both in Britain and the PRC. British officials have not always been allies to the democratic cause, preferring to smother it at points before the liberal incarnation encouraged by the last governor, Christopher Patten.  Even then, Hong Kong still had more in common with the governing commercial structure of the Italian city state of Venice than Westminster.  Mainland China, taking a view to the horizon, continues to gnaw and nibble at existing protections, as is to be expected.

Thatcher’s prognostication that China could not continue to reap “the benefits of a liberal economic system […] without a liberal political system” proved, like certain assessments by the Iron Lady, off the mark, if not off the park.  This leaves the protesters with much to do.  Beijing, in the meantime, simply waits, and those with elephantine memories will recall Thatcher’s tripping on the stairs leaving the Great Hall of the People in 1982. “Bobbling her handbag,” writes Paul Theroux of this episode in his pungent Letter from Hong Kong, “her pearls swinging, and with her arse in the air and her face flushed with fear, the prime minister of Great Britain appeared to be kowtowing to Mao in his nearby mausoleum.”  Such is the cunning, if vulgar turn, of history.


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Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  He is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research. Email: [email protected]

Featured image is from Nikkei Asian Review

It has been almost twenty years since allegations of war crimes committed by South Korean troops during the Vietnam War were first featured in South Korean media in the 1990s.1 The public discussion that followed decades later was formed around the issue of “truth and reconciliation,”2 which, reverberated around the 2018 People’s Tribunal on War Crimes by South Korean Troops during the Vietnam War.

A People’s Tribunal was held between April 21 and 22, 2018 at the Oil Tank Culture Park in Seoul, in conjunction with an academic conference a day earlier organized around the theme of what it means to be a perpetrator of atrocities. In light of the fact that no meaningful action had been taken by the South Korean government in the past twenty years, the People’s Tribunal aimed to re-publicize the issue of massacres committed by South Korean troops during the Vietnam War and to urge the South Korean government to take meaningful reparatory actions for the survivors in legal terms. The year 2018 marked not only the 50th anniversary of massacres committed in Phong Nhị, Phong Nhất and Hà My hamlets of Vietnam, but also the 70th anniversary of the Jeju uprising, bolstering the felt necessity of coming to terms with the nation’s unresolved past.

To contextualize the People’s Tribunal and assess the significance of its contribution, this paper attempts to trace not only the course of the People’s Tribunal but also the contours of academic literature and public discussion around South Korea’s “Vietnam question”, leading up to the People’s Tribunal. A small but significant step forward in grasping the full measure of this issue between the two nations, the People’s Tribunal’s accomplishment would not be properly appreciated without examining previous contributions on this subject.

South Korean soldiers in the Vietnam War

Publicization of the Vietnam Question in South Korea

South Korea’s “Vietnam question”, like America’s My Lai, was introduced to Western readers by Charles K. Armstrong’s “America’s Korea, Korea’s Vietnam”3 following reportage in South Korea led by the progressive daily newspaper Hankyoreh and its sister weekly Hankyoreh 21 , which began treating this issue in 1999 drawing on the research of Ku Su-jeong4, a graduate student then writing a thesis on the South Korean legacy during the Vietnam War at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City. Initially, the Hankyoreh articles drew primarily on official documents available in socialist Vietnam—to which even Ku and other Vietnamese scholars had very limited access, as her then-advisor Hà Minh Hồng testified5—complemented by eyewitness accounts of massacres from both Vietnam War veterans in South Korea and Vietnamese survivors. These were documented not only by Hankyoreh but also by a number of social activist groups—Nawauri being the best known.6

As many of their titles indicate, much of Hankyoreh’s work pertaining to the Vietnam question was done in the style of exposé. In the era when various projects under the banner of “truth and reconciliation” proliferated,7 Hankyoreh’s approach seemed effective in attracting public attention to the Vietnam question. One of their most remarkable moments was in April 2000 when they published several articles based on the testimonies given by Kim Ki-tae, the former commander of the Seventh Company, Second Battalion, “Blue Dragon” ROK Marine Brigade. The report described how Kim, on November 15, 1966, oversaw the murder of twenty nine unarmed Vietnamese men, who, according to his testimony, probably “were just farmers”. It also reported that sixty eight residents, including women and children, of Binh Tai village in Phuoc Binh district were massacred on October 9, 1966.8 Confirmed by Hankyoreh’s on-site investigation in Phuoc Binh, this report, according to Armstrong, was the “most sensational and extensively detailed,” a watershed moment that foresaw numerous similar testimonies from other veterans.9

Another momentous work, titled “Chamjadŏn chinshil 30nyŏnmane kkaeŏnada [Hidden Truth, Revealed at Last after 30 Years]”, was published in the 334th issue of Hankyoreh 21 on November 15, 2000. It was based on U.S. military reports declassified in June 2000 and made available at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.10 The reports contained detailed accounts and, most importantly for Hankyoreh’s purpose, photographic documentation of the Phong Nhị and Phong Nhất massacres, collected and compiled by the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), Inspector General’s Office. The reports provided some of the most compelling evidence of South Korean atrocities to date, along with the American Friends Service Committee’s America’s Rented Troops: South Koreans in Vietnam.11 The cover image of the aforementioned issue of Hankyoreh 21 was a photograph of a dying Vietnamese victim who had her breasts cut out and was left to die after being shot by South Korean soldiers. In addition to the shocking visuals, the article presented a compelling account of how the South Korean marines swept through the hamlets killing seventy four women, children, and elders, as well as their livestock, and set their houses on fire. The article also revealed that William Westmoreland, the commanding officer of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), forwarded the inquiry concerning the massacres to Chae Myung-shin, then-commander of ROK Forces in Vietnam, who responded with a report which concluded that the casualties were caused by “Viet Congs disguised in [ROK] camouflaged uniforms.”12 Hard-pressed by the ostensible absurdity of this report and concrete evidence that suggested otherwise, Chae Myung-shin, who had remained silent to this point, agreed to an interview in which he admitted that he had received a letter from Westmoreland, but repeated the conclusion of his report.13

Hankyoreh’s extensive coverage, together with the efforts of various social activists who organized reconciliation campaigns and peace camps,14 garnered not only public attention but scholarly interest as well. In disciplines ranging from anthropology, sociology and history to political science, both within and outside of South Korea, a number of scholars began addressing the issues. Detailed accounts of political and historical context were provided in Han Hongkoo and Kwak Tae Yang’s papers.15 Of particular interest to the South Korean academic community, however, was the theme of contested memories concerning South Korean participation in the Vietnam War as taken up by numerous scholars including Park Tae Gyun, Shim Juhyung and Yoon Chung Ro, especially given the fact that Vietnam War veterans themselves were unable to have their voice recorded until the South Korean military dictatorship came to an end in the early 90s.16 Heonik Kwon, in his influential book After the Massacre: Commemoration and Consolation in Ha Mi and My Lai, wrote on the commemoration and the massacre that took place in Hà My hamlet, where, on February 25, 1968, ROK marines killed 135 women, children and elders, and bulldozed and burned their bodies.17

However, even to this date, no comprehensive investigation and analysis of the massacres has taken place. The South Korean Ministry of National Defense and the National Intelligence Service still refuse to allow researchers access to the relevant documents, making it virtually impossible for scholars or activists to fully document the massacre.18 Unlike, for example, Bernd Greiner’s War Without Front: The USA in Vietnam, which makes extensive use of various records, including the de-classified records of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group, to produce a comprehensive and detailed account of the war crimes committed by U.S. troops during the Vietnam War19, much of the literature pertaining to the South Korean atrocities in Vietnam does not provide a comprehensive account of the subject, and instead covers specific topics such as the politics of memory around the wartime massacres.

The People’s Tribunal

The two consecutive conservative presidencies from 2007 to 2016 saw the development of political tendencies that put aside the history of atrocities committed by the authoritarian and colonial regimes while highlighting South Korea’s linear developmentalist narrative. These tendencies to erase “unpleasant” history from the public memory were best exemplified by the issue of history textbook selection, in which both the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations produced a revised Korean history textbook by a conservative New Right organization and pressured school principals to adopt the textbook.20 The issue of South Korean atrocities during the Vietnam War was nowhere to be found in the new textbooks, or in the permanent exhibitions on South Korean participation in the Vietnam War at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History or the War Memorial of Korea. Only the economic gains from the war and sentimental aspects of Korean participation were emphasized.21 Furthermore, according to the list compiled by Lawyers for a Democratic Society (Minbyun) on Korean public media pertaining to South Korean atrocities in Vietnam, the number dwindled significantly after 2007, indeed, no such article was published between June 2007 and September 2013.22

In spite of the unfavorable political climate, several members of Minbyun’s Asian Human Rights Team participated in the 2015 Korea-Vietnam peace camp led by Ku Su-jeong, after which they proposed to Minbyun a project to demand a thorough investigation and proper reparations from the South Korean government. After over a year of gathering materials, holding seminars and conducting site visits, Minbyun held a tribunal, in collaboration with the Korea-Vietnam Peace Foundation, where Ku Su-jeong was a board member, and Medics for Vietnam and Peace, a non-profit organization that has provided dental and traditional Korean medicinal treatment in areas affected by the Vietnam War since 2001. They organized a preparatory committee and began recruiting participants.

Although not legally binding, tribunals are a format frequently employed by social activist groups in South Korea to publicize important social and political issues. While examples range from the 2002 Tribunal on Chosun Daily’s Anti-Reunification Activities and 2004 Tribunal on Chosen Daily’s Collaborationist Activities to a 2004 Tribunal on Bush-Blair-Roh’s War Crimes in Iraq, the Minbyun members were particularly inspired by the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery held in Tokyo between December 8 and 12, 2000. During the presentation by the preparatory committee on September 22, 2017, the presenter from Minbyun highlighted the facts that (1) the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal was held for the sake of the victims; (2) the final judgment was completely up to the judges; (3) the tribunal’s format and procedures adhered as strictly as possible to that of an actual trial; and (4) it maintained a very high standard for the quality of final statement, as the organizers hoped that it would be widely cited in international law.23 To meet these conditions, the preparatory committee undertook an extensive legal examination of the existing evidence as well as acquisition of new evidence, following the approach of the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal that had an investigation team collecting and discovering relevant materials, which were then sorted out by the legal team.

As the investigation team was being recruited, the committee, which was restructured into the executive committee of the People’s Tribunal, consisting of legal, IR and PR teams, decided to focus exclusively on the two cases on which substantial resources were publicly available: the Phong Nhị and Phong Nhất massacre, and the Hà My massacre. These resources were waiting to be assessed in terms of legal validity. Furthermore, Ku and her fellow activists had already built strong relations with the surviving villagers. As for Hà My, the same applied in terms of Ku’s fieldwork, and the incident has received a fair amount of academic treatment.24 In June 2017 and February 2018 the committee organized on-site investigations at Phong Nhị, Phong Nhất and Hà My hamlets to secure plaintiffs for the People’s Tribunal and to cross-check testimonies from the survivors to ensure their legal efficacy.

The investigation team for the People’s Tribunal was recruited around November 2017. An interesting feature of the team is that it consisted mainly of young researchers and activists who had experience in working on “comfort women” issues. Consequently, most of them were familiar with the limits of relying on legal approaches that inevitably emphasized structural state-level violene and exploitation of the “comfort women” by downplaying their individual agency.25 The People’s Tribunal was held in conjunction with the academic conference.

The People’s Tribunal was held on April 21 and 22, 2018 as a civil court in which the plaintiffs and their legal representatives filed a state compensation suit—albeit non-binding—against the South Korean government.26 The plaintiffs were two survivors who, coincidentally, were both named Nguyễn Thị Thành. Nguyễn Thị Thành from Phong Nhị was eight years old at the time of the massacre, where she received a bullet wound in her lower abdomen and lost her family members. The other Nguyễn Thị Thành was ten years old at the time of the Hà My massacre. Her left leg and ear were injured and she also lost her family. Their live testimonies in Vietnamese, often emotional and heartbreaking, were translated by the tribunal interpreter, who at times could not help shedding tears. The testimonies of other survivors who could not make it to Seoul were were presented as video clips, including one given by a former ROK marine who witnessed the Phong Nhị and Phong Nhất massacre. The judges were Kim Young-ran, a former Supreme Court Justice, Yang Hyunah, a former prosecutor of the North-South Korea joint team at the International Women’s Tribunal, and Lee Seog-tae, a current Justice of the Constitutional Court. On April 22, the judges pronounced the final judgment in which they demanded that the South Korean government compensate for the plaintiffs’ losses, launch an investigation into South Korean atrocities committed between 1964 and 1973, and correct all forms of public memorial pertaining to South Korean participation in the Vietnam War, especially the exhibition at the War Memorial of Korea.


Despite lacking legal authority, the People’s Tribunal garnered public attention, its proceedings and findings being covered by almost all of the major Korean TV channels including KBS, SBS, MBC, JTBC, YTN, as well as news outlets, both digital and print, such as Hankyoreh, Kyunghyang, Pressian, Sisain andOhmynews. Ohmynews live-streamed the entire tribunal online.

The People’s Tribunal was most significant in launching a series of legal battles that could prompt governmental actions to expand the scope of further research and legal actions. These two—further research and legal battles—are inseparable, especially since the validity and the quantity of evidence provided at the People’s Tribunal still seemed insufficient for winning an actual trial. Most important was the testimony from eyewitnesses and victims of the Phong Nhị and Phong Nhất massacres, which illuminated the South Korean documents, especially the heavily censored classified reports of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency in 1969.27 The ongoing legal battles for information disclosure against the Ministry of National Defense and National Intelligence Service, made possible by the publicity from the People’s Tribunal, opens the possibility for further research whose scope and size might be comparable to that of the scholarship on the My Lai massacre.

To that end, it is unfortunate that no funds were allotted for research trips to the National Archive at College Park, Maryland, even though the investigation team contacted some researchers there. Furthermore, interaction was rare between the investigation team’s young members and the senior members who started the movement in South Korea in the late 90s. As a result, not much significant commentary or assessment of information secured in the early phase of researching the “Vietnam question” was transmitted. Rather, the investigation team spent most of its time and resources re-analyzing the existing data.

The lack of interaction between the Tribunal’s new investigators and their predecessors led to an interesting divide. As the title of the conference suggested, the investigation team focused on a very different set of problems than that of their predecessors, whose contributions relied mostly on sensationalism and style of exposé. Pivoting on the theme of what it means to be the perpetrator, Fujii introduced the case of the Association of Returnees from China to Japan as a possibility that the South Korean people as “perpetrators” could learn from in their lifelong efforts to make known the nature of Japanese military atrocities in the years 1931-45.28 Interestingly, whereas people in the 2000s often invoked the Nogunri massacre by US forces during the Korean War,29 a number of people who attended the conference alluded more frequently to the “comfort women” issue when they tried to relate to the issue of South Korean atrocities in Vietnam. The collective experience of coming to terms with the nation’s colonial and authoritarian past developed in interesting ways.

In Shim’s presentation on Vietnam’s post-war generations and their “memory-scape” of the war, I was reminded of the lack of interaction between South Korean and Vietnamese activists30 when he pointed to the dangers in approaching the issue of South Korean atrocities without considering the contemporary nature of Vietnamese society and the radical changes that have occurred over the past fifty years. Without proper understanding of how this issue may be addressed in contemporary Vietnamese society, the movement in South Korea runs the risk of becoming ineffective and self-serving, given the Vietnamese public’s very limited exposure to the issue and the divided nature of “memory-scape” of the Vietnam War among different regions and age groups in Vietnam and the Vietnamese diaspora.31

In spite of all the Tribunal’s shortcomings, the sentencing statement, pronounced by Kim Young-ran, can serve as a crucial reference point for further discussion, and also an important contribution to Minbyun’s agenda to file a legally binding lawsuit against the South Korean government on behalf of the survivors. As the tribunal’s organizers seek to compel the South Korean government to declassify NIS documents and form an official task force to investigate the matter, the truth and reconciliation efforts into South Korea’s “Vietnam question” seem to have just begun.


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Han Gil Jang is a member of the Investigation Team. [email protected]


Armstrong, Charles K. “America’s Korea, Korea’s Vietnam.” Critical Asian Studies 33, no. 4 (2001): 527-540.

Baldwin, Frank, Diane Jones, and Michael Jones. America’s Rented Troops: South Koreans in Vietnam. American Friends Service Committee, 1975.

Fujii, Takeshi. “Kahae kyŏnghŏmŭl marhandanŭn kŏt: ilbon chunggukkwihwanjayŏllak’oeŭi sarye [Speaking the Experience of Perpetrator: the Case of Japan’s Association of Returnees from China].” Paper presented at the People’s Tribunal on War Crimes by South Korean Troops during the Vietnam War Conference, Seoul, South Korea, April 20, 2018.

Greiner, Bernd. War without Fronts: the USA in Vietnam. Random House, 2010.

Hà, Minh Hồng. “Nogŭlliŭi kiŏgesŏ pet’ŭnam chŏnjaengŭi chinshirŭl saenggak’ada [Contemplating the Truth of the Vietnam War in the Memory of Nogunri].” Opening statement presented at the People’s Tribunal on War Crimes by South Korean Troops during the Vietnam War Conference, Seoul, South Korea, April 20, 2018.

Han, Hongkoo. “Han’gukkwa pet’ŭnamjŏnjaeng [South Korea and the Vietnam War].” Naeirŭl yŏnŭn yŏksa4. (2001. 1): 115-126.

Kern, Thomas, and Sang-hui Nam. “The Korean Comfort Women Movement and the Formation of a Public Sphere in East Asia.” In Korea Yearbook (2009): Politics, Economy and Society. Edited by Frank Rüdiger, Jim Hoare, Patrick Kölner, and Susan Pares. Brill, 2009. 227-256

Kim, Aram. “Sŏngjangshinhwae kach’in pangmulgwan—che3, 4chŏnshishil(1961nyŏn ihu) [Museum Caught in the Developmentalist Myth: Exhibition Room 3 and 4 (After 1961)].” Yŏksabipyŏng[Critical Review of History] 104. (2013): 174-192.

Kim, Dong-choon. “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea: Uncovering the Hidden Korean War”, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 8. Issue 9. No. 5. (March 1, 2010).

Kim, Hyun Sook. “Korea’s “Vietnam Question”: War Atrocities, National Identity, and Reconciliation in Asia.” positions 9, no. 3 (2001): 621-635.

Kwak, Tae Yang. “The Anvil of War: The Legacies of Korean Participation in the Vietnam War.” PhD diss., Harvard University, 2006.

Kwon, Heonik. After the Massacre: Commemoration and Consolation in Ha My and My Lai. Univ. of California Press, 2006.

—“Anatomy of US and South Korean Massacres in the Vietnamese Year of the Monkey, 1968.The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 5. Issue 6. (June 4, 2007).

Minear, Richard and Franziska Seraphim. “Hanaoka Monogatari: The Massacre of Chinese Forced Laborers, Summer 1945.The Asia Pacific Journal, Vol. 13 Issue 25 (June 29, 2015).

Park, Tae Gyun. “Han’gukkunŭi pet’ŭnam ch’amjŏn [Between Memory and Oblivion: The Dispatch of Korean Combat Troops to Vietnam].” Yŏksabip’yŏng[Critical Review of History] 80. (2007. 8): 288-311

Sakamoto, Rumi. “The Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery: A Legal and Feminist Approach to the ‘Comfort Women’ Issue.” New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 3, no. 1 (2001): 49-58.

Shim, Juhyung. “Pet’ŭnamjŏn ch’amjŏne taehan kiŏgŭi chŏngch’i [The Politics of Memory Surrounding Participation in the Vietnam War].” Master’s thesis, Seoul National University, 2003.

—“Pet’ŭnam chŏnjaengŭi tongshidaesŏng: pet’ŭnam saeroun sedaeŭi chŏnjaenggiŏk [The Contemporaneity of the ‘Vietnam War’: the New Generation’s Memory of War in Vietnam]”. Paper presented at the People’s Tribunal on War Crimes by South Korean Troops during the Vietnam War Conference, Seoul, South Korea, April 20, 2018.

Suh, Jae-Jung. “Truth and Reconciliation in South Korea: Confronting War, Colonialism, and Interventions in the Asia-Pacific.” In Truth and Reconciliation in South Korea: Between the Present and Future of the Korean Wars. Edited by Jae-Jung Suh. Armonk, NY: Routledge, 2012. 1-18.

Turse, Nick. “A My Lai a Month: How the US Fought the Vietnam War”, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 6. Issue 11. (November 1, 2008).

Yang, Hyunah. “Chŭngŏn’gwa yŏksassŭgi—han’gugin ‘kun wianbu’ŭi chuch’esŏng chaehyŏn [Testimony and Writing History: Representing the Subjectivity of Korean ‘Military Comfort Women’]” Sahoewa yŏksa[Society and History] 60. (2001. 12): 60-96

Yoon, Chung Ro. “Pet’ŭnamjŏnjaeng ch’amjŏn’guninŭi chip’apchŏk chŏngch’esŏng hyŏngsŏnggwa chibae ideollogiŭi chaesaengsan [Reproduction of the Ruling Ideology and Formation of Vietnam Veterans’ Collective Identities].” Kyŏngjewasahoe[Economy and Society] 76. (2007): 196-221

—“Kusurŭl t’onghae pon pet’ŭnamjŏnjaeng -ch’amjŏn’guninŭi chŏnjaeng kyŏnghŏmgwa kiŏkŭl chungshimŭro- [Vietnam War Through Oral Testimonies: Focused on the Experiences and Memories of the War with Veterans].” Sahoegwahakyŏn’gu[Social Science Studies] 17. (2009. 1): 228-263

—“Han’gugŭi pet’ŭnamjŏnjaeng kinyŏmgwa kiŏgŭi chŏngch’i [The Politics of Memory and Commemoration of the Vietnam War in Korea].” Sahoewa yŏksa 86. (2010): 149-80

— “Han’gugŭi pet’ŭnamjŏnjaeng kiŏgŭi pyŏnhwawa chaegusŏng—1999nyŏn 『han’gyŏre21』k’aemp’ein’gwa kŭ ihu pyŏnhwarŭl chungshimŭro [Changes and Reconstruction in the Vietnam War’s Memories of Korea: Focused on Changes in the Campaign of Hangyere 21 since 1999].” Sahoewa yŏksa 105. (2015): 7-40.


Voice of the People, July 1990, 92-99; Chosen Monthly, April 1 1992.

The year 2000 saw a proliferation of truth and reconciliation committees attempting to confront and investigate the atrocities committed by various governmental agencies during the colonial era and authoritarian rule such as the Nogunri massacre, the Jeju uprising, the Gwangju Democratic Movement and the “comfort women” issue, culminating in the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2005. See Jae-Jung Suh, “Truth and Reconciliation in South Korea: Confronting War, Colonialism, and Interventions in the Asia-Pacific,” in Truth and Reconciliation in South Korea: Between the Present and Future of the Korean Wars, ed. Jae-Jung Suh (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2012), 7-8, especially footnote 15. Unfortunately, these efforts were weakened during Lee Myung-bak’s presidency, between 2007 and 2012. See Yeon Cheol Seong, “Shinjiho ŭiwŏn t’rkwagŏsawi t’ongt’pp’yehapt’ pŏban parŭi[Shin Ji-ho Proposes Bill to Merge Truth-finding Commissions into One],Hankyoreh Sinmun, November 20, 2008. Shin Ji-ho was a lawmaker from the conservative Grand National Party.

Charles K. Armstrong, “America’s Korea, Korea’s Vietnam,” Critical Asian Studies 33, no. 4 (2001): 527-540. Armstrong’s article focused on the emerging public debate around the issue of war crimes committed by the South Korean troops during the Vietnam War. For earlier work on the issue prior to the formation of public discussion in South Korea, see Frank Baldwin, Diane Jones, and Michael Jones, America’s Rented Troops: South Koreans in Vietnam (American Friends Service Committee, 1975).

Ku then began working as a Hankyoreh special correspondent. Three of her articles were published in Hankyoreh 21 on September 2, 1999. On the history of Hankyoreh and a detailed account of its role in publicizing South Korea’s Vietnam question, see Armstrong, “America’s Korea, Korea’s Vietnam,” 529, 536-7.

See Minh Hồng Hà, “Nogŭlliŭi kiŏgesŏ pet’ŭnam chŏnjaengŭi chinshirŭl saenggak’ada [Contemplating the Truth of the Vietnam War in the Memory of Nogunri],” (presentation, People’s Tribunal on War Crimes by South Korean Troops during the Vietnam War Conference, Seoul, South Korea, April 20, 2018).

For detailed information on Nawauri, see Thomas Kern and Sang-hui Nam, “The Korean Comfort Women Movement and the Formation of a Public Sphere in East Asia,” in Korea Yearbook (2009): Politics, Economy and Society, ed. Rüdiger Frank, Jim Hoare, Patrick Kölner, and Susan Pares (Brill, 2009), 227-256.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission, proliferation of literature pertaining to Nogunri, and the Comfort Women issue. See Dong-Choon Kim, “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea: Uncovering the Hidden Korean War,The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 8 Issue 9 No. 5, March 1, 2010. Also, see footnote 2 in Hyun Sook Kim, “Korea’s “Vietnam Question”: War Atrocities, National Identity, and Reconciliation in Asia,” positions 9, no. 3 (2001): 634.

Hankyoreh Sinmun, April 19, 2000, 1; Hankyoreh 21, April 27, 2000, 34-37.

See Kyoung Tae Koh, “Haksarŭl charanghal ttae kyŏndil su ŏpsŏtta [I Couldn’t Bear It When They Bragged About Massacres],” Hankyoreh 21, May 11 2000, and  Hwang, Sang Chul, “Han k’illŏjungdaewŏnŭi ch’amhoe[Confession from One Killer Company Veteran],” Hankyoreh 21, June 1, 2000.

10 Kyoung Tae Koh, “Chamjadŏn chinshil 30nyŏnmane kkaeŏnada,” Hankyoreh 21, November 15, 2000.

11 Frank Baldwin, Diane Jones, and Michael Jones. America’s Rented Troops: South Koreans in Vietnam,(American Friends Service Committee, 1975).

12 Koh, “Chamjadŏn chinshil.”

13 Chang Suk Kim, “Han’gukkundo mani tanghaetta [South Korean Soldiers Too Had Their Share],”Hankyoreh 21, November 15, 2000.

14 Examples range from the activities of the I’m Sorry Vietnam movement and the Truth Commission on Civilian Massacres during the Vietnam War to peace camps and exchange programs organized by NawaUri. For detailed assessment of their contribution, see Chung Ro Yoon, “Han’gugŭi pet’ŭnamjŏnjaeng kiŏgŭi pyŏnhwawa chaegusŏng—1999nyŏn『han’gyŏre21』k’aemp’ein’gwa kŭ ihu pyŏnhwarŭl chungshimŭro [Changes and Reconstruction with the Vietnam War’s Memories of Korea: Focused on the Changes with the Campaign of Hangyere 21 since 1999],” Sahoewa yŏksa 105 (2015): 7-40.

15 See Hongkoo Han, “Han’gukkwa pet’ŭnamjŏnjaeng [South Korea and the Vietnam War],” Naeirŭl yŏnŭn yŏksa 4 (2001. 1): 115-126, and Tae Yang Kwak, “The Anvil of War: The Legacies of Korean Participation in the Vietnam War,” PhD diss. (Harvard University, 2006).

16 See Tae Gyun Park, “Han’gukkunŭi pet’ŭnam ch’amjŏn [Between Memory and Oblivion: The Dispatch of Korean Combat Troops to Vietnam]” Yŏksabip’yŏng 80 (2007. 8): 288-311; Juhyung Shim, “Pet’ŭnamjŏn ch’amjŏne taehan kiŏgŭi chŏngch’i [The Politics of Memory Surrounding the Participation in the Vietnam War].” Master’s thesis (Seoul National University, 2003); and Yoon, “Pet’ŭnamjŏnjaeng ch’amjŏn’guninŭi chip’apchŏk chŏngch’esŏng hyŏngsŏnggwa chibae ideollogiŭi chaesaengsan [Reproduction of the Ruling Ideology and Formation of the Vietnam Veterans’ Collective Identities],” Kyŏngjewasahoe 76 (2007): 196-221, and “Kusurŭl t’onghae pon pet’ŭnamjŏnjaeng -ch’amjŏn’guninŭi chŏnjaeng kyŏnghŏmgwa kiŏkŭl chungshimŭro- [Vietnam War in Oral Testimonies—Focused on the Experiences and Memories of the War with Veterans],” Sahoegwahakyŏn’gu 17 (2009. 1): 228-263.

17 Heonik Kwon, After the Massacre: Commemoration and Consolation in Ha My and My Lai, (Univ of California Press, 2006), and “Anatomy of US and South Korean Massacres in the Vietnamese Year of the Monkey, 1968,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 5, Issue 6 (June 4, 2007).

18 Minbyun initiated a legal battle for access to material on Korean atrocities in Vietnam, against the National Intelligence Service, based on the Information Disclosure Act, and won the initial case in July 2018 and the appeal in November 2018. After the second loss, the NIS again refused to open access to these materials on the basis that they contain personal information.

19 Bernd Greiner, War without Fronts: the USA in Vietnam (Random House, 2010).

20 See Bruce Cumings, interview by Hankyoreh, Lee Administration is Trying to ‘Bury All the New History We Have Learned: Bruce Cumings.’” November 26, 2008; and Sang-Hun Choe, “South Korea’s New Leader Abolishes State-Issued History Textbooks”, The New York Times, May 12, 2017. These attempts to suppress information were halted when the Democratic Party seized power with the election of Moon Jae-in in 2017.

21 See Aram Kim, “Sŏngjangshinhwae kach’in pangmulgwan—che3, 4chŏnshishil(1961nyŏn ihu) [Museum Caught in the Developmentalist Myth—The Exhibition Room 3 and 4 (After 1961)],” Yŏksabip’yŏng 104 (2013): 174-192, and the War Memorial of Korea’s special exhibition on overseas deployment.

22 This is based on the unpublished archive produced by Minbyun’s Vietnam War Study Group, which contains a list of articles published in South Korea on the subject of civilian massacres during the Vietnam War.

23 For a detailed account of the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery, see Rumi Sakamoto, “The Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery: A Legal and Feminist Approach to the ‘Comfort Women’ Issue.” New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 3, no. 1 (2001): 49-58.

24 For example, Kim, “Korea’s ‘Vietnam Question,’” pp. 623-7; Kwon, After the Massacre, pp. 28-59, and Yoon, “Han’gugŭi pet’ŭnamjŏnjaeng kinyŏmgwa kiŏgŭi chŏngch’i [The Politics of Memory and Commemoration of the Vietnam War in Korea],” Society and History 86, (2010): 161-8.

25 For further discussion on the “comfort women” issue of the Japanese imperial army, see Hyunah Yang, “Chŭngŏn’gwa yŏksassŭgi—han’gugin ‘kun wianbu’ŭi chuch’esŏng chaehyŏn [Testimony and Writing History: Representing the Subjectivity of Korean ‘Military Comfort Women’],” Sahoewa yŏksa 60 (2001. 12): 60-96. Yang also participated as a judge for the Tribunal.

26 A civil court is rare among tribunals, most of which have adopted the format of a criminal court. Minbyun chose this route because it considered the People’s Tribunal a preparatory step to filing an actual state compensation lawsuit against the South Korean government in the near future.

27 These types of legal battles to gain access to the Vietnam War crime documents would be crucial not only in Korea but also in the U.S. and Vietnam. For example, in 1969, the Pentagon set up a task force named Vietnam War Crimes Working Group in the wake of My Lai Massacre, which produced “Pentagon’s institutional memory for all war-crime matters” in Vietnam during its four-year activity. These documents were relocated to the public shelves at the National Archive in 1994, but a substantial portion of them became reclassified or were blocked for containing personal information in 2002, before which Nick Turse managed to copy about one third of the whole document and used the material to show how extensive the atrocities were. See Greiner, War without Fronts, 11, and Nick Turse, “A My Lai a Month: How the US Fought the Vietnam War, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 6 Issue 11 (November 1, 2008).

28 Takeshi Fujii, “Kahae kyŏnghŏmŭl marhandanŭn kŏt: ilbon chunggukkwihwanjayŏllak’oeŭi sarye [Speaking the Experience of the Perpetrator: the Case of Japan’s Association of Returnees from China],” (presentation, the People’s Tribunal on War Crimes by South Korean Troops during the Vietnam War Conference, Seoul, South Korea, April 20, 2018). The Association of Returnees from China, or Chūgoku kikansha renrakukai, consisted of former Japanese soldiers and officers who were captured in China during WWII and, after re-education, were freed and sent back to Japan after the war. Over subsequent decades, these men gave testimony about their experience of witnessing and committing war crimes such as the Nanjing Massacre and the “comfort women”, criticized Japanese right-wing nationalists and colonial apologists, and created a museum documenting atrocities. For another case in which Japanese people tried to come to terms with their colonial atrocity known as the Hanaoka Incident, see Richard Minear and Franziska Seraphim, “Hanaoka Monogatari: The Massacre of Chinese Forced Laborers, Summer 1945,” The Asia Pacific Journal, Vol. 13 Issue 25 (June 29, 2015).

29 Even Hà Minh Hồng reflected on Nogunri in his opening statement of the conference, “Nogŭlliŭi kiŏgesŏ pet’ŭnam.”

30 In fact, one of the gravest shortcomings of the movement in South Korea has been an utter lack of exchange with any Vietnamese organization formed around this issue, let alone those from the Vietnamese diaspora. Another limitation of the investigation team was that not a single member of the team was fluent in Vietnamese. 

31 Shim, “Pet’ŭnam chŏnjaengŭi tongshidaesŏng: pet’ŭnam saeroun sedaeŭi chŏnjaenggiŏk [The Contemporaneity of the ‘Vietnam War’: the New Generation’s Memory of War in Vietnam],” (presentation, the People’s Tribunal on War Crimes by South Korean Troops during the Vietnam War Conference, Seoul, South Korea, April 20, 2018).

“When a company wields such power that it can cause a Minister to rush an approval process, cut corners and make significant errors, it is cause for serious concern.” — Kelly O’Shanassy, Australian Conservation Foundation, June 12, 2019

While the proposal is of a diminished monster, the travails over Adani’s efforts to open up the Galilee Basin in Queensland to mining have yielded fruit. Brute corporate strength, and the customary cowering of politicians, has seen an Indian mining giant gain approval for the construction of the Carmichael mine.  Many a stick and carrot were procured in the endeavour, and the outcome of the ballot box in May, returning a pro-coal Coalition government, was always going to have some propulsion.

The environmental aspects of the case have been gradually sidelined and placed in storage.  Prior to the federal election, Queensland’s Labor government was expressing reservations, suggesting stonewalling and vacillation.  A divide between the metropolitan centre and the rural areas was being teased at the federal level: areas where a mining development might create jobs was touted as a drawcard; the metropolitan centre was deemed indulgently green, coffee-sipping and distant. 

The drawcard aspect was trumpeted by the Queensland Resources Council: “The Adani Carmichael mine is one of six in the Galilee Basin that could create tens of thousands of jobs in construction and operation and deliver billions of dollars in royalties over their working lifespan.”  At the same time, there were concerns about irreversible environmental damage, the sort that could only be dealt with by means of management plans.  The versions, and delays, proliferated. 

This left the state Palaszczuk government, despite a fear of wobbling, still keen to let the Queensland environmental regulator decide, a vain attempt to keep politics out of the equation.  The season was not a good one for the thorough minded. The federal government had essentially muzzled the then Environment Minister Melissa Price prior to the election, weighing upon her to approve aspects of the project.  It was then left to the state government to consider the water management plans. 

All sense of permitting the regulator to engage in its quest unmolested were banished by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.  The electoral outcome at the federal level had unhinged her.  She was “fed up” at delays at both federal and state level. The Environment Department was given the due hurry up.  Last Thursday, the approval for Adani came through.  Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch, rather unconvincingly, suggested that the process had been robust and cognisant of “some of the most rigorous environmental protections in the country”.  Former general manager for water allocation and planning in the Queensland government Tom Crothers saw it differently.  “Science has been thrown in the bin for political expediency.” 

Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan, who remains cocooned by environmental denial and coal rich nirvana, was visibly delighted at this next stage in the Adani saga. 

“It has been more than 50 years since a new coal basin has opened in Queensland, so this development is of huge importance to the economic future of Queensland.” 

Adani Australia’s chief executive Lucas Dow expressed his “excitement” as well he might but seems to have put the cart well ahead of the horse in terms of the number of jobs promised.  A number he previously subscribed to was 1,500 direct jobs, to be made in north and central Queensland.  Another 6,750 indirect jobs would spring forth during “the ramp-up and construction phase”. But numbers, as they can in any induced fantasy, vary.   

Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie has claimed that a hundred ongoing jobs could be assured while Federal Nationals MP Michelle Landry, despite championing the mine as a creator of votes in her seat of Capricornia, professes to having no idea about numbers.   

Not all pro-coal voices have warmed to the decision.  Alan Jones, who rules the Sydney airwaves from the 2GB radio station made the obvious point that the Queensland Environment Department “would have been under massive political pressure to approve Adani’s groundwater management plan.”   

There are, however, several knotting twists.  No actual digging of coal will take place till pipeline and railway matters are sorted out, though box cut mining may take place at the site itself.  Then comes the understanding that the mining company will do further work over the next two years to identify alternative sources of that most precious of resources: water.  Giving Adani approval to mine may be tantamount to sentencing the Permian aquifers (Colinlea) to extinction, a point that featured in the Queensland Environment Department’s order that the mining company install a new bore.  Further approvals will be needed regarding the impact on the Doongbulla Springs. 

As Jones points out, “hydrogeochemical analysis of groundwater from different springs” will be undertaken, suggesting that approval, while it has been granted, has been done in circumstances of considerable ignorance: “no one seems to know what will happen to [the] groundwater.”  The new bores will also be subjected to isotopic analysis and air sampling. 

The contingent nature of any such analysis has coloured the overall assessments, further suggesting the dangers in any continuation of the project. When the Queensland Environment Department consulted the scientific bodies of CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, it received little in the way of certitude.  Both “confirmed that some level of uncertainly in geological and groundwater conceptual models always exists.” 

Another twist is a legal one. When Price had the federal portfolio, she decided, all too conveniently, to ignore the “water trigger” feature to the pipeline element of Adani’s proposal, one that would require 12.5 billion litres of water a year.  Deemed an essential feature in assessing the impacts of large coal and coal seam gas projects on water, Price avoided it altogether. This led to a challenge from the Australian Conservation Foundation in December 2018.   

The case duly expanded to incorporate an additional dimension.  Wading through public submissions, especially in the order of 2,200, takes time, and expedient politics, by its nature, resists care and consideration.  One tends to rule out the other.   

In an underreported feature of the approvals, last week’s legal victory of the ACF in the Federal Court against the assessment of Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme shifted focus back to the federal government.  As ACF’s Chief Executive Kelly O’Shanassy put it,

“The government conceded it did not properly consider more than 2,000 public submissions from Australians with concerns about the mine and the water scheme.” 

Submissions had also gone missing. The environmental laws had been applied with carefree shoddiness.  The result is that the proposal will return for consideration by the new Environment Minister, Sussan Ley. 

The road is a potted one, but the opening of the Galilee Basin will be, not merely an environmental crime but one inflicted with irresponsible futility.  Sensing that point, the banks and insurers have already ruled themselves out in funding the venture.  Indian demand for coal will diminish, however much it is being heralded now as a moral entitlement to development, and the white, albeit dirty elephant that is Adani’s mining project will remain a travesty of optimistic human barbarism.


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Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  He is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research. Email: [email protected]

In February 2010, the Indian government placed an indefinite moratorium on the commercial release of Bt brinjal. Prior to this decision, numerous independent scientific experts from India and abroad had pointed out safety concerns regarding Bt (insecticidal) brinjal based on data and reports in the biosafety dossier that Mahyco, the crop developer, had submitted to the regulators.

The then Minister of the Ministry of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh had instituted a unique four-month scientific enquiry and public hearings. His decision to reject the commercialisation of Bt brinjal was supported by advice from renowned international scientists. Their collective appraisals demonstrated serious environmental and biosafety concerns, which included issues regarding the toxicity of Bt proteins resulting from their mode of action on the human gut system.

Jairam Ramesh pronounced a moratorium on Bt brinjal in February 2010 founded on what he called “a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach.” The moratorium has not been lifted.

In India, five high-level reports have advised against the adoption of GM crops. Appointed by the Supreme Court, the ‘Technical Expert Committee (TEC) Final Report’ (2013) was scathing about the prevailing regulatory system and highlighted its inadequacies and serious inherent conflicts of interest. The TEC recommended a 10-year moratorium on the commercial release of all GM crops.

Prominent campaigner Aruna Rodrigues says:

“In his summing-up of the unsustainability of Bt brinjal and of its implications if introduced, one of the experts involved, Professor Andow, said it posed several unique challenges because the likelihood of resistance evolving quickly is high. He added that without any management of resistance evolution, Bt brinjal is projected to fail in 4-12 years.”

And that is what we have witnessed with Bt cotton. The reason why this crop made it into India’s fields in the first place was due to ‘approval by contamination’. India’s first and only legal GM crop cultivation – Bt cotton – was discovered in 2001 growing on thousands of hectares in Gujarat. In March 2002, it was approved for commercial cultivation.

The pro-GMO lobby, having lost the debate on the need for and efficacy of GM, has again resorted to such tactics. It appears nothing has been learnt from the experience of an ill-thought-out experiment with Bt cotton that put many poor farmers in a corporate noose for the sake of Monsanto profit.

Pro-GMO lobby encourages illegal planting

India is signatory to the international agreement on the regulation of modern biotechnology – the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol. The country also has science-based legal regulations for modern biotech.

The moratorium on Bt brinjal occurred because science won out against a regulatory process that lacked competency, possessed endemic conflicts of interest and demonstrated a lack of expertise in GMO risk assessment protocols, including food safety assessment and the assessment of environmental impacts.

As we have seen with the relentless push to get GM mustard commercialised, the problems persist. Through numerous submissions to court, Aruna Rodrigues has described how GM mustard is being undemocratically forced through with flawed tests (or no tests) and a lack of public scrutiny: in effect, there has been unremitting scientific fraud and outright regulatory delinquency. Moreover, this crop is also herbicide-tolerant (HT), which, as stated by the TEC, is wholly inappropriate for India with its small biodiverse, multi-cropping farms.

Despite this, on 10 June 2019 a bunch of pro-GMO activists stage-managed an event designed to gain maximum publicity by illegally planting Bt brinjal seeds at Akola in the state of Maharashtra. A press release issued to coincide with this stunt stated that the event was an act of ‘Satyagraha’ (the notion of nonviolent resistance used by Gandhi against British rule).

One of the instigators has even argued that Bt brinjal is ‘organic’, involves almost pesticide-free cultivation, probably uses less fertiliser and is entirely natural. Moreover, the argument put forward is that if organic farming means growing plants without the support of safe and healthy modern technology and this is imposed by ‘eco-imperialists’, the poor would starve to death.

These unscientific claims and well-worn industry-inspired soundbites must be seen for what they are: political posturing unsupported by evidence to try to sway the policy agenda in favour of GM. The actions in Akola display a contempt for government acting in the wider public interest.

Drawing on previous peer-reviewed evidence, a 2018 paper in the journal Current Science concluded that Bt crops and HT crops are unsustainable and globally have not decreased the need for toxic chemical pesticides, the reason for these GM crops in the first place. Furthermore, GM crop yields are at least no better than that of non-GM crops, despite the constant industry claims that only GM can feed the world.

Each genetic modification poses unique risks which cannot be controlled or predicted; as a technology, GM is thus fundamentally flawed. But a food crop isn’t just eaten. There are effects on the environment too. Even a cursory examination of the US cropping system is enough to prove that the legacy of pesticidal GM crops has fuelled the epidemics of herbicide- resistant weeds and emerging insecticide resistant pests.

GMOs are not substantially equivalent to their non-GMO counterparts and there is no consensus on GM safety or efficacy among major institutions, despite what lobbyists claim. Genetic engineering is fundamentally different from natural plant breeding and presents various risks. This is recognised in laws and international guidelines on GM worldwide. The claims and the research and ’big list’ studies (claiming safety) forwarded by the pro-GMO lobby do not stand up to scrutiny.

We need to look at GM objectively because plenty of evidence indicates it poses risks or is not beneficial and that non-GM alternatives are a better option. Moreover, many things that scientists are trying to achieve with GMOs have already been surpassed by means of conventional breeding.

Wider implications of GM agriculture

If people are genuinely concerned with ‘feeding the world’, they should acknowledge and challenge a global food regime which results in a billion people with insufficient food for their daily needs. As stated by Eric Holt-Giménez and his colleagues in the 2009 book, ‘Food rebellions! Crisis and the hunger for justice’:

“The construction of the corporate food regime began in the 1960s with the Green Revolution that spread the high-external input, industrial model of agricultural production to the Global South. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment policies (SAPs) followed in the 1980s, privatizing state agencies, removing barriers to northern capital flows, and dumping subsidized grain into the Global South. The free trade agreements of the 1990s and the World Trade Organization enshrined SAPs within international treaties. The cumulative result was massive peasant displacement, the consolidation of the global agri-food oligopolies and a shift in the global flow of food: While developing countries produced a billion-dollar yearly surplus in the 1970s, by 2004, they were importing US$ 11 billion a year.”

Instead, we get calls for more corporate freedom, GMOs and deregulation that coincide with constant attacks on proven agroecolocical methods which have no need for proprietary pesticides or GMOs and thus represent a challenge to industry profits. India has more than enough food to feed its 1.3 billion-plus population and, given appropriate support, can draw on its own indigenous agroecological know-how built from hundreds (even thousands) of years’ experience to continue to do so.

But pro-GMO lobbyists adopt a haughty mindset and assert the world can genetically modify itself to food security. At the same time, they attempt to marginalise safe and sustainable approaches to farming and sideline important political, cultural, ethical and economic factors.

The consequences of GM do not just relate to unpredictable changes in the DNA, proteins and biochemical composition of the resulting GM crop. Introducing GM can involve disrupting cultures and knowledge systems and farmers’ relationships with their environments: changing the fabric of rural societies. We just need to look at the adverse social and environmental consequences of the Green Revolution as outlined by Bhaskar Save in his 2006 open letter to officials. Even here, if we just focus on the Green Revolution in India in terms of production alone, the benefits are questionable to say the least.

Like the Green Revolution, GM is not just about ‘the science’; if anything, it is about solidifying the processes described by Holtz Gimenez et al above and a certain type of farming and the subsequent impacts on local economies and relations within rural communities. Before the Green Revolution, for instance, agriculturalists relied on mutual relationships within their villages. After the introduction of Green Revolution technology, they found themselves solely dealing with banks and agribusiness, thus weakening relationships within villages (Vandana Shiva discussed these impacts at length in her 1993 book, ‘The Violence of the Green Revolution’).

If India or the world is to continue to feed itself sustainably, we must look away from the industrial yield-output paradigm and the corporations driving it and adopt a more localised agroecological systems approach to food and agriculture that accounts for many different factors, including local food security and food sovereignty, local calorific production, cropping patterns and diverse nutrition production per acre, water table stability, climate resilience, good soil structure and the ability to cope with evolving pests and disease pressures.

Prominent critics of GM respond

In response to the recent activities in Akola, Aruna Rodrigues issued a legal notice to initiate proceedings against those responsible for the deliberate planting of illegal Bt Brinjal.

Vandana Shiva issued a press release, which can be read on the site seed freedom. She cites numerous peer-reviewed studies to rebut the claims made in support of GM and notes the outright hypocrisy of industry lobbyists who are laying claim to Gandhi’s legacy. She argues that that ‘Satyagraha’ is being degraded and misused: the planting of illegal Bt brinjal is a crime that violates India’s Biodiversity Act.

Of course, one of the most vocal claims of lobbyists is that GM technology offers farmers choice and that ‘activists’ are denying choice.

Writing on the Times of India website, Kavitha Kuruganti says if choices are to be left to farmers entirely, why do we need regulation of chemical pesticides either? What about the choices of farmers impinging upon consumer health and environmental sustainability? What about the choice of one set of farmers (let us say the ones who are keen on adopting GM crops) impinging upon the choice of neighbouring organic farmers whose crop will inevitably get contaminated? She argues there is nothing like absolute freedom without concomitant duties and responsibilities and that applies to technologies too.

Choice operates on another level as well. It is easy to manufacture ‘choice’. In 2018, there were reports of HT cotton illegally growing in India. A 2017 journal paper reported that cotton farmers have been encouraged to change their ploughing practices, which has led to more weeds being left in their fields. It is suggested that the outcome in terms of yields (or farmer profit) is arguably no better than before. However, it coincides with the appearance of an increasing supply (and farmer demand) for HT cotton seeds.

The authors observe:

“The challenge for agrocapital is how to break the dependence on double-lining and ox-weeding to open the door to herbicide-based management…. how could farmers be pushed onto an herbicide-intensive path?”

They show how farmers are indeed being nudged onto such a path and also note the potential market for herbicide growth alone in India is huge: sales could reach USD 800 million this year with scope for even greater expansion. From cotton to soybean, little wonder we see the appearance of HT seeds in the country.

And as for ‘choice’, what choice is there when non-GM seeds disappear and farmers only have GM seeds to ‘choose’ from, which is what happened with GM cotton. Real informed choice is the result of tried and tested environmental learning and outcomes. Then you decide which option is best. However, where Bt cotton was concerned this process gave way to ‘social learning’ – you follow the rest. This, coupled with Monsanto’s PR campaigns within villages and in the national media, did not leave a great deal of space for ‘free choice’.

The ‘free’ market ideologues behind events in Akola talk about ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’ and helping the farmer. But the real agenda is to open-up India to GM and get farmers hooked on a corporate money-spinning GMO seed-chemical treadmill.


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Colin Todhunter is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research.

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Whether it’s through its recent anti-satellite missile test, its newly created de-facto “Space Force”, or its plans to build a space station around 2030, India’s stepping up the pace of the South Asian space race and greatly destabilizing the region in the process, though inadvertently shaping the strategic conditions for Russia and Pakistan to further expand their strategic partnership in response in order to restore the balance of power in this part of the world.

All the signs coming out of India nowadays seem to imply that Modi is motivated to make his second term in office all about the space race. He provocatively tested an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile during his re-election campaign and reportedly did the same with a hypersonic one earlier this week too. In addition, the country plans to be the fourth one to land a rover on the moon later this summer and has set the ambitious task of building a space station around 2030. Furthermore, the newly created “Defense Space Agency” (DSA, India’s de-facto analogue to Trump’s so-called “Space Force“) just announced that it’ll hold a space war simulation next month, with it being obvious that this is probably being done at the US’ behest as part of its “Indo-Pacific” strategy to “contain” China, the only realistic adversary that India would ever have to confront in space at this point. Suffice to say, India’s stepping up the pace of the South Asian space race and destabilizing the region in the process.

It’s not for naught, then, that Russia and and the global pivot state of Pakistan recently concluded a space pact whereby both countries jointly condemned the militarization of this domain, hinting that further cooperation in this respective sector might be in the cards if Moscow becomes convinced that New Delhi is geopolitically irredeemable. Although Russia is cooperating real closely with India in the space sector, it’s only doing so for peaceful ends and to also rake in billions of dollars in future revenue for its sanctions-plagued budget if it can “capture” that country as its exclusive customer, something that’ll be more difficult to do than ever before now that the US is fiercely competing for this market. Considering that Russia slyly criticized India’s ASAT test in a very carefully worded statement around that time and also has no intention of helping the South Asian state aggressively militarize space, whereas the US is willing to invest whatever is needed in order to improve India’s space capabilities as a means to “contain” China, it’s very likely that Washington will ultimately have the upper hand in this respect.

That’s not to say that Russia won’t have a role to play in the South Asian space race, however, since it’s paradoxically poised to have a more important one than ever before under those conditions if it can successfully leverage its “balancing” act in order to stabilize the region. China is already working very closely with the Pakistan in all fields, so if Russia increases its cooperation with Beijing’s prime partner and especially in the peaceful space domain, then the nascent Multipolar Trilateral might be able to counteract the destabilizing impact of the US-Indian Strategic Partnership’s coordinated progress in space. Russia would ideally retain its strategic partnership with India in this scenario and therefore have a hand in both it and Pakistan’s rise as global space powers, with the first-mentioned also collaborating with the US in this regard while the second would be working with China to that end. Russia, as the only Great Power with prospectively equal relations with both South Asian rivals, would therefore be able to restore the balance of power and preserve regional peace.


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Andrew Korybko is an American Moscow-based political analyst specializing in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, and Hybrid Warfare. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

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The Secretary of State told the audience at the US-India Business Council meeting earlier this week that he “didn’t want to spoil the surprise” by spilling all the details of what he plans to talk about during his upcoming trip to India on 24 June, but what he did reveal strongly hints that the “surprise” will probably be a three-part package deal solidifying the American-Indian Strategic Partnership at Russia’s complete expense.

Secretary of State Pompeo is prepared to compete with Russia on all front when it comes to “poaching” India as a strategic ally, at least judging by what he strongly hinted at during his speech at the US-India Business Council earlier this week. Speaking to the audience, he described how American-Indian relations have greatly improved since the time of the Old Cold War and after the implementation of India’s free market reforms, which have resulted in the US becoming the South Asian state’s second-largest trading partner at $142 billion worth of transactions last year alone.

This economic groundwork laid the basis for expanding their ties in the military and strategic domains, with India recently becoming the US’ first and only “Major Defense Partner” and a crucial component of the so-called Quad, which have in turn made it one of America’s priority partners for its so-called “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” vision. Pompeo emphasized that the his country and India have “overlapping interests” in the defense, energy, and space domains and that “it’s only natural that the world’s most populous democracy should partner with the world’s oldest democracy”.

With an eye on the future, he even suggested that the sale of F-21 and F/A-18 fighter jets “could give India the capabilities it needs to become a full-fledged security provider throughout the Indo-Pacific”, implying that the US wants to see India expand its military-strategic presence from Africa all the way to Japan in becoming its “Lead From Behind” proxy for jointly “contain” China. On top of that, Pompeo also spoke very excitedly about the US’ plans to build six nuclear reactors in India and export more crude and LNG to it too, as well as intensify their growing cooperation in space.

Nevertheless, he stopped himself from spilling all the details of his upcoming talks by telling everyone that he “doesn’t want to spoil the surprise”, which immediately piqued the world’s curiosity about what exactly he has in mind. Judging from what he already revealed during his speech, the US probably intends to formally offer India a three-part package deal comprised of a series of energy, trade, and military deals for solidifying the American-Indian Strategic Partnership, all of which would ultimately come at Russia’s complete expense given the zero-sum competitive dynamics involved.

Modi will more than likely bow down to Trump’s trade demands even though the two sides are presently trying to get a better deal from one another with through their GSP and tariff games. Moreover, the US successfully pressured India to discontinue importing Iranian oil despite its previous promise to only respect UNSC sanctions and not unilaterally imposed ones, thereby naturally opening up the opportunity for American resources to eventually fill the void. It’s the military aspect of this probable three-part deal, however, that poses the most serious risk to Russia’s interests if the US gets India to pull out of its S-400 deal in exchange for THAADs.

The Indian Ambassador to the US strongly hinted last month that his country was prepared for a full-on military pivot towards his host country, and with his homeland being so closely tied to America on the economic front (unlike the comparatively measly $9 billion in bilateral trade that it conducts with Russia each year mostly through the military-industrial complex), there’s a certain logic to New Delhi ditching Moscow in order to avoid CAATSA sanctions so long as the Pentagon can replace the abandoned wares and satisfy its security needs. Should that happen, then it would be disastrous for the Russian budget and offset its two systemic transitions.

Largely ignored by most of the world, Russia is presently experiencing political and socio-economic transitions as Putin prepares to pick a successor before he retires in 2024 (Post-Putin 2024, or PP24 for short) at the same time as he seeks to invest $400 billion in modernizing his country’s hard and soft infrastructure through the so-called “Great Society” (also known as the “National Development Projects”). Russia’s budget is still largely dependent on resource and arms exports, with India being an important partner for both, so it would be disastrous if American businesses quickly replace it in the energy, military, and even space domains.

Although Russia is rapidly trying to diversify its erstwhile regional dependence on India through its “Return to South Asia” and attendant strategic partnership with the global pivot state of Pakistan, it might not be able to do so quickly enough to avoid enormous budgetary losses before 2024, the time when both systemic transitions are supposed to be completed. This could make the country much more vulnerable to American pressure in agreeing to a lopsided “New Detente“, which is presumably one of the main factors driving the US’ comprehensive strategic outreach to India at Russia’s budgetary expense.

It’s with this motivation in mind why it’s very likely that the “surprise” that Pompeo plans to reveal during his upcoming trip to India is a three-part package deal for solidifying the American-Indian Strategic Partnership, which would satisfy the dual proposes of inflicting inordinate pain on the Russian budget while simultaneously serving to “contain” China. Should this scenario come to pass as expected, then Russia’s only sensible recourse would be to strengthen the Multipolar Trilateral between itself, China, and Pakistan as it seeks to build the Golden Ring of Multipolar Great Powers in response.


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Featured image isa PTI file

Indian Prime Minister Modi will pay his first foreign trip since re-election to the Indian Ocean island states of the Maldives and Sri Lanka from 8-9 June in showcasing the geostrategic importance that these two countries have for India’s foreign policy during the next five years of his second term in office. Indian think tanks have written extensively about the need for their government to “counter” China’s influence in the Indian Ocean, which New Delhi regards as its “backyard”, and the recent political changes in the Maldives and Sri Lanka provide a prime opportunity for Prime Minister Modi to attempt to heed their advice.

The Maldives democratically changed its government late last year, during which time the international media speculated that its new leader would scale back Malé’s relations with China, which has yet to occur in any tangible sense but is still something that’s widely discussed among intellectuals and policymakers in the region. Prior to the elections, former President Yameen enthusiastically committed his country to China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), which unsettled India because of New Delhi’s vehement opposition to this global series of megaprojects that it fears will mitigate the influence that it used to exert on its neighbors.

The opposition forces that came to power vowed to “re-balance” the Maldives’ relations with India, which gave rise to the aforesaid speculation about its possible foreign policy pivot. Seeing as how Prime Minister Modi conspicuously shunned the Maldives during former President Yameen’s tenure, it’s very symbolic that he’s choosing this country as his first foreign trip abroad. As for Sri Lanka, although its government has moved closer to India since the 2015 elections that unseated former President Rajapaksa (who was also a keen supporter of BRI just like his former Maldivian counterpart), it has yet to pivot like how Indian strategists expected.

In fact, President Sirisena nominated former President Rajapaksa as the country’s replacement Prime Minister late last year, which caused a political crisis that ultimately led to a return to the status quo, albeit in a much more polarized domestic environment than before. Sri Lanka has attempted to maintain a careful balance between China and India, with this being seen most visibly by bestowing the port of Hambantota to Beijing while recently doing the same with the one in Colombo when it came to New Delhi and Tokyo, both of whom are jointly leading the nascent “Asia-Africa Growth Corridor” (AAGC) initiative across the Indo-Pacific.

Prime Minister Modi’s upcoming trip is taking place after appointing career diplomat Subrahmanyam Jaishankar as India’s new Minister of External Affairs. This move caught the attention of many observers because it’s one of the first times that a technocrat was given this position, which is especially significant in the current global context because Mr. Jaishankar used to be India’s Ambassador to both the US and China and accordingly obtained very deep insight about how both competing Great Powers operate. With this in mind, it can’t be discounted that Prime Minister Modi’s visits to the Maldives and Sri Lanka are aimed against China.


Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi

This isn’t mere conjecture either since the US’ recently released “Indo-Pacific Strategy Report” specifically points out the leading role that India is expected to play in the Indian Ocean Region and specifically its neighboring countries. Not only that, but the Pentagon also applauded the Maldives and Sri Lanka’s “positive trajectory” in light of the aforementioned political developments in each country that it regards as being favorable to American grand strategic interests. It’s worth mentioning that there are no disagreements in strategic vision between the US and India in this respect, nor when it comes to China’s role in the region.

By choosing the Maldives and Sri Lanka as the two countries that he’ll visit during his first foreign trip since re-election (possibly at the suggestion of career diplomat and recently appointed Minister of External Affairs Jaishankar), Prime Minister Modi is sending a very strong signal about India’s geostrategic intentions during his second term in office, which are evidently to restore and expand India’s influence in its neighboring nations. This in and of itself is a pragmatic move to make, though it’ll be especially concerning if India attempts to do so at China’s expense, especially as part of the US’ overall plans to “contain” the People’s Republic.


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This article was originally published on Oriental Review.

Andrew Korybko is an American Moscow-based political analyst specializing in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, and Hybrid Warfare. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

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In the face of a resurgent China, many perceive Japan as a spent force. Its military is stretched, relying heavily on increasingly obsolete American equipment in the face of assertive neighbours1. The Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) is one of the busiest air forces in the world, its fighters scrambling virtually daily to intercept multiple aircraft (mostly Russian and Chinese combat aircraft) penetrating Japan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)2; Japan’s ADIZ extends to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea3. This trajectory is most apparent in the realm of strategic affairs where China is assiduously building up its military might with significant advances in high-tech weapon systems such as the Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter. China’s J-20 while not in the same league as America’s F-35 Lightning II4 or F-22 stealth fighters, is rated as equal to the very best fourth-generation fighter aircraft fielded by the West5.

Fourth-generation planes fielded by Western forces would refer to the F-16 Fighting Falcon or the F-15 Strike Eagle which have designs dating back to the 1970s. Their fifth-generation successors, which Japan is keen to secure, would include the F-35 or F-22 which rely on low-observable features (i.e. stealth) and cutting-edge sensors. Besides the obvious benefits of stealth, the other game-changing feature in fifth-generation aircraft such as the F-35 is its cutting-edge avionics which affords American forces an unprecedented level of battlefield situational awareness (a “God’s Eye View”) and increasing integration with other weapon systems (for example, MQ-9 reaper drones, Arleigh Burke-class naval destroyers, the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and existing fourth generation jets such as the F-15s/F-16s). This contributes to the process of bolstering its operational capabilities to a point where it exceeds strategic rivals (i.e. China and Russia) by orders of magnitude (seizing pole position in a new era of networked warfare).

Japan’s F-35

Currently, Japan is planning to purchase up to 147 F-35 planes (105 F-35As, 42 F-35Bs), which would make it the largest operator of the stealth fighter in the world outside of the United States. At US$89.2-US$115.5 million per plane, this acquisition is expected to cost over US$10 billion6. The country is also retrofitting two of its Izumo class helicopter carriers to accommodate the F-35B, the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL)7 variant of the stealth fighter; a critical first step would be the reinforcement of the carrier decks to withstand the extreme heat from the F-35’s engines. Once this weapon system achieves operational readiness, Japan would be able to project this considerable airpower far beyond its shores. For starters, the low observable8 F-35 (its radar blip is the size of a golf ball) would easily penetrate Chinese and Russian airspace (at least for now) until radar systems advance to the point of acting as effective countermeasures9. Even if Chinese and Russian systems manage to locate the F-35, they would face considerable difficulty in tracking and targeting the stealth fighter. Further, by the time of detection, the F-35 would have deployed its onboard weapon system, delivering a crucial first strike advantage on strategic targets such as enemy air defences.

China claims that its J-20 stealth fighter, which has attained initial operational capability, would be capable of countering the F-35 challenge. However, this is highly unlikely as the J-20 still lags the F-35 in terms of battlefield situational awareness10 and jet propulsion systems, two factors that provide the jet with the critical combat operational edge11. In the world of aerial combat, the aircraft that is capable of “the first lock, first shot and first kill” would invariably emerge the victor. Further, the Pratt and Whitney F135 engine that powers the F-35 is capable of supersonic speeds without engaging afterburners. The WS-15 engines powering the J-20 do not have this capability12.

Moreover, the single crystal turbine blades of the WS-15 engine is unable to manage the extreme heat generated by the high-performance J-20 and some of these engines exploded during testing in 2015. In addition, the Chinese have thus not been able to produce the WS-15 engine on a sufficient scale, often relying on the less sophisticated WS-10B engine to power the J-2013. Jet engine production, even today, remains a Chinese weakness, with Chinese engineers struggling to rectify this crucial gap. Given the F-35’s superiority over its J-20 rival (in terms of situational awareness and jet engines), Japan with its projected fleet of over 100 F-35s would possess significant air superiority over the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The United States has thus far refused to sell the superior F-22 (with stealth technology and kinematics surpassing the F-35) to Japan, which would give the JASDF total air superiority in the region.

Despite the promised technological brilliance of the F-35, it has been plagued by persistent technical glitches (e.g. bugs resulting in inaccurate cannons and system shutdowns), significant cost overruns (making it the most expensive weapons system in history) and delays in operational readiness. All these unresolved issues have caused many analysts to label the F-35 a boondoggle14; the late US Senator, John McCain, once lambasted the F-35 programme, stating that it “has been both a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule, and performance”15. The embarrassing crash of Japan’s newly acquired F-35A on April 9, 2019, and the subsequent grounding of the entire F-35 fleet also raises serious doubts about the operational readiness of this supposed game-changing weapon system. This article examines the strategic capabilities, potential and weaknesses of the F-35 and, more importantly, how this cutting-edge technological breakthrough could position Japan in an era marked by the escalating strategic rivalry between supposedly pacifist Japan, rising China and an assertive Russia.

Strategic reasons behind Japan’s F-35 acquisition

Japan, bound by the pacifist principles inscribed in its constitution, has not maximized the potential of the Japan Self-Defence Forces (JSDF). As evidenced in Table 1, Japan, in 2012, spent US$44.6 billion on defence and this grew to US$46.6 billion by 2018 (a marginal compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 0.8%; throughout these six years, Japan’s military expenditure never exceeded 1% of its GDP. From 2019 to 2024, Japan is expected to spend US$245 billion (US$49 billion annually) on defence; for this forthcoming period, Japan’s estimated US$49 billion annual defence expenditure is still only about 1% of its GDP16. China’s military expenditure grew by a much larger CAGR of 7.6% in the same period, increasing from US$161.4 billion in 2012 to nearly US$250 billion in 2018. From 2012 to 2018, China spent nearly 2% of its GDP annually on defence17. China’s rapidly rising expenditure and increasing flexing of its muscles worries Japan18.

Throughout the postwar years, Japan has spent no more than 1% of its GDP on defence (see Table 1), continue to rely above all on the United States for protection. Even today, there are still 54,000 troops stationed in Japan19. This significant force includes personnel from the US Seventh Fleet (based in Yokosuka), which operates an aircraft carrier, destroyers, minehunters and large amphibious assault ships (capable of carrying F-35Bs)20. However, under the current Trump administration, Japan is under pressure to raise its military expenditure. President Trump has repeatedly stressed that allies such as Japan should bear the cost of their own defence. The US$10 billion plus acquisition of the F-35s could be viewed not just as a means of meeting the rising Chinese military challenge but also addressing the Trump administration’s incessant demands for Japan to bear greater responsibility for its own defence. Moreover, this significant acquisition is expected to please an administration that has consistently prided itself on its robust job creation prowess21; the F-35 programme is a considerable ‘job creation machine’ as it provides 194,000 jobs in America both directly and indirectly and this figure is expected to increase further as overseas orders increase22.

Sources: World Bank, IMF, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

Concurrently, Japan faces considerable challenges from its other strategic rival, Russia, which has yet to sign a permanent peace treaty since the conclusion of the Second World War. The biggest obstacle to the peace treaty is that both countries claim ownership over four islands (Habomai, Shikotan, Etorofu and Kunashiri) north of Hokkaido, known to Japan as the Northern Territories and Russia as the southern Kuril islands23. In March 2018, the Russian Air Force, for the first time, sent two Su-35s fighters to Etorofu (known as Iturup in Russia), the largest and northernmost island in the Northern Territories. This provoked a reaction from Japan, which urged Russia to reduce its military presence in the disputed territories. Further, in February 2019, Japan scrambled fighters to intercept four nuclear-capable Russian Tupolev Tu-95MS strategic bombers escorted by four Sukhoi Su-35s fighter jets over Japan’s east and west coasts24. The Su-35 is a highly-manoeuvrable, heavily-armed fourth-generation multirole air superiority fighter, regarded by industry analysts as the finest fourth-generation fighter in service today (see Table 2 for specifications)25. In a move that would invariably exert pressure on Japan, Russia sold and delivered 24 Su-35s to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). To contend with regional rivals, both armed with the sophisticated Su-3526, the JSDF procured a sizeable fleet of fifth-generation F-35s; despite its considerable manoeuvrability and firepower, the Su-35 does not have advanced fifth-generation stealth features (unlike America’s F-22/F-35 and China’s J-20) and the cutting-edge avionics/sensors available in the F-3527.

J-20, China’s mighty dragon

China’s J-20 also presents a serious challenge to Japan’s air defences, as the fighter, with its speed, range and stealth is designed to penetrate deep into heavily defended territories28. In terms of speed and raw power, the J-20 is superior to Japan’s F-35 and comparable to the F-35’s “older brother”, the F-22 (see Table 2); America’s F-22 is arguably the finest air-superiority fighter of this era29 but the country’s 1997 Obey Amendment prohibits overseas sales even to its closest allies (including Japan). However, in the era of fifth generation aerial combat survivability (in the form of stealth) supersedes raw speed and power. After all, no existing fighter with an average speed of Mach 2 would be able to outrun surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), which easily exceed Mach 3 in velocity. Even a service ceiling in excess of 60,000 feet does not provide a safe zone for modern fighters, as relatively inexpensive SAMs could easily down targets around 100,000 feet; one Russian made S-300 missile costs around US$1 million30 vis-à-vis the US$100 million price-tag for the F-35. In terms of sustainable flight performance, the relatively slower F-35 (vis-à-vis the J-20) could sustain a speed of Mach 1.2 for about 150 miles without using gas guzzling afterburners (see Table 2). This is superior to many fourth-generation planes, which operate at transonic (around Mach 1) speeds31. It is questionable whether the J-20’s WS-10B engines could deliver comparable performance, even though its prima facie top speed of Mach 2 plus is somewhat higher32.

Further, the remarkably small cross-section of the F-35 of 0.001 square metres (surpassed only by the F-22’s impossibly miniscule 0.0001 square metres) (see Table 2)33 would enable Japanese forces to penetrate Chinese-defended airspace in the South China Sea, populated by scores of SAM batteries34; if the F-35 were to engage its relatively more advanced electronic warfare suite, it could be stealthier than the F-2235. In essence, you can’t kill what you can’t see. By the time the F-35 is detected, it would have achieved its strategic objectives of suppressing enemy air defences (i.e. destroying area denial SAMs), allowing the next wave of heavily armed B-2 bombers and fourth-generation F-15 fighters (acting as bomb trucks and missile haulers respectively) to gain air superiority with impunity. The Chinese have undeniably made significant strides in stealth technology, as indicated by the J-20’s estimated radar cross section of 0.025 square metres (See Table 2). This level of stealth while impressive, however, is still a far cry from the radar-evasiveness of the F-35. The J-20’s level of stealth is at best comparable to America’s earlier stealth fighter, the F-117 which was used extensively and with considerable success in the Persian Gulf Wars36. Given the F-35’s revolutionary radar-evading technology, Japan’s expected forthcoming acquisition of 147 F-35s would enable the country to provide a robust deterrence against increasingly assertive regional rivals, China and Russia37.

(See footnotes 38 and 39)

Sources: Lockheed Martin, Global Security, David Goldfein, Minnie Chan, AIN Online, The Diplomat, Real Clear Defense

The F-35’s STVOL edge

An estimated 40 of the 147 F-35s which Japan is interested in acquiring would be the STOVL F-35B variant; Japan has reassured the United States of its commitment to acquire 42 of the F-35Bs despite the recent crash of the Japanese-assembled F-35A40. The F-35B would not only greatly augment the capabilities of the Izumo class carriers from which it is intended to be deployed but also significantly reduce relatively land scarce Japan’s need for conventional terrestrial runways. Why does the STOVL capability of the F-35B give it a significant edge over potential adversaries? Once the F-35B has suppressed enemy defences, it could take off on short, makeshift runways of about 168 metres (most conventional fighters require runways of at least 1.5 kilometres) and land vertically, enabling Japanese forces to launch incessant waves of combat sorties to fulfil close air support missions for advancing forces, all the time moving closer to enemy territory in amphibious operations41. If this strategy works out as planned, it is a terrifying prospect for Chinese forces in the event of a conflict.

The potentially opposing PLA force, its J-20, does not possess the STOVL capability of the F-35B. However this STOVL capability is not without its trade-offs, as it requires the installation of a lift fan and thrust vectoring system which reduces the internal weapons storage facility of the F-35B; the F-35 has to store its weapons internally to maintain maximum stealth. Nonetheless, once enemy air defences have been suppressed, a JSDF F-35B would shed its stealth mode and shift into its so-called ‘beast mode’, which allows it to carry about 22,000 pounds of internal and external ordinance. In this heavily armed configuration, the JSDF F-35B leveraging on its STOVL capability would pound enemy targets relentlessly with overwhelming firepower (e.g. the 2000-pound GBU-31 JDAM), from positions that are extremely close to opposition coastlines and bases. This capability would significantly increase the firepower of F-35B supported amphibious operations.

Currently, Japanese military planners intend to deploy the F-35B on its islands along the edge of the East China Sea and South China Sea. This is evidenced by the JSDF’s retrofitting of its Izumo-class carriers for amphibious operations, with the STOVL-capable F-35Bs onboard42. The JSDF’s strategy is modelled on the light carrier model already deployed by the United States; American amphibious assault ships such as the 40,000 ton USS Wasp, which carries at least 10 F-35Bs onboard, have been deployed in the South China Sea43.

Game-changing sensor suite and networked warfare

However, the game-changing nature of the F-35 extends far beyond low observability and STOVL. It is a force multiplier, as its sensor suite and avionics are able to work in conjunction with other weapon systems, in the process significantly raising the lethality of one’s armed forces. For instance, a JASDF F-35 would be able to network with surrounding fighter jets, drones, gunships and naval destroyers, and deploy their firepower with maximum effect. Additionally, “Hellfire” missiles (basically anti-armour missiles) could be deployed from nearby drones to engage advancing tanks, without the F-35 firing a single shot. In late 2017, the US Marine Corp also successfully linked its F-35B to the HIMARs rocket launcher; the F-35B fed target location data to the HIMARS onboard the amphibious transport dock Anchorage which proceeded to destroy a target on land 70 kilometres away44. This unique feature would also compensate for the relatively limited firepower (typically two air-to-air missiles and two JDAMs in internal carriage) inside the F-35 when it is operating in maximum stealth mode.

Further, it would be nearly impossible to surprise an F-35, as its onboard “Distributed Aperture System” or “DAS” (supported by six strategically mounted cameras), gives the pilot the earlier mentioned 360-degree “God’s Eye View”. The pilot is literally able to look through the plane and see everything beneath and around him. In addition, the “DAS” warns the pilot of any incoming missile or threat. Moreover, the F-35 has an “Electro-Targeting Optical System” (“EOTS”) which blends forward-looking infrared and infrared search and track sensor technology, enabling it to find and track adversaries before engaging them with a choice of laser and GPS-guided precision weapons. In such a situation, the fight between the F-35 and any adversary becomes greatly skewed in favour of the F-35. The F-35 pilot is virtually “invisible” to opposing fighter jets through its low observability while concurrently, he is able to locate, track and destroy these adversaries. The technological advantages afforded by the F-35 do not end here, as it also incorporates “mission data files” (the “brains” of the aircraft) which compiles mission critical information on geography, air space and potential threats (e.g. enemy aircraft) in areas where the jet is being deployed. The cutting-edge capabilities of the F-35 have been borne out in America’s intensive “Red Flag” air combat exercises where pilots are pitted against simulated Russian/Chinese adversaries and integrated air defence systems (i.e. SAMs). In such air combat exercises, the F-35s are able to achieve “20 to 1” kill ratios against capable fourth-generation jets such as the F-15s and F-16s; this means that for every downed F-35, it managed to destroy 20 simulated enemy fighter jets. Even newly-minted F-35 pilots are sometimes able to overcome experienced combat pilots (e.g. 3,000 flight hours) in capable, fourth generation fighter jets45. The JSDF, armed with 147 of these cutting-edge jets, would not only dominate the South China Sea but also become the preeminent air force in Asia, second only to the United States. Japan’s sizeable F-35 acquisition makes it one of the few nations capable of networked warfare in the region. This is, however, a perilous path, as it has catalysed an arms race that is rapidly unfolding in Asia, with China, Australia, South Korea and Singapore all bulking up their military might with the acquisition of state-of-the-art stealth fighters.

The world’s most expensive boondoggle?

Despite the game-changing technologies packed onboard the F-35, there remain several questions regarding its operational readiness and capabilities, with some detractors labelling it a boondoggle46. The F-35 programme has become the most expensive weapon system in history, having spent over well over US$400 billion (to date) over a two-decade development period. Over the lifetime of this weapons programme, it is expected to involve an investment in excess of US$1.5 trillion47. In spite of this significant investment, the F-35 continues to be plagued with software bugs which affect the integrity of its weapons systems. For instance, software issues affect the verification of target coordinates that have been entered into a JDAM, thus increasing the possibility of friendly fire situations48 in which troops are hurt or killed by their own weapons systems49. Further, the F-35A’s internally mounted 25mm gun has accuracy issues, according to a recent 2018 report by the US Office of Operational Testing and Evaluation. The F-35B, which relies on an externally mounted gun pod, does not have such a problem but the externally mounted gun would invariably compromise the plane’s stealth and performance to a limited degree50.

Critics of the F-35’s gun system argue that modern fighter jets today rarely rely on guns to engage their adversaries and aerial combat is all about beyond-visual-range engagements using high-tech sensors and radar51. These critics have clearly forgotten the lessons of the Vietnam War. The developers of the F-4 Phantom, the premier US fighter of the Vietnam War, initially decided against equipping the F-4 with a gun. Their argument was that the gun was an antiquated weapon system, ill-suited for the age of supersonic fighter jets52. This omission left the F-4 vulnerable to the more manoeuvrable Mig-21, which was able to sneak in close enough to take out the former in significant numbers53.

Despite the lessons drawn from aerial engagements since the Vietnam War, the developers of the Chinese J-20 strangely decided to omit the gun, choosing to rely on missiles for aerial and other combat engagements54. In spite of the significant advances made in the ensuing decades since the Vietnam War, air-to-air missile lethality is still far from perfect. A close study of “probability of kill” statistics regarding America’s high-tech AIM120 missile reveals an effectiveness of approximately 50 percent in actual combat situations (i.e. Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom)55. Thus, in short range aerial engagements of less than 5km, the F-35’s gun could give the JASDF the decisive edge against opposing J-20s, who have survived the initial missile onslaught. The absence of a gun onboard the J-20 would render it highly vulnerable to the gun-equipped F-35 in such short-range dogfights.

Some critics have directed their aim at the F-35’s much vaunted stealth status. They argue that low frequency radars operating in the VHF and UHF bands could detect and track stealth aircraft such as the F- 35 or even the F-2256. They also argue that the extreme heat generated by the F-35’s powerful, single F-135 engine (capable of delivering 43,000 pounds of thrust) could also compromise its stealth. The downing of the F-117 stealth fighter by Serbian forces in 1999 is often cited to prove that stealth technology is no “cloak of invisibility”57.

However, stealth technology has come a long way since 1999. The F-35’s radar cross section is significantly smaller than the F-117’s (see Table 2). By the time the F-35 is spotted, it could be too late for opposing forces. The Chinese J-20 supposedly has a radar cross section comparable to the relatively mature F-117. This would place the stealth capabilities of the PLA, a generation behind that of the JASDF, which would operate the largest fleet of F-35s outside the United States.

Another common criticism of the F-35 is its limited dogfighting capability. In 2015, the F-35 engaged its predecessor, the F-16 in a controversial dogfight which saw the older fighter outclassing its stealthy upstart, despite carrying two external fuel tanks. The argument is that many earlier F-35 pilots were trained on legacy systems such as the F-15 and F-16, and they would tend to fly the F-35 in a similar manner. The first lieutenants who are trained in the F-35 right from the start, however, do not have this problem and are able to exploit the full capabilities of the aircraft, as evidenced by the ability of some of them in trumping experienced pilots operating legacy jets in recent “Red Flag” exercises58. In addition, many critics fail to mention that developmental restrictions on the F-35s manoeuvrability are still in place, thus curbing the jet’s full dogfighting potential; the F-35A is well capable of pulling 9Gs59, a feat rivalling the F-16, which is known to be one of the most manoeuvrable fighters in the world60.

The JASDF is relatively new to the F-35 and it can be expected to draw upon the accumulated experience of US pilots who have greater exposure to this new plane. Japan has already deployed a team of F-35 pilots at Misawa Air Base in the north of Japan’s main island of Honshu. Before their deployment at Misawa, these F-35 pilots, along with their maintenance crew trained for 18 months at the Luke Air Force Base in Arizona61. Once the Izumo-class carriers (Izumo and Kaga) have been retrofitted, they would be able to deploy these trained F-35 pilots, allowing Japan to have an expeditionary capability that would tilt the balance of power in the region.


Critics of the F-35 programme ignore the fact that all new weapons systems face teething problems in their introductory phase. Even the fabled F-16, officially launched in 1978, was confronted with a series of technical problems in its early days. Pilots complained about its light weight and weak brakes which resulted in lacklustre landings, burnt out tyres and prompted resentment from ground maintenance crew. They also expressed reservations about the F-16’s fixed sidestick. The F-16’s problems mounted in the 1980s with some F-16 pilots crashing owing to electrical problems with the jet’s flight control system. Nonetheless, the F-16 surmounted these challenges and emerged as possibly the most successful fighter aircraft programme in the world, with over 4,500 F-16s having being produced62. The complexity of today’s F-35 far surpasses that of the F-16 of the 1970s. Given the technical complexity of the F-35, it would probably take another decade (after the first two decades of development) to resolve the host of issues surrounding this remarkably complex aircraft.

The F-35, however, has been subjected to testing under the harshest battle conditions by the world’s premier fighting force, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). The Israeli Air Force, has modified the F-35 to suit its unique needs. The Israeli version of the F-35, known as the Adir (“Mighty One”) has been customised to carry major Israeli-developed weapons systems in its internal weapons bay which would include the Python-5 short-range heat-seeking air-to-air missile. Its internal payload would also encompass the Spice family of glide bombs, which combine electro-optical and satellite configurations for enhanced targeting versatility and have an effective range of 60 miles. The Israel Air Force has deployed the F-35 in the penetration of Syrian airspace to engage Iranian antiaircraft batteries. The JSDF and other F-35 user nations such as Singapore and South Korea (the so-called “F-35 friends’ circle”63) would undoubtedly learn from Israel’s battle hardened experience.

Moreover the more conventional (i.e. runway dependent) F-35A would be customised to carry two of the Kongsberg ‘Joint Strike Missile’ (JSM), a long-range sea and land target missile (capable of engaging targets beyond 500km) in its internal carriage for maximum stealth, greatly augmenting the plane’s destructive reach. Leveraging the JSM’s range, the JSDF would also customise the STVOL-capable F-35B for marine expeditionary operations, greatly expanding the ability of Japanese forces to project power in the hotly contested South China Sea; with its considerable range, the JSM would be a significant deterrent to Chinese warships. However the JSDF’s STVOL-capable F-35B is only able to carry the ‘JSM’ in an external configuration, in the process compromising some degree of stealth (the F-35 has to carry all its weapons internally to achieve maximum stealth)64. The ‘JSM’-armed F-35B deployed by the JSDF (mounted on its Izumo-class carriers) is not only a highly effective means to counter China’s increasingly assertive naval forces in the region but would also allow Japan to project power far beyond its shores. The Japanese F-35B, in this configuration, has effectively become a cruise missile launching platform, capable of devastating far away land-based targets. With China already moving to equip its fighters with cruise missiles capable of engaging targets 600km away65, this new Japanese capability is indicative of the new stage of an arms race in the Western Pacific and beyond.

The highly networked F-35 leapfrogs Japan into an era of networked warfare, enabling it to access and concurrently deploy a host of weapon systems (from multiple launch rocket systems to Naval destroyers) to engage other nations on its periphery and in the East China and South China sea. To date, game-changing networked warfare is an area in which the US alone has achieved significant progress. The networked warfare model allows once disparate weapon systems to fight as an integrated ‘force of one’, significantly increasing response time, accuracy and firepower.

Despite technical glitches, the F-35 has demonstrated its innovative networked warfare capabilities in ‘Red Flag’ exercises conducted by US pilots where it has repeatedly overwhelmed rivals, although only in simulated tests66. However, this network-centric approach to warfare also renders F-35-dependent Japan more exposed to well-orchestrated cyberwarfare tactics targeting the aircraft’s highly-interlinked computer systems. It is no surprise that the PLA has developed world-class capabilities in cyberwarfare in the form of a crack team of hackers known as PLA Unit 61398. Having developed these cyberwarfare teams to counter the US’ far superior conventional forces, the PLA has successfully hacked into the systems of US military contractors (e.g. Boeing, Lockheed Martin) to secure valuable information on the Aegis ballistic missile defence system, the multi-mission Littoral Combat Ship, the F/A-18 fighter jet, the V-22 Osprey vertical take-off aircraft and even the F-3567.

Once the kinks in the F-35 weapon system have been eliminated over the coming decade, Japan would have in its possession the most technologically advanced and capable air force in the world, trailing only the US and battle-hardened Israel. The technology harvested from the F-35 would also accelerate Japan’s efforts to develop its own high-tech stealth fighter. The JASDF’s recently crashed F-35A was assembled in Nagoya, Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. What is certain is that the possession of a significant F-35 fleet (positioned on Izumo class carriers) heralds Japan’s potential return as a regional military power with expeditionary capability, and a new stage in the accelerating arms race in the Western Pacific.


Note to readers: please click the share buttons above or below. Forward this article to your email lists. Crosspost on your blog site, internet forums. etc.

We are indebted to The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus for having brought this article to our consideration


Wilson Wong, PhD is Assistant Professor, Acting Head, Department of Finance at Chu Hai College of Higher Education, Hong Kong.


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Japan’s 1950s-era design F-4 Phantom jet is only recently being retired. Michael Peck, The National Interest, December 11 2018.

The ADIZ is the airspace designated over and often extending beyond a country’s borders in which any unknown approaching aircraft is asked to identify itself. If the aircraft is deemed hostile, it would be asked to leave or risk being destroyed. Peter Layton, War on the Rocks, April 4 2019.

Japan’s ADIZ encompasses the Senkaku Islands. See Burke E.J. and Cevallos A.S. (2017) p5.

The F-35 comes in three variants (A, B, C). The F-35A is designed to operate using conventional runways and is the only variant equipped with an internal cannon. As for the F-35B, it is the short-takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant and was developed to operate from barebones military facilities with limited runways and vessels capable of hosting a small air wing (e.g. light carriers and destroyers) operating near combat zones. The F-35C was developed primarily for aircraft carrier operations. See here.

China’s J-20 and America’s F-15 (America’s premier fourth generation fighter) appear to be evenly matched. At longer ranges, the J-20 with its stealth, has the upper hand but at shorter ranges, the F-15 with its internal gun, superior thrust and greater manoeuvrability would emerge the victor. Kyle Mizokami, The National Interest, October 16 2015.

The JSDF plans to acquire up to 147 F-35s, with the F-35B variant expected to equip its Izumo class carriers. See here. The more technically complicated STOVL capable F-35B at US$115.5 million per plane costs more than the F-35A (US$89.2 million per plane) which is only capable of conventional landings. See here.

STOVL capability enables jets to operate in harsh conditions and from remote locations where there are no conventional runways. Jets with STOVL capability are able to operate from makeshift runways and roadways. This capability is of significant value to expeditionary forces which often have to operate in difficult environments with no access to conventional airfields. See “Marines’ F-35B Expeditionary Envelope Expands”.

Low observable technology (stealth technology) attempts to reduce the radar signatures emitted by vehicles. See “Camouflage at War: An illustrated Guide from 1914 to the Present Day” by Martin J. Dougherty, p158.

See “What went wrong with the F-35, Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter?” by Michael P. Hughes, The Conversation, June 14 2017.

10 In a discussion with the author (Wilson Wong), Justin Bronk, Research Fellow with the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, indicated a similar view on the F-35’s vastly superior sensor suite and internal software capabilities vis-à-vis the J-20. Bronk added that the F-35’s sensor capabilities will continue to strengthen throughout the 2020s and further capabilities leveraging on the F-35’s superior data-processing capabilities would be added, see Bronk (2019).

11 See “Why an F-22 or F-35 Would Crush China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter” by Dave Majumdar, The National Interest, April 29 2019.

12 See “Welcome to the Stealth Slaughter: China’s J-20 Can’t Beat An F-22 or F-35” by Zachary Keck, The National Interest, May 9 2019. China’s fighter aircraft engine woes were also mentioned in an earlier Reuters article, “Not Top Gun yet: China struggles with warplane engine technology” by Siva Govindasamy, Reuters, January 29 2016.

13 The inability to produce capable and reliable fighter aircraft jet engines has been a perennial weakness for the PLA Air Force. See “Why China’s first stealth fighter was rushed into service with inferior engines” by Minnie Chan, South China Morning Post, February 10 2018.

14 Paul Waldman of the Washington Post, states that history’s most expensive weapon system, the F-35, is both disaster-prone and a boondoggle. See “How the F-35 boondoggle shows that deficit hawkery is a sham” by Paul Waldman, The Washington Post, July 25 2014.

15 See “John McCain: F-35 is ‘a scandal and a tragedy’” by Ryan Browne, CNN, April 27 2016.

16 See The Economist, Defending Japan, A new front, p23-24, April 20 2019.

17 See SIPRI military expenditure database. GDP figures for China and Japan are obtained from the following World Bank and IMF websites, China’s GDP, Japan’s GDP.

18 See “Japan is worried about its alliance with America”.

19 See here

20 See “The Navy and Marines Are Deploying a ‘Lightning Carrier’ to the Pacific” by Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, May 2 2019.

21 According to a White House fact sheet released on March 19, 2019, more than 2.6 million jobs were created in America in 2018 alone, owing to the economic boom the Trump administration created. Further the administration asserted that the number of job openings exceeded the number of unemployed workers for the first time. Additionally, it claimed that America’s unemployment rate reached a 50-year low of 3.7% in September 2018. See “President Donald J. Trump’s Economic Agenda is Working for All Americans”.

22 Lockheed Martin’s CEO, Marillyn Hewson, stated that the F-35 programme creates 194,000 jobs both directly and indirectly in America, see “ ‘Made in America’: Lockheed Martin adds jobs to boost F-35 production” by Matthew Kazin, Fox Business, July 23 2018.

23 See “77% of Russians oppose handover of disputed islands off Hokkaido to Japan”.

24 See “Air Self-Defense Force jets scrambled as Russian bombers and fighters skirt Japanese coasts” by Jesse Johnson, The Japan Times, February 16 2019.

25 The Su-35 has a maximum speed of Mach 2.25, which is equal to the F-22 and superior to the F-35. It has 12 to 14 hardpoints for carrying missiles compared to just eight on the F-15, operated by the JASDF and the United States Air Force. On top of this considerable firepower, the Su-35 is also equipped with a 30mm autocannon (150 rounds of ammunition). Sebastien Roblin, The National Interest, July 16 2016. 

26 Russia is also developing its own fifth-generation fighter, the Su-57, which supposedly has stealth technology and supercruise capabilities. The Su-57 was initially expected to enter production in 2020 but its development has been seriously hampered by a paucity of funds and technical issues with its engines, see “What’s Going on With Russia’s New Stealth Fighter?” by Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, May 18 2019.

27 In a discussion with the author (Wilson Wong), Justin Bronk, Research Fellow with the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, commented that the F-35 was far superior to the Su-35 owing to the superior situational awareness afforded by its cutting-edge sensor suite, see Bronk (2019). Lieutenant General David A. Deptula, USAF (Retired), Dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, also commented in a similar discussion with the author, that the F-35 was significantly superior to the Su-35, see Deptula (2019).

28 See “The real purpose behind China’s mysterious J-20 combat jet” by Alex Lockie, Business Insider, January 24 2017.

29 See “Smiling Stealth: Is the F-22 Raptor Fighter Jet Too Good?” by Robert Farley, The National Interest, March 29 2019.

30 The S-300 missile is capable of engaging targets at approximately 27,000 metres (about 90,000 feet). See “How Dangerous is the S-300 Syria is About to Receive?” by Tamir Eshel, Defense Update, May 18 2013.

31 Lockheed Martin, Vice President, Stephen O’Bryan states that the F-35 is capable of maintaining a speed of Mach 1.2 for 150 miles without using gas-guzzling afterburners. O’Bryan states that this is a good performance, as most fighters tend to operate at transonic speeds (close to Mach 1, which is just below the speed of sound). He was cited in “The F-35’s Race Against Time” by John A. Tirpak, Air Force Magazine, November 2012.

32 The WS-15 engine that is slated to power the J-20 is still under development. Currently, the WS-10B engines powering the J-20, was meant for earlier J-10 and J-11 fighters and not the more sophisticated J-20 which would require higher thrust levels see “China reveals J-20 stealth fighter’s missile carrying capability at Zhuhai air show” by Minnie Chan, South China Morning Post, 14 November 2018.

33 For the radar cross section of the F-35 and F-22, see “The F-35 vs. the Russian Su-35 and the PAK FA” by Mark B. Schneider, Real Clear Defense, November 4, 2015. The radar cross sections of the F-35 and F-22 are 0.001 square metres and 0.0001 square metres, which are significantly smaller than conventional fighters such as the F-4 (6 square metres). This makes fighters such as the F-35 extremely hard to track and achieve a missile lock, see Radar Cross Section (RCS).

34 In the South China Sea, China has constructed more than 3,200 acres of man-made islands dotted with numerous military facilities which are supported by high-tech sensors, airstrips for fighter aircraft, and long-range SAMs, see “The Japanese Air Force Needs an Upgrade” by David A. Deptula, Foreign Policy, March 18 2019. 

35 The F-35’s electronic warfare system is capable of jamming most known forms of radar and sensors, see “The F-35 Isn’t Just ‘Stealthy’: Here’s How Its Electronic Warfare System Gives It An Edge” by Loren Thompson, Forbes, May 13 2019.

36 See comments by General David L. Goldfein (21st chief of staff of the USAF) on the J-20’s RCS. Goldfein was cited in “The U.S. F-35 versus the PRC J-20” by Mark B. Schneider, Real Clear Defense, October 30, 2017.

37 See “Japan reassures US on F-35 purchase despite crash” by Reiko Miki, Nikkei Asian Review, April 21 2019.

38 Radar cross section measures the power dispersed in a given direction when radar illuminates a target. Basically, the smaller the radar cross section, the lower the detectability by radar, see Rajyalakshmi and Raju (2011).

39 A JDAM is a formerly, unguided free-fall bomb that has been equipped with a guidance tail kit (comprising a navigational system and global positioning system), resulting in accurate and adverse weather “smart” munition. See here.

40 Ibid.

41 The F-35B’s STOVL ability has also been tested under wet runway and 20 knot crosswind conditions. See here. Also see Heginbotham et al. (2015) p56 for details on conventional runways for fighters.

42 See “Japan surges new weapons, military roles to meet China’s rise” by Tara Copp, Military Times, January 15 2019.

43 See “Navy Amphib Sails Through South China Sea with a Bunch of F-35s Aboard” by Gina Harkins,, April 5 2019. The F-35B is also expected to be deployed onboard the United States Navy’s larger Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyers, See Majumdar (2018).

44 See Schogol (2017).

45 See Pickrell (2019).

46 See “Congress Greases Flightpath for the F-35 Boondoggle” by Dan Grazier, The American Conservative, July 17 2017.

47 The F-35’s expected overall programme costs of $1.5 trillion comprises servicing and maintenance costs over the jet’s lifespan through 2070. See “US F-35 stealth fighters fly first-ever combat mission in Afghanistan”.

48 Friendly fire occurs when troops are fired upon by their own side in a war, resulting in harm and casualties. See “Friendly fire”.

49 The F-35’s software issues could prevent the verification of target coordinates in a weapon system. See “F-35: Still No Finish Line in Sight” by Dan Grazier, Project on Government Oversight, March 19 2018.

50 The accuracy of the F-35’s gun has been detailed in the “FY 2018 report by the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation: FY18 DOD Programs, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter” p27. The presence of a gun pod does reduce the level of stealth in the F-35B, see “Air Force Presses Lockheed On F-35 Readiness: Lt. Gen. Bunch” by Colin Clark, Breaking Defense, February 1 2019.

51 Justin Bronk, Research Fellow with the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, was cited in “Syria conflict: Why are air combat kills so rare?” by David Molloy, BBC News, June 19 2017. Bronk argues that the era of the gun in modern aerial combat is over and the arbiter of victory in such engagements would be high-tech sensors and missiles.

52 See Lorell and Levaux (1998), p94 and 104 on the need to install guns on fighter aircraft.

53 During the Korean War, the US Air Force destroyed between six and 10 enemy jets for every downed US aircraft in aerial engagements. But by the Vietnam War, the ratio was approximately two to one owing to the highly-manoeuvrable, gun-equipped MIGs, see “Why You Need to Respect the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II Fighter” by Sebastien Roblin, The National Interest, April 17 2019. The F-4’s weakness at short-ranges was overcome when subsequent versions of the F-4 started carrying the M-61 Vulcan Gatling gun (the F4E in August 1965), see Davies (2013) p12.

54 See “Problem: China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter Doesn’t Have a Gun” by David Axe, The National Interest, January 3 2019. 

55 See Majumdar (2017).

56 See Kuschel (2002).

57 An American F-117 was shot down by Serbian SAM operator, Zoltan Dani on 27 March 1999. See “Foes now friends: US stealth pilot and the Serb who shot him down” by Guy De Launey, BBC News, November 6 2012.

58 See “Here’s why the F-35 once lost to F-16s, and how it made a stunning comeback” by Alex Lockie, Business Insider, April 18 2017.

59 G-force (gravitational forces) refers to the force impacting a body as a consequence of acceleration or gravity. 9G means nine times this gravitational force. Ali Venosa, Medical Daily, January 14 2016. The F16 is capable of pulling negative 3Gs to positive 9Gs. See here. Lockheed Martin states that its F-35 is a 9G capable fighter. See here.

60 See Lockheed Martin (2019).

61 See Yeo (2018).

62 See Bjorkman (2014).

63 The “F-35 friends’ circle” is the label which China has given to its neighbours that have acquired the F-35 to counter its burgeoning airpower. This group includes Australia, Japan, South Korea and Singapore. See “Stealth Showdown: Could the F-35 Start a Deadly Arms Race in Asia?” by Charlie Gao, The National Interest, January 29 2019.

64 The JASDF plans to equip its entire fleet of F-35As with the ‘JSM’, see “Kongsberg awarded contract to supply JSMs for Japanese F-35s” by Gabriel Dominguez, London and Kosuke Takahashi, Tokyo, Jane’s Defence Weekly, March 12 2019. The ‘JSM’ has a range of 300 nautical miles (approximately 556 km), see “Japan inks deal with Kongsberg for F-35 standoff missile” by Mike Yeo, Defense News, March 13 2019.

65 China’s GB-6A subsonic stealth cruise missile, armed with a 500kg warhead, has a range of 500-600km and is effective against enemy bases and warships. See “Come look at China’s coolest new missiles” by Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer, Popular Science, November 6 2016.

66 Red Flag exercises now include pilots from the UK, Australia, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Spain. See here, here (David Cenciotti, The Aviationist, April 2 2019) and here.

67 See Jasper (2013), p43.

All images in this article are from APJJF unless otherwise stated

It truly looked grand, impressive – the fourth most populous country on earth voted in general elections, which were held on 17 April 2019. Hundreds of positions were for grab: that of the president, the vice president, members of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), and members of local legislative bodies. There were 190 million eligible voters in the country, and sixteen parties, including four new ones.

The only “tiny” spoiler of this magnificence was that, as always in post-1965 Indonesia, not one single political party was really representing the people. All of them were pro-business, all controlled by the oligarchy. Almost all the candidates were ‘competing’ with each other, trying to prove to the increasingly fundamentalist Muslim majority of the country, how Islamic they really were.

In Indonesia, Communism is banned. Atheism is forbidden as well. Belief in market fundamentalism and religious zeal are the two ‘norms’, expected from any individual who is aiming at any important political office.

On 17 April 2019, people voted. Or more precisely, they came to put pieces of paper into boxes, as they were told by their Western handlers.

In the end, it was down to two main choices: an incumbent President “Jokowi” (Joko Widodo by his real name), and the retired General Prabowo.

Jokowi, originally a humble furniture-maker and later a mayor of the city of Solo in Central Java, could be defined as ‘progressive’, but only in the Indonesian or Southeast Asian political context. He looks so attractive because his challengers have  mainly been mass murderers and outright kleptocrats.

However, during the first term in the highest office, Jokowi did almost nothing to stop the genocide and plunder in West Papua, or the alarming surge in the influence of Wahhabism (Saudi-style Islam, supported by the West), which is blocking Indonesia from any intellectual (scientific, artistic, philosophical) achievements.

Whenever accused of being a ‘Communist’, Jokowi bent, going out of his way to prove that he has nothing to do with the real Left. When attacked for ‘not being Muslim enough’, he immediately began ‘leading public prayers’, bringing Muslim politicians into his team, and acting religiously. He failed to defend his former allies who were destroyed by the Islamists, including highly-popular former governor of Jakarta – Ahok – who recently spent time in prison for ‘defaming Islam’. Periodically, often at the request of the United States, Jokowi antagonized China. That’s when his critics from the extreme right were attacking him for getting ‘too chummy’ with Beijing. Indonesia is racist, and many Chinese (as well as members of other ‘non-mainstream groups’) here died during the countless pogroms committed throughout past centuries.

“Don’t pay attention, all this is just a political maneuvering,” it was said by his supporters. But if that was so, it was a terribly ugly maneuvering, to be frank! Just an example: One lady teacher, who exposed her sexual harasser and as a result was thrown into jail, got zero protection from President Jokowi. The increasing Islamisation of Indonesian society, often unconstitutional, goes unchallenged. Compared to the era of the progressive Muslim cleric and past President, Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia is regressing, increasingly resembling the oppressive Gulf States.

The correct argument of many (at least relatively secular) Indonesian citizens, is that, were the other main candidate – the retired General Prabowo – to win these elections, the country would basically collapse; go back to Suharto-style fascist, military dictatorship. Prabowo is actually married to one of Suharto’s daughters. And he has a record, almost a ‘career’ of being a mass murder: from East Timor to Java itself. He surrounded himself by the most conservative Muslim cadres, as well as by the anti-leftists and the oligarchs.

Supporters of Prabowo

Once before, during the previous elections, Prabowo lost to Jokowi. Most likely, this – 2019 elections – was his last chance.

Joko Widodo and his PDI-P won, with 55.5% votes, while Prabowo Subianto ended up with the support of only 44.5%.

On 21 May 2019, the General Elections Commission declared “Jokowi” and his running-mate Amin as the winners.

Prabowo and his team disputed the election results, and protested against Jokowi’s victory.

One day after the results were announced, deadly riots erupted.

Around the time election results were released, Reutersreported:

“Indonesian police arrested a man on Friday accused of creating an anti-Chinese disinformation campaign to incite racial hatred, amid a proliferation of rumours alleging Chinese involvement in post-election unrest that has raised fears of ethnic violence.

Police say the suspect created a viral hoax using a photo of three Indonesian police officers at protests this week with a caption describing them as secret Chinese soldiers based on their “slanted eyes”.


Of course, we all knew that it was coming. One week before the disturbances, I was still in the Indonesian capital, filming a group of insane-looking women, gathering in front of the Sarinah shopping center. Their hair covered, maniacal expressions on their faces, they were shouting into my camera:

“We love Prabowo! He is good; he is so smart, he is our President!”

Almost the entire extreme Islamist apparatus stood by the former genocidal General. Many housewives obsessed with military uniforms, were ready to support him, unconditionally, until the bitter end.

Life in Indonesia is empty and monotonous. The 1965 US-orchestrated coup destroyed much of the culture and spirituality. Intellectualism had been wiped out, and so were the arts. Political diversity eliminated. Only cheap pop is now available. Pop, as well as the most fundamentalist forms of religion.

No wonder that in such a ‘climate’, elections as well as the World Cup (to which Indonesia never qualifies, but which it follows with maniacal loyalty), manage to fully mesmerize the society.

And in a nation which since 1965 has perpetrated 3 genocides and various deadly unrests, an excessive obsession with anything, is never constructive, in fact is often devastating.

To some of Prabowo’s ‘obsessive supporters’, he impersonates power, machismo, righteousness and “Muslim values”. The people he killed or gave orders to kill? Who cares – they were all some ‘separatists’, commies, atheists. That’s how the majority sees them.


On 22 May, 2019, the pro-Prabowo camp rioted in Jakarta and other Indonesian cities. 6 people were murdered and 200 injured. That has been a very ‘conservative’ estimate, although both sides were accused of manipulating numbers (Jokowi’s camp downwards, Prabowo’s upwards).

Supporters of Prabowo in Jakarta

Muslim jihadi cadres were apparently involved, too, accused of stabbing and intimidating.

Armed forces crushed the riots. It had to be done, as the rioters were mainly paid thugs and Islamic fundamentalists.

Earlier, some 600 died, during “the lengthy voting and counting process”. The official numbers were 569, while the unofficial spoke of 700, even 800. Yes, the counting process was very taxing, but perhaps no other elections in the world (in peacetime) registered such a high mortality rate among officials and volunteers. But then again, Indonesia is a very poor country, and many of its citizens are suffering from various undiagnosed diseases. Long hours and difficult conditions during the elections put great pressure on the volunteers. Still, such a mortality rate is unprecedented.

Prabowo’s team immediately claimed “the deaths were linked to fraud that disadvantaged him.” Most likely, it is not the case. However, Jakarta and the provinces remain tense.


Most likely, Prabowo was defeated, for good. “Goodbye, General!” But the fact that a genocidal cadre like him managed to get 45% of votes is by itself extremely alarming.

Now, in what direction is Indonesia going to go, under the “second Jokowi term”?

Even after monstrous slaughter of men and women belonging to left-wing organizations during Suharto era, Communism and socialism are increasingly vilified once again. Religions are force-fed to the de-intellectualized and badly informed population. The treatment of women in Indonesian society is despicable. Capitalism is glorified, in fact it is never even publicly challenged.

Jokowi has been flying all over the world, begging for more foreign investment, while his cabinet was promising to ‘liberalize’ labor laws even further.

The environment of Indonesia is thoroughly plundered, as its economic growth (sluggish, considering unbridled population increase, but still at 5%) is fully dependent on the export of commodities.

There are no doubts that Indonesia will continue decaying and cannibalizing itself under the extreme capitalism regime, while intellectually regressing under Wahhabi Islam.

Jokowi may improve ports, airports, and build few new highways, mainly in order to facilitate the extraction of raw materials by local and foreign companies. But unless he fully reverses the course on which Indonesia was forced to embark after the 1965 Western-orchestrated coup, no essential improvements can be expected. There are no indications that he has the capacity or stamina to challenge and change the regime. After all, he is himself a product of the post-1965 era.

For now, extremism and fundamentalism have been defeated, although by an alarmingly narrow margin. However, it was not a revolution, but destructive inertia that won once again.


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This article was originally published on New Eastern Outlook.

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Four of his latest books are China and Ecological Civilizationwith John B. Cobb, Jr., Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism, a revolutionary novel “Aurora” and a bestselling work of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”. View his other books here. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky “On Western Terrorism”. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter. His Patreon

All images in this article are from the author

Australia’s voters have defeated a Labour Party that had a clear and comprehensive platform for addressing the climate change crisis and instead re-elected a Liberal Party that virtually had no clear solutions to address the climate crisis other than allow the market to direct whatever changes will happen in the future. How exactly this happened should not be lost on other countries, like Canada, who are facing their own contentious national election and similar rancorous climate crisis issues raised by the catastrophic effects of severe, reoccuring, widespread drought, cyclones, floods or wildfires.

By re-electing their current right-wing Liberal Party government and its Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, Australian’s have, in one fell swoop, simultaneously betrayed humanity’s higher nature that seeks to heal and constantly grow beyond whatever the more limited, baser, self-destructive tendencies among human beings and their societies.

In so doing, Australia’s voters have also denied the long-term protection of their ostensibly-sacred homelands from the continued havoc and desultory effects of: unchecked climate change and the wilful destruction by the world’s corporations and their minions of followers and supporters who continue to advocate for more and more mining and extraction of coal, iron and a multitude of minerals that will only further deplete the world’s precious supply of water and other natural, finite resources.

Australia’s voters have also now ensured the continuation of its Liberal Party’s ideological market philosophy that promotes development and expansionistic policies that favour: the on-going need for further massive influxes of immigrant workers; a consequent population explosion and density of its urban and rural areas requiring ever greater infrastructure development and the on-going degradation of its natural environment; an exodus to Australia’s shores of more and more of the world’s wealthier classes eager to reap the benefits of the kind of investments that will take advantage of the current receptive political climate. A climate that will continue to encourage the consequent negative environmental effects caused by excessive economic and commercial development, all of which, of course, will come at the ultimate loss of time-honoured human, cultural and environmental heritage, to be replaced by the idle promises of so-called unspecified better things yet to come in the future.

Also threatened by Australia’s 2019 election is the future proliferation of ever more clever, yet corrupt, bureaucratic economic schemes, such as its current negative gearing, that unduly affords wealthy investors with financial leverage through depreciation and lower interest rates charged on investment property loans; while expanding tax benefits and discounts on captial gains of investment properties that in the long run creates a virtual Kumbayah Dancethat promotes the unseemly bonds of mutual growth and expansion between corporate interests and Australia’s wealthy classes that benefit from each other’s mutual growth and expansion at the expense of the country’s poorer, less-privileged sectors of the population. Such dynamics can but only further exacerbate in the future the existing long-standing gaps and distinctions that exist between Australia’s societal classes while also dull any real positive progress in addressing the earth’s climate crisis.

As the final election results were tallied, the smug smiles on the faces of Liberal Party recumbents had the look of the proverbial cat that swallowed the canary.They knew they’d pulled off a major coup.

But the ultimate election success of Australia’s Liberal Party ideology, in spite of all the pre-election polls that predicted a progressive Labour Party victory, raises important questions about how the climate crisis, any kind of worldwide carbon tax or related issues will fare in the contentious debates of other national elections in the future.

The cynical way in which Australia’s Liberal Party employed the time-old strategy of simply throwing a lot of money at every sector of the electorate, and essentially buy their votes,worked exceedingly well: the wealthy were assurred their comfortable “Negative Gearing” scheme would continue as before; dispossessed youth, all but priced out of the current housing market in Australia as they are everywhere else among the world’s wealthy, developed nations, were guaranteed the down payment on their first home would only require from them an extremely-risky 5% down payment, with the government going out on a limb by offering to become the guarantor for the remaining cost; while the ever-burgeoning numbers of struggling immigrants were all but assurred job security in the ever-more secure, burgeoning mining, construction and development industries.

Australia’s national election thus represents not only a victory for the philosophy of uncapped money, wealth and a pittance of unsustainable, non-renewable resource-based jobs but a world ideology that primarily will remain market-driven that, in the long run, not only will fail to sustainably support human civilization but, if copied by other developed and developing nations, will trump the possibility of creating any rational sanity for the human race and its ultimate role in the preservation of Mother Earth herself.

At this point, one can only now hope that all those Australians who voted for the Conservative Liberal Party over its Left-Wing, union-controlled Labor Party are correct and that not only is Climate Change, indeed, a myth if not total bullshit, as some would say, but otherwise is simply a natural re-occurring process in the evolution of the earth.

Or that the Labor Party’s overt policies, if once put into place, would have not only destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of older Australians, who would have been forced to move from their self-funded pensions onto a public pension system, but would have caused a big rise in costs for renters, small investors and totally wrecked the real estate’s resale market.

Those Australian’s who voted against Labor and the Greens obviously believed that it made no sense to ever think about eventually shutting down all of Australia’s 22 coal-fired power stations when nearby China is one country that is building 1,000 of them. “Tell me”, asked the majority of Australia’s voters, “how that makes any sense at all. And tell me what will happen when the Solar Minimum hits this year and next year, and possibly for the next 40 years?”

Australia’s voters, rather than believe climate scientists, like those who have now created the acclaimed documentary Anthropocene, that documents what is causing the current Epoch 6thGreat Extinction of species on Earth, obviously instead have decided to follow those climate scientists who proclaim:”There is No “Greenhouse Effect”; “There is No Extra Warming to Explain”, and, furthermore; “There is No “Greenhouse Effect” on Venus Either!”

In the end, if the voters of the world can take any one lesson at all from Australia’s national election it’s the same old story, but with a frigteningly more dire, larger scope: Poor Humans, Poor Wildlife and Poor Mother Earth!


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Jerome Irwin is a freelance writer who, for decades, in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, has sought to call attention to problems of sustainability caused by excessive mega-developments, the resulting horrors of traffic gridlock, loss of single family neighbourhoods and a host of related environmental-ecological-spiritual issues and concerns that exist between the conflicting philosophies of indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.

Featured image: Australian’s Vote For Australia’s Largest Export- COAL (Source: the author)

Australia’s Bob Hawke: Misunderstood in Memoriam

May 30th, 2019 by Dr. Binoy Kampmark

What a cheeky way of going.  Death is rarely a matter of good timing but it can be part of a good career move or, as Robert J. Hawke’s passing might prove, the perfect conclusion to his political party’s attempt to reclaim office.  Having shuffled off his mortal coil a few days out of an Australian federal election, his Labor counterparts will hope so.

At a time when Australian politics suffers from dull atrophy and an entrenched dreariness, Hawke, virtue and vice, seems nostalgically stellar.  He cried on public occasions; he bellowed at his opponents with fury; and was fundamentally vulnerable to the usual failings: drink and women.  He wore his errors and his broken promises (with notable exceptions, particularly towards his treasurer and ultimate usurper, Paul Keating), lending himself to a whole assortment of descriptions. 

Rather gratingly, the term larrikin is being used, or misused, in describing Australia’s twenty-third prime minister.  Originating in the Australia of the 19th and early 20th century, the word was hardly flattering, alluding to the hooliganism and violence of youths who came together in “pushes” and wrought mayhem upon the citizens of Melbourne and Sydney.  The taming, and domestication of the larrikin was an Australian historical achievement.  Urbanised and turned to sporting mania, Australian society vanquished the larrikin, only to see the form re-appear in hologram form and shoddy cultural analysis.    

Hawke was careful of his image, nursing and adjusting it for the negotiating muscle needed for the worker’s movement.  His stint at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar minted him as candidate for the political establishment, a Commonwealth man, if you will.  Not that he would mention it.  Stress was placed, instead, on the macho, the Herculean: Hawke could drink you under the table and down a yard glass in record time.  As he remembered, revealingly enough, in his autobiography, “The feat was to endear me to some of my fellow Australians more than anything else I ever achieved.”  In 1954, he made it into the Guinness Book of Records downing 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds.   

He became an exaggeration of the common man with gifts, the everyday man with other worldly talents. But many of his instincts were standard political attributes: vanity, a lust for power, a desire for the top position.  As the Labor government of Gough Whitlam shuddered through its short burst of occupancy between 1972 and 1975, Hawke was having meetings with US embassy sources.  

This was hardly accidental.  He smelled trouble, and wanted to put his oar in; with Whitlam’s days numbered, Hawke sowed the seeds of confidence: any future Labor leader, namely himself, would be more accommodating to Washington.  Embassy officials, and a few US intelligence personnel, had gotten edgy over Whitlam’s concerns with the US-Australian alliance in various respects.  Fears were floated that the leasing arrangements of the joint Pine Gap facility might not be renewed; the Nixon administration also pondered the prospect of downgrading its relationship with Canberra.  US embassy accounts, revealed through cables available via WikiLeaks, show Hawke, then the federal president of the ALP, keen to rubbish his doomed prime minister.

In a cable dated August 12, 1975, Hawke’s agitation is clear.  Whitlam had left the party in “bad financial shape”; credibility had been “eroded by ‘Whitlam stupidity’.” The prime minister was deluded, incapable of appreciating the imminent “parliamentary disaster” he and his party “surely faces at the next election”. Subsequent embassy cables noted the tense relations between the two men, with Whitlam seen as the dreamer before the apocalypse, and Hawke, the level headed realist in waiting.            

When it became clear in the early 1980s that the Liberal Party’s Malcolm Fraser was winding down his government for the fall, Hawke saw his chance: the opposition Labor Party, nurtured by then leader Bill Hayden, would have to make way for him.  This was bruising to Hayden – Hawke had only been a member of Parliament for three years; Hayden was a tried, loyal veteran. It also showed the other side of Hawke avoided, and forgotten in the tear-watered eulogies: Hawke as brute and political slayer.  While Labor’s return to power in 1983 after being banished in the crushing election defeat of December 1975 was seen as a glowing achievement, a memorable remark by Hayden remains: even a drover’s dog could have won that election.

Yet for a person described by punters as “a voice for the working man”, Hawke saw Labor go along the way of its equivalents in other countries: embrace neo-liberal canons, the sawdust of micro-economic reform, and succumb to the temptations of privatisation.  Selling the public silver had one fundamental trickledown: governments at every level in Australia began doing it to balance the books and grab some ruddy cash. 

The floating of the dollar, the cutting of tariffs, and the deregulation of the stodgy Australian banking system signalled the yielding of government responsibility to the irresponsibility of the corporate boardroom.  The commonweal would be tied to the corporation.  As this was happening, Hawke was attempting to boost the social welfare state, marked by universal health care, and encourage an accommodation between the interests of business and labour, in what became known formally as the Prices and Incomes Accord.  Consensus, not bludgeoning, was the solution.

With the body still warm, Australian politicians from across political affiliations have been reflecting.  “He was true to his beliefs in the Labor tradition and defined the politics of his generation and beyond,” claimed the conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison rather blandly.

Prime Ministerial aspirant Bill Shorten spoke of the saluting, by the labour movement, of “our greatest son”.  “The Australian people loved Bob because they knew Bob loved them.” But it was in Hawke’s collaborator, rival and foe Keating, that we get one of the better reflections of Hawke’s stewardship in political life.  The Hawke-Keating partnership of the 1980s is seen as one of farsightedness mixed with stab-in-the-dark modernisation.  Keating recounted “the rationale we employed in opening Australia to the world.”  Less than a larrikin, Hawke was an all-seeing politician and gifted performer, a ventriloquist of the Australian mood.  He could be consummately venal when he wanted to be and tenacious in what he thought was realism.  It came with its far-reaching consequences.


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Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  He is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research. Email: [email protected]

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Australian politics since the 1990s has been marked by a dedicated loathing of the “vision thing”.  For those keen to see policies lasting beyond the life of the May fly, disappointment lies.  Federal governments, at best, have shelf lives of three short years. Governments are effectively encouraged to be agents of small change if, indeed, they are to be agents of any change whatsoever.  Anything beyond that is bound to be what Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Minister terms “courageous”, so brave as to be an act of folly and a discouragement. 

Opposition leader Bill Shorten of the Australian Labour Party never quite had it.  He had, it is true, overseen the end of two prime ministers – Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull – and came close to sneaking in during the 2016 election.  But his stewardship of the federal Labor Party never cured that sense of a permanent “trust deficit”.  Not even a phalanx of credible female politicians, aided by his wife’s support, were able to protect him against a highly personalised campaign that stressed the simple, the visceral, and, the importance of self-interest.  The world might be burning, but what did that matter to retirees concerned about their share income from franked dividends? 

Labor’s strategy had been geared towards a battle of details kept in a stuffing of income distribution.  But the campaign got bogged down.  Documents and policy statements were designed for the deposed Turnbull.  With the coming to power of Scott Morrison after a palace coup in 2018, a sense of hopeless fun pervaded proceedings.  This was not an election for him to win – keeping losses to a minimum would have been seen as an achievement of sorts. 

Shorten, in contrast, exuded agitation and weariness.  He seemed to wear the spectral crown of an impending coronation with discomfort.  Morrison, in turn, revelled, getting his hands dirty, donning a baseball cap, making sporting analogies and being seemingly everywhere .  A fossil he might have been, but a very enthusiastic campaigner he proved to be, leaving his opponent ragged. 

The election was an object lesson of personal politics.  Morrison made the election a matter of himself.  He became a ventriloquist for the “quiet Australian voters”.  He muzzled other ministers, and patched over the fact that Coalition government had done away with two of its own prime ministers since winning power in 2013.  Astonishingly, he could use the term “stability” and get away with it, masking the party’s own dysfunction and lurch to the right. 

Climate change disappeared from coalition discussions; the environment minister, Melissa Price, went into hermetic hiding. Having given Indian mining giant Adani approval on water management plans in the long battle of the Galilee Basin, the onus was on Labor to show their colours.  In the process, they were wedged: to oppose Adani for environmental grounds sounded like a rebuke to miners, however fictional and disingenuous the projected figures of the Indian company were.  Pro-Adani Labor members of parliament such as Cathy O’Toole in the North Queensland seat of Herbert were left in outer orbit from the metropolitan centres of Sydney and Melbourne.  

There have already been attempts to see the Australian federal election of 2019 as a version of Trump 2016 or Brexit.  Predictably, similar venting has taken place at the result, with despondent voters snorting on social media that they would move to New Zealand to escape the ignoramuses of the Australian populace.

The comparisons, and the responses, have been facile, and can only be sustained if you remain a continuing believer in the flawed witchdoctor’s art of opinion polls.  In other senses, the Australian federal election was won, and lost, along lines markedly similar to the 1990s.  Queensland always tended to be out of reach, with Labor hugging the metropolitan regions and incapable of convincing rural and less urbanised dwellers that they were a safe option. When Labor did return to power in 2007 with Kevin Rudd at the helm, it did so with a leader from Queensland, and a figure billed as the ALP version of John Howard.  

Throughout the Howard years, federal Labor found itself constantly incapable of recovering the “aspirational” blue collar voters who had found comfort in the arms of the conservative Coalition government.  Howard’s book-keeping ruthlessness and refusal to countenance abstract notions stood him in good stead. If you cannot reduce policies to spread sheets and ledgers, forget it.  This came with a good dose of fright – terrorists, boat people, refugees – when needed.

Morrison’s own words suggest a re-incarnation of Howard on several levels.  Those who voted for him “have their dreams, they have their aspirations, to get a job, to get an apprenticeship, to start a business, to meet someone amazing, to start a family, to buy a home, to work hard and provide the best you can for your kids, to save for your retirement.”  This was cradle-to-grave simplicity.

Morrison’s positioning of Labor as a penny-pinching tax agent with a spending agenda writ large did the trick.  And even if the effect of their income distribution policies would have had virtually no impact on the blue collar vote let alone a good number of young voters, the damage was done: they were said to be going after hard earned cash and the precious share income of retirees.  Rumours abounded in the state of Queensland that Shorten’s Labor party might also be considering bringing back the unpopular death tax.  (Nothing of the sort had been planned, but rumours have remarkably agile wings.)  

The victory of Morrison was, at its end, not for an idea, but an absence of ideas.  There were no Periclean orations, and no concerns about the fate of humanity beyond elemental, immediate desires.  Future elections are bound to repeat this pattern.  The lengthy dossiers and policy manifestoes are bound to be scrapped, and targets kept small.  But even as Morrison celebrates, his hardnosed strategists such as Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos are thinking how best to pinch the ideas of substance from the defeated Labor opposition.  Even ad men need some tincture of substance from time to time.


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Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  He is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research. Email: [email protected]

The session is on Radio National, Australia’s effort at highbrow airings on the wireless.  And, to be fair, it often does not disappoint. But on this occasion, there was a general sense of bonhomie amongst the participants on the Big Ideas segment, a glee about living in a glorious country far in advance of any on this terminally doomed earth.  It sounded, in many ways, like the fond, electoral reiterations of the lately victorious prime minister, Scott Morrison: Australians live in a glorious country of few imperfections, so boo to the rest of you, savages of distant lands. 

The theme of the jovial self-congratulation of the panellists, featuring historians Judith Brett and Clare Wright, with jolly ABC moderator Annabel Crabb, was Suffragettes, referenda and sausages: the history of democracy in Australia, recorded at the Sydney Writers Festival on May 2 this year.  The smug sense of the topic could be gathered from Radio National’s introduction to the program. “Australia was head of the pack with votes for women, an electoral commission and compulsory voting.”

The fact that Australia, along with New Zealand, was a pioneer in voting systems is undeniable. The secret ballot was born down under, as it were. But what becomes clear in the themes of such panellists, and their publications, is a self-satisfied sense that compulsory voting is the indispensable tool to keep the enthusiastic nutters out and keep the beige and maliciously dull in.  The “minority” are not in charge in Australia, goes this claim.  Compulsory voting, as Crabb et al would have us believe, does away with the chance Australia might get a Donald Trump, for instance, victorious on the crest of an indignant white wave that flooded the polling booths when it mattered most. 

Section 245 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 is a delightful bit of drafting that brings the policing power of the state to bear upon an elector’s choice.  It is condescending, the parent’s rebuke, a grand wrap across the knuckles of the disobedient.  Not voting without a “valid and sufficient reason” means a sanction.  Not voting often means a very stiff fine indeed.  Cognates are to be found in countries such as Brazil, which punishes the non-voter by denying work in the public sector, loans from public banks or obtaining a passport. 

Voting is compulsory in 19 of the 166 so-called electoral democracies (numbers on this vary – one puts it at 30), but Australia is only one of nine that enforce it.  Its introduction and swift passage via a private member’s bill in 1924 prompted the legal historian Geoffrey Sawer to claim that, “No major departure in the federal political system had ever been made in so casual a fashion.”  The converse is true: that compelling individuals to vote, a state directive as it were, was perfectly acceptable and hardly worthy of debate.  The legacy of obedience in penal societies runs deep. 

As Brett puts it,

“People from our sister democracies are often astonished that Australians are compelled to turn up to vote: it seems an affront to freedom.  We in reply are appalled at their low turnouts and the election of leaders and governments by a minority of voters.” 

What works such as Brett’s insist upon is a certain misplaced legitimacy.  To give electors the choice of turning up to the polls is something of an encouragement of illegitimacy.  Noses are turned up at voting outcomes where electors had a choice of turning up to their polling booths, yet decided to stay at home.  The results are scorned.  “Britain’s disastrous 2016 decision to leave the European Union was carried by a slim majority of the 72.2% of voters who turned out.”  Writing in elevated tones of disapproval, Brett also notes that the 2016 US presidential election saw a percentage turnout in the high fifties.  “Donald Trump did not have the support of the majority of voters, but neither would Hillary Clinton had she won.”

These observations do little in terms of evaluating the notion of informed choice in compulsory voting systems.  Many Australian voters are baffled when they do vote about what a bicameral legislature is, or that they have to vote for an upper chamber (the Senate) and the lower House of Representatives.  The idea that voters are also “reading the policies,” the favourite brush-off line of a confused voter seduced by false complexities, is the grand icing on the cake of deception. Does an apathetic vote have real value? 

When the Electoral Act’s exemption of a “valid and sufficient reason” has been challenged, the results for the abstainer have been meagre.  The Australian High Court gave short shrift to the political opinions of a citizen who refused to vote in the 1926 decision of Judd v McKeon.  Judd, a socialist, was keen to argue that the candidates were all representatives of the capitalist order and did not need his preference to perpetuate it.  Expressing “an objection to the social order of the community in which he lives,” according to Chief Justice Knox and Justices Duffy and Starke, was “not a valid and sufficient reason for refusing to exercise his franchise.”

The case law is resolutely anti-intellectual on the subject.  Thoughts, ideas and philosophies matter less than the practical issues of illness, accident or natural events that prevent a person from casting a ballot.  The High Court acknowledges, for instance, that a compulsory vote need not be exercised if the “intending voter on his way to the poll was diverted to safe life, or to prevent crime, or to assist at some great disaster”.  This lends itself to a firm conclusion: the fact of voting is more significant than its cerebral or spiritual content.  Merely having “a subjective incapacity on the part of the voter to determine that he prefers one candidate in an election to another,” opined the Supreme Court of Victoria in 1970, does not afford a valid and sufficient ground for failing to vote.

There is also a fundamental philosophical point at work here.  A right to vote must, axiomatically, assume a non-vote.  Engagement and abstention are choices, and while the latter may seem unwise and take you out of the running as a genuine “voice” – that term itself being less consequential in today’s mass industrialised and estranged societies – the assumption that you cannot do so by law creates the sense of a false choice.

Anyone, then, with an acquaintance with the taxonomy of rights should realise that the right to vote shades off into an obligation in this instance, transmuting into a matter of duty and obedience to the state.  The trumpeted virtues of enfranchisement become a matter of command by the Australian Electoral Commission and the commonwealth.  You are forced to vote for the lunatics on offer; but, you are also told that you can just as well do what is termed a “donkey vote”.  This latter point shows a good deal of disingenuousness on the part of defenders of compulsory voting.  You must be compelled to vote, but it does not mean you have to necessarily pick a choice on the ballot.  A spoiled vote is still an indication of preference or lack of one.  But why vote in the first place then?  Because it is the right thing to do.  And so the circular reasoning continues. 

The inconsistencies here are rarely taken seriously in Australian debates (or non-debates) on the subject of compulsory voting.  The duty masquerades ingloriously as a right.  And lurking behind the high minded principle is a more grounded political motivation.  Historically, the Australian Labor Party encouraged compulsory voting to ensure that their voter base turned out in competitive numbers to those of their conservative opponents.  As ever, more a case of survival than principle. 


Note to readers: please click the share buttons above or below. Forward this article to your email lists. Crosspost on your blog site, internet forums. etc. 

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research. Email: [email protected]

What is the point in central government orders and carefully thought out regulatory norms if government officials and regulators act with blatant disregard? This is precisely what we now see happening in India where genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are concerned.

India has the greatest brinjal germplasm in the world with 2,500 varieties, including wild species. Following news in April that (genetically engineered) Bt brinjal is being illegally cultivated in Haryana, prominent campaigner and environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues says:

“These varieties are now under threat of irreversible contamination (cross-pollination) because of cumulative acts over time of senseless and criminally irresponsible regulatory oversight. More properly expressed: a virtual vacuum in GMO regulation.”

The cultivation of Bt brinjal (aubergine/eggplant) contravenes the indefinite moratorium that currently exists on the commercial release of Bt brinjal in India.

The moratorium has been in place since 2010 following a unique four-month scientific enquiry and public hearings regarding field trial data and crop developer Mayhco’s application for the commercialisation of Bt brinjal. Back then, the decision to reject commercialisation was supported by advice that the then Minister Jairam Ramesh received from several renowned international scientists.

At the time, Ramesh’s decision to place a moratorium on Bt brinjal was founded on what he called “a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach.” The moratorium is still in place and has not been lifted. All the environmental and health hazards acknowledged at the time remain.

Legal notice issued

On 12 May 2019, Prashant Bhushan, public interest lawyer in the Supreme Court of India, issued a legal notice in a letter to Harsh Vardhan, Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The letter discusses the violation of the moratorium on the commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal. Given the gravity of the matter, the letter is also to be distributed to the prime minister, the minister of agriculture and all members of parliament.

The letter also includes a lab report: a definitive test carried out at accredited laboratory SGS in Ahmedabad, which states that the brinjal sample from Haryana sent to it tested positive for a plant GMO: the test confirms that the brinjal in question is genetically modified.

Aruna Rodrigues paid for the test herself and says:

“When this news about the cultivation of Bt brinjal came out in April – knowing our regulators bent of mind, intent, conflict of interest and undiluted support of the biotech industry, knowing they probably welcome this – I decided to get a definitive test done at an accredited lab. I paid for it of course. It is civil society that is keeping a watchful eye on the biosafety of India, not the government.”

She adds that the planting of Bt brinjal in Haryana is an egregious violation of a central government order:

“This is not only an illegal planting of a GMO food that has not been approved, but a gross violation of an active central government indefinite order. This raises the violation to a different level and order of magnitude. It is the most serious breach of India’s biosafety, brinjal genetic diversity and therefore biosecurity of India.”

In a similar vein, Prashant Bhushan’s letter discusses blatant regulatory malfeasance regarding Bt cotton, herbicide-tolerant cotton seeds (now also illegally available in the country) and the illegal import of other GM seeds of various food crops. He also informs the minister in some detail about the issues surrounding Bt Brinjal and the reasons for the moratorium in 2010. Bt cotton is India’s only legal GM crop (a Mahyco-Monsanto venture): that too involved a strategy of illegally cultivate then approve. It’s an industry tactic.

Bhushan notes:

“ln the fourteen years since the filing of a PIL (Aruna Rodrigues v Union of lndia) for a moratorium on GMOs in 2005, there has been a disregard for the most basic norms governing the regulation of GlVlOs in lndia.”

Further on in his letter, he states:

“l am constrained to say that we are looking at a collective failure of our regulatory bodies and connected institutions, with the final blame falling squarely on the apex regulator, the GEAC (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) in your Ministry, the body solely responsible for all environmental releases of GMOs. The illegal planting of Bt brinjal demonstrates the vacuum that exists in the oversight of GMOs in lndia.”

Bhushan makes it clear that the current situation represents the most dire and unconscionable violation of lndia’s constitutional safeguards of its biosecurity and biosafety with potentially irreversible consequences:

“These matters justify criminal proceedings being initiated against individuals and corporations that have participated in and facilitated the illegal sale and cultivation of Bt brinjal. ln the event of any contamination, the GEAC/others may be in contempt of the supreme court’s order of “No contamination”. Any delay on the part of your ministry in taking swift and strict action to stop the spread of Bt brinjal may not only be illegal but constitute contempt as well.”

Source of seeds

So, just where did these Bt Brinjal seeds come from?

In a report in the Hindustan Times (12 May), it is stated that the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) says it had not stored any GM seeds from the field trials conducted prior to the moratorium in 2010. Mahyco and the two universities (Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and University of Agricultural Sciences in Karnataka) involved in the trials were in possession of the seeds.

The newspaper reports that minutes of GEAC meetings held in February and May of 2010 reveal the committee decided that NBPGR would store Bt brinjal seeds from all three seed developers and take affidavits from the company and institutions confirming that all seed stock has been deposited with NBPGR. But this was never done.

Bt brinjal has been grown in Bangladesh since 2013. The seeds could have come from there or might be old seeds that were supposed to be deposited with NBPGR. Further ‘event identification’ (involving an analysis of the construct of the genetically modified organism) tests might be able to determine the original source.

In a letter (11 May) to Minister Harsh Vardhan, the Coalition for a GM Free India stated:

“For any illegal cultivation of Bt Brinjal found in India, the crop/event developer should be held responsible… and it is clear that Mahyco and the two state agriculture universities have to be investigated immediately.”

Of course, as Prashant Bhushan implies, it’s not just the crop developers who should eventually have their day in court.

The GMO biotech sector has not been able to mount a convincing argument for the introduction of GM crops in India, whether it has involved Bt brinjal in 2010 or the ongoing case in the Supreme Court concerning GM mustard. Aruna Rodrigues’s many submissions to the Supreme Court have shown that the crop developer’s field trials and the overall case for GM mustard have failed to establish a need for this crop and are based on scientific fraud and unremitting regulatory delinquency.

But the push for GM continues unabated because Indian agriculture presents a potentially massive cash cow for the industry. It’s a case of any which way, as Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, notes:

“The biotech industry’s strategy of ‘leak illegal seeds first, contaminate and spread the cultivation and present a fait accompli’ for obtaining approval is well known.”

It’s exactly what happened with Bt cotton in India.

Read Prashant Bhushan’s letter here.


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Colin Todhunter is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research.

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Such companies advertise themselves as slick and professional, the best in the business, all things to men, women and everyone in between. They insist that we can all have that vast cake of wealth and eat it too.  Equinor, a Norwegian multinational beast of an energy company with its headquarters in Stavanger, has been doing much in the way of making cakes and eating them.  It seeks“to be the world’s most carbon-efficient oil and gas producer” but at the same a sound investor in renewables.  The earth may well be heating up, but there is no point in not having a bet each way as the frog boils.  Whatever its formula, the company is boastful. “We energize the lives of 170 million people.  Every day.”

Interest has now shifted to the Great Australian Bight, an area deemed by the Great Australian Bight Alliance “one of the most pristine ocean environments left on Earth, supporting vibrant coastal communities, jobs and recreational activities.”  The Norwegian company is determined to drill for oil at a location some 476km west of Port Lincoln, a site which is intended to become the Stromlo-1 well with an intended depth of 2,240m.  A period of 60 days is anticipated, with commencement taking place for late 2020.  A submitted proposal to do so is currently being assessed by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).

The company has every reason to be confident that hiccups will be few and far between.  As Coalition campaign spokesman Simon Birmingham told reporters in Adelaide last week,

“There are a large proportion of constituents who want to see jobs and opportunities created, as long as there is no environmental harm.”

Outside the good offices of NOPSEMA, disputes over the science feature.  For Equinor, all is manageable and realisable.  For James Cook University marine biologist Jodie Rummer, a utopia reconciling drilling and sustainability is questionable: environmental frameworks need to be far more sensitive.  Her own research showed that “even small boats and the noise that motors make are disturbing fish and the way they develop.”  Rummer’s descriptions are of marine communities at risk and trauma; even a few drops of oil, she asserts, would cause “massive effects on behaviour and even physiological performance.”  The terror for concerned citizens such as the Wilderness Society’s South Australian director Peter Owen is clear: “It’s very remote where they’re proposing to drill, so if it all goes wrong out there, there’s nothing they can do.”

A typical formula in Australian environmental regulation is its sense of devolution, a polite way of deferring problems best resolved at the highest levels.  Federal bodies prefer their state counterparts to masticate over the issue, thereby passing any potential scandal down to a more local level; state politicians, in turn, refer the issue to the relevant state regulator, bound to be praised for its sound assessments.

“The bottom line,”  says South Australia’s treasurer Rob Lucas, “is it cannot proceed and won’t proceed unless the most stringent safety environmental standards are met.”

Opposition groups numbering some 20 councils and a range of environmental concerns have not been assured by either the Liberal or Labor parties.  Ever spooked about the prospect that denying such a company access to the Australian environment might prevent a jobs opportunity, voices of concern tend to fall silent.  Such silence is assisted by the power of cash and wooing: Equinor and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, a self-touted “voice” for the industry, have been busy spruiking their case to members of the South Australian parliament.

In March this year, both groups were given access to parliamentarians and interested parties at two fora in Adelaide.  APPEA South Australia director Matthew Doman extolled the industry’s aspirations to sustainable operations and engagement with “coastal communities” and those using the marine environment.  To push the claim for drilling, Doman dreamily spoke about an “independent” report from 2018 commissioned, naturally, by his own outfit along with the assistance of ACIL Allen Consulting.

Dollar signs flashed with seductive calling: oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight could see “more than 2,000 jobs in South Australia” while generating some $7 billion in average annual tax revenue for state and federal governments.  As is often the case in such soothsaying, a future indirect effect is also praised: between 2020 and 2060 (time is never an issue for those in this business), additional activity and “associated tax revenue” would see the creation of 5,000 jobs.

For those claiming the unimpeachable nature of any independence in the process, ACIL Allen Consulting prides itself on having experience in the resources business covering “all aspects of the minerals and energy sector, from iron ore and coal industries to onshore and offshore petroleum.”  Now that’s independence for you.

Even more troubling to environmental activists was the presence of NOPSEMA’s own head, Stuart Smith, at the Adelaide events.  There was little in the way of objective distance: Smith was there to be impressed and chew the fat with industry participants.  Greenpeace Australia Pacific chief executive David Ritter was not taking chances, pointing out in a letter to the regulator that such proximity was inappropriate.  “Australian and international integrity bodies have long raised concerns that close relationships between regulators and the industries they are regulating can lead to ‘regulatory’ capture’.”  It was “not appropriate for the chief executive officer of an independent regulator to actively participate in events that are set up to endorse the ‘opportunity’ related to activities that is the authority’s role to independently regulate.”

It has fallen to Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young to provide reassurance that the issue will make its way to the federal parliament.  “The campaign is growing and growing, but we have to stop this project in Canberra and in the parliament.”  With the regulator watered and dined, that, assisted by ferocious public protest, may well be the only route open to concerned parties.


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Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research. Email: [email protected]

Confucius Institutes, the language and culture programs funded by the Chinese government, have been established in more than 1,500 high schools and colleges worldwide since their debut in 2004. A centerpiece of China’s soft power policy, they represent an effort to smooth China’s path to superpower status by enhancing its global appeal. Yet Confucius Institutes have given rise to voluble and contentious public debate in host countries, where they have been both welcomed as a source of educational funding and cultural enrichment, and feared as spy outposts, neocolonial incursions, and obstructions to academic freedom. China in the World turns an anthropological lens on this highly visible and controversial globalization project in an effort to provide fresh insight into China’s shifting place in the world.

Taking the study of soft power policy into the classroom, this article offers an anthropological intervention into a subject that has been dominated by the methods and analyses of international relations and political science. It shows that concerns about Confucius Institutes reflect broader debates over globalization and modernity and ultimately about a changing global order. Examining the production of soft power policy in situ allows us to move beyond program intentions to see how Confucius Institutes actually shape day-to-day classroom interactions. By assessing the perspectives of participants and exploring the complex ways in which students, teachers, parents, and program administrators interpret the Confucius Institute curriculum, significant gaps are revealed between China’s soft power policy intentions and the effects of those policies in practice.

China in the World brings original, long-term ethnographic research to bear on how representations of and knowledge about China are constructed, consumed, and articulated in encounters between China, the United States, and the Confucius Institute programs themselves. It moves a controversial topic beyond the realm of policy making to examine the mechanisms through which policy is implemented, engaged, and contested by a multitude of stakeholders and actors. It provides new insight into how policy actually works, showing that it takes more than financial wherewithal and official resolve to turn cultural presence into power. The chapter presented here is adapted from China in the World.

* * *

We gathered, twenty-six American high school students and three chaperones, at a US airport, sporting matching T-shirts that advertised our group as members of the Chinese Bridge summer program sponsored by Hanban, the Beijing institute that directs the worldwide Confucian Institute programs. We were set to join more than six hundred US high school students on a seventeen-day study tour of China, starting in Beijing and then, in smaller groups of eighty to one hundred, heading to various provinces for an additional two weeks of language and culture instruction before returning to Beijing for more touring and an elaborate farewell ceremony. Each year, Hanban sponsors five to six hundred US students on a visit to China. While the students on our tour paid for their airfare and a small administrative fee, some of which was used to partially reimburse the travel fees of the chaperones, once they were in China, Hanban covered all expenses, including domestic travel, housing, meals, Chinese language classes, tourist excursions, and cultural performances. Members of our group came from a variety of local schools with Confucius Institutes and had studied Chinese for at least one year prior to our departure. Several had grown up in Chinese-speaking households in the United States and were functionally fluent in the language.1

After clearing US airport security, our Chinese Bridge group boarded a plane bound for Beijing. A layover in Tokyo offered one gleeful cluster of students an opportunity to avail themselves of “local” culture in the form of a Japanese McDonald’s, while others gathered around the chaperones in the boarding area and chatted about what to expect when we finally reached Chinese soil. Questions about bathroom facilities dominated the conversation. “Will we be able to shower every day?” one of the students asked, and students groaned when a chaperone informed them that, yes, indeed, they would encounter many squat toilets and reminded them that “you are going there partially for the experience, too.”

It was well after midnight when we arrived at our final destination, a boarding school on the outskirts of Beijing where a massive marble statue of Confucius saluted our entrance to the campus. While students were shuffled off to bed, chaperones were ushered down a dimly lit, cavernous hallway decorated on one side with a mural of China’s cultural glories (including the Potala Palace in Tibet and the terra-cotta warriors) superimposed with images of a rocket, a bullet train, and the vibrantly red 2010 Shanghai Expo China Pavilion. The text on the mural, in English and Chinese, read “Beautiful China,” providing a gloss for the meaning of these juxtaposed images. Upon reaching a large conference room, we were welcomed to Beijing by an official from Hanban who further elaborated on the mural’s combination of the traditional and the modern. Although “the Great Wall is a famous symbol,” she took care to tell us, “now Beijing is a successful and modern city. It successfully held the Olympics.” Interpreting our presence as configuring desire, she added, “I’m so glad you find Chinese culture so amazing.”

Mural on wall at Beijing boarding school. Photo by J. Hubbert

As a mechanism of soft power efforts to operationalize culture, the Chinese Bridge program hosts American high school students for a visit to China in the hope of creating a generation of citizens in foreign countries who hold favorable opinions about China and the Chinese state, thereby, as Nye explains, “getting others to want the outcomes that you want” (2004, 5) through cooptation rather than coercion. This article explores the paradoxes of modernity and authenticity that emerged as the Chinese Bridge program sought to create soft power through offering China as a new model of the global through reconfiguring local tradition in the service of a new kind of global modernity, as the mural on the wall and the introductory speech suggested. We might think of these efforts as an attempt at the hybridity of what Latour (1993) calls the paradox of the modern, in which the modern has always existed in hybrid form. While Latour theorizes this in terms of rigid dichotomies of nature/culture, we might consider how China here invokes tradition in such a way as to conceptualize it as a source of the modern that contests both representations of China as ontologically backward and the West as ontologically contemporary and theorizations of globalization that see modernity and tradition as antithetical and distinctive projections.

Soft power engagements such as CIs reflect not only how nations assess both their assets and their locations in global hierarchies of power but also the complex ways that meaning is actualized by diverse constituencies and representations rather than by policy alone. Thus, although the Chinese Bridge program provides a valuable example of the CCP’s attempt to redefine China’s place in the world by positioning the nation as an active subject rather than an object of cultural and economic flows, it also demonstrates the paradoxes of authenticity when the international targets of those policies misinterpret or reject the program’s reconfiguration of China’s changing place in the world because of their own ideas about China and about what constitutes the authenticity of local and global.2 At the same time, we note that there are different target audiences for soft power efforts and that these paradoxes are “read” differently by distinct audiences. From policy’s perspective, such paradoxes are read as “misinterpretations” by the global audience but are countered by a domestic audience whose “appropriate” reading of soft power engagements—China as an emergent embodiment of modernity and the global—encourages national unity and stability, conditions that are central to China’s global goals of projecting itself as a peaceful superpower and to its domestic goals of continued development.

Evoking International Desire for China

From the very beginning, China’s CI program has problematized the assumed processes of globalization, an example of an erstwhile peripheral target of globalization now engaging in the process as a source rather than a recipient. Historically, dominant Western representations of globalization have configured the center or the “metropole,” broadly understood as Europe and the United States, as the cradle of globalization and the model of what is considered the cosmopolitan and modern global. The “periphery” then is theorized as the parochial local as well as the object of globalization. The global, in contrast, represents the commonsensical “norm,” the unmarked universal that is an “obvious” object of desire (the West), while the local is marked as particular to a place—the counterpart of the global—quaint perhaps, but not an apparent source of universal value and practice.

The juxtaposition of the global (bullet trains and Olympic games) and the local (terra-cotta warriors and Tibetan palaces) in the CI official’s introduction and the boarding school’s mural reflected two mechanisms employed by CIs to challenge these assumptions and establish China as a model for the global. I term the first of these strategies “witnessing the modern,” through which summer program students were provided with numerous experiences that allowed students to “witness” the expected tangible results of China’s fast-track modernization and its rightful place on the global stage, phenomena that evoked what Tsing (2000a) calls the “charisma” of the global. The second strategy I term the “embodied performance of tradition,” in which students were invited to experience China as a model for a singular kind of global through encounters with traditional Chinese culture, what Schmidt labels a “politics of affect,” through which students are meant to demonstrate an appreciation of China through “mimetic cultural performance” (2013, 661). As we shall see, the first of these strategies replicates dominant concepts of the global—as a place of avant-garde architecture, high technology, and luxury consumption—while the second presents China as a new model for globalization precisely because it has resisted globalization’s homogeneity by maintaining its traditions.3

Witnessing the Modern

After two days in Beijing, the students and chaperones in the summer program were dispatched in smaller groups to various provincial cities, where they were hosted by a variety of universities that had formal affiliations with CIs in the United States. Our cohort was joined by two other groups of American students for a total of fifty students and five chaperones. We were posted to a large city in eastern China where we studied at a small inner-city branch of the university and were housed at a hotel on the outskirts of town, a thirty-minute bus ride away.4 Our host university had also built an immense new campus in the suburbs, and on our first day after leaving Beijing we were treated to a tour of the grounds and the campus’s new library, a stunning, multistoried granite building replete with floor-to-ceiling stacks of books and the latest in computer technology.

Newly constructed university campus. Photo by J. Hubbert

The university had yet to open fully for operations, and as we meandered through the otherwise silent hallways, one of the CI teachers asked a student why she was not taking pictures of the library. “They took off all the plastic on the computers for you,” she remarked, seeming to suggest that the students failed to comprehend the importance of the occasion. The students, who were no strangers to architectural grandeur and familiar with more bustling libraries, were not entirely clear about the rationale for our visit until I explained that the school was excited to show us their new campus, which was a marked material improvement from the old and somewhat decrepit buildings the university had occupied before. Although our hosts had anticipated that the students would be eager to share pictures of this architectural and technological splendor with friends and family at home, the students were not interested in replicating experiences with which they were already familiar, as their apathy and shuttered cameras suggested.5

Over the next two weeks, our excursions to such sites as museums, an airplane assembly factory, and extravagant shopping malls confirmed our hosts’ commitment to our witnessing the modern, taking routes to our destinations that revealed to us newly developed thoroughfares, luxury automobile dealerships, “villa” housing, modernist skyscrapers, and lush golf courses, all internationally recognizable as contemporary manifestations of global arrival. The sites we visited and witnessed through the bus windows reflected common expectations about what constitutes a global built environment, and scholars have noted how emerging nations, as Aihwa Ong explains, “exercise their power by assembling glass and steel towers to project particular visions of the world (2011, 1) that resemble the skylines of “global cities” such as New York and London. Ong also notes how Asian cities have emerged in the twenty-first century as “fertile sites” for architectural experiments that “reinvent what urban norms can count as ‘global’” (2011, 2). In twenty-first-century China, billions have been spent hiring the world’s most high-profile architects and constructing a skyline that, as noted architect Rem Koolhaas explains, now “rises in the East” (cited in Ong 2011, 2), drawing attention away from New York and London as the foremost sites of architectural innovation and symbols of globalization. These CI tour group excursions reconfirmed the conceptual terra firma of the built environment, offering students an opportunity to witness the monumentalization of space. These particular tours were revelations not of “we can do it differently” but of “we can do modern, and do it as well,” pedagogical experiences that substantiated an accepted form of globalization through a built environment that, while not unique or reinvented as a form of difference, was recognizable globally as a contemporary manifestation of presumed globalization.“`

Another such CI projection of China’s ability to embody the global was through introducing students to the city’s “Italian-style street”—a former Italian concession in an old Western treaty port with Italian-style buildings that had been restored and turned into a pedestrian mall. The introduction began with a film shown in the CI classroom that described the area, which we were to visit shortly, as “a dramatic experience with humanity and commerce, an emotional clash between tradition and modernity, a fantastic journey to search for exoticness and Chinese style.” With Italian opera playing in the soundtrack, the film’s sepia-toned images on-screen moved fluidly from ancient Italy to ancient China before ending in a burst of color showing China’s own version of an Italian town, a scene of well-heeled travelers, late-model cars, and rows of equal-sized Chinese and Italian flags flying side by side that suggested the equivalence of the two nations. Subsequent images featured advanced development and urban renovation, and voice-overs touted the neighborhood as the “largest place of Italian culture in Asia” and as an urban space of “unending prosperity.” Employing a language of syncretism, the lecture that followed the film explained that this neighborhood was an example of “Chinese lifestyle European architecture” and a “typical blend of Chinese and Western culture” that exhibited how “China is able to blend different cultures so successfully.” During our visit to the Italian town, we witnessed tourists being taken for rides in horse-drawn carriages by drivers wearing American-style cowboy hats and Chinese brides and grooms having their pictures taken wearing Western wedding attire. Dining on pizza and sipping Starbucks lattes despite the heat, the students experienced China as a globalized space of consumption meant to showcase the level of luxury achieved by China’s economic boom and the country’s ability to globalize in syncretic and imaginative fashion. Ong notes how oftentimes these manifestations of globalization are assumed to “create a global space that effaces national identity,” thwart “national sovereignty,” and subject local spaces to the “logic of placeless capital” (Ong 2011, 205). Yet, what we see in this case is not merely a reduction of the nation to the logic of global capital, but more what Ong calls a “play of exception,” in which it is global capital that is the tool for national sovereignty, marking the nation as the manifestation of the global for the sake of local (China’s) political power.

Riding back to our hotel, one of the CI officials sitting next to me reiterated the intended purpose of such tours, exclaiming, “This is a really worthwhile program; it changes students’ ideas about China. They realize that China is much more modern than they thought.” And indeed, students frequently expressed a new awareness. “I’m surprised at how modern China is,” one told me. “I hadn’t expected that.” Similarly, another stated, “I thought China was going to be big and crowded,” then added, with a tone of surprise, “but it’s modern.” CI teachers I talked with in the United States were accustomed to such reactions and over the years had recounted to me the sometimes anachronistic images students and parents brought into the CI classroom. “One parent asked me if we had two-story buildings,” one teacher told me, while another reported having been asked if her parents would arrange her marriage and if women still bound their feet. Although “they know about the Olympics,” this teacher continued, “I think we need to show them the real China, modern China, that it’s like the United States, the modern cities. They are surprised by this.” Yet the summer program students often appended a caveat to their appreciation of China’s modernity, such as one who noted, “But then when you’re sitting on the bus and the guide is pointing out all this modern stuff, you look on the other side and you instantly see all this real poverty. The two are right next to each other.” In these narratives, somehow “real poverty” at home in the United States had less symbolic power. While modern and antiquated were visibly contiguous in both China and the United States, modern rarely emerged for China as the predominant signifier, while poverty never emerged as an essentialized indicator of the West. And rather than the luxury car dealership, what the students chose to memorialize in their photographs was the urban Walmart, the American purveyor of inexpensive products made in China, thus configuring China as a supplier of consumption for global others rather than a model of the global, the object, not the subject, of globalization. Thus despite the CI’s effort to offer China as modernity’s embodiment, students often continued to perceive it as not quite having achieved the status of the global modern.

(Mis)Reading the Modern

After several days of such experiences, on a bus ride back to our hotel, students asked me why, if they were there to study Chinese and learn about China, we were spending long days visiting museums and airplane assembly factories and driving by car dealerships and skyscrapers. Less than a week into our seventeen-day excursion, the planned and clearly didactic activities were already beginning to wear on students’ nerves. “My mom tricked me into coming here,” one student moaned, expressing his frustration with a tour that was clearly not meeting his expectations. Attempts by Confucius Institutes to establish appreciation for China by providing evidence that would allow students to categorize China as the unmarked global rather than the particular, traditional local were not read as identification with their norms for the global but rather as betrayal and coercion. “It feels like jail, bus jail, school jail, no opportunities to just wander around,” another student moaned, slumping into a lounge chair in the hotel lobby and pulling out his cell phone to check his texts from home.

The sites that our Chinese hosts had intended to model the irreducibly global—the dramatic architecture and world-class museums—were instead being experienced by students as forms of censorship and control that reinforced common Western perceptions of China’s authoritarian political life. These students equated the “real” China they were being shown with image control, not with evidence of modernity. Rather than reading along with a narrative of spectacle that offered visions of Chinese global commensurability, they had come to view these experiences with disbelief and distrust. As we chatted one day, one of the girls said, “If I had known it was going to be all this museum stuff, I wouldn’t have come. . . . It’s all image control. . . . I would like to know what China is really like, not the PR trip we’ve been on.” While the historical eras and global hierarchies of power are different, China’s efforts to fashion a particular image through cultural exchange reflect Soviet-US/European cultural exchanges in the period between the two world wars, in which the treatment of European and American visitors to the Soviet Union speaks volumes to how the Soviet Union understood itself as a global power (David-Fox 2011). Drawing upon the concept of the Potemkin village, originally staged to deceive Catherine the Great into thinking Russia more developed than it was, Michael David-Fox explores how the Soviet Union guided foreigners through a “cultural show” (2011, 98) that staged political lessons for visitors from the capitalist West designed to counter assumptions about Russian backwardness and institute an image of Russia as the path forward for global development. This era led directly into a cultural Cold War period that David Caute characterizes as follows: “Never before had empires felt so compelling a need to prove their virtue, to demonstrate their spiritual superiority, to claim the high ground of ‘progress,’ to win public support and admiration by gaining ascendancy in each and every event of what might be styled the Cultural Olympics” (cited in David-Fox 2011, 321). Yet while the original Potemkin villages were temporary structures, designed purposefully to deceive, there was nothing either provisional or intentionally misleading about the monumental built environment featured on the CI tours that caused the skepticism. It was not so much the object but the pedagogy that proved frustrating for the students.

In case the students should miss the intended meaning of these expeditions, the guides and teachers continually engaged in a process I began to think of as the “perpetual presence of the adverb”: China had “skillfully” integrated, “rapidly” modernized, “successfully” globalized, they informed us. Teachers and guides also frequently attempted to shape the students’ learning by making sure they recognized that the intended objects of attention, in the words of one teacher, were “specific to Chinese culture and can teach us about China.” Clearly, our guides believed that China needed to be taught, not merely experienced. This belief—or at least this hope—was expressed by our host university’s vice dean of international affairs shortly before we returned to Beijing: “You must feel so proud of what you did in this short ten days. You’ve learned so many new things and had so many new experiences. It all must have impressed you and left a big impression. You can now see what Chinese culture is like. . . . You can now see what China is really like. It’s better to see than to hear.”6

Confucius Institute guides, who were themselves, as they explained to me frequently over the years, impressed by and proud of how rapidly China had come to embody these markers of the global, were perplexed by the students’ responses and questioned me about why the students failed to come to similar conclusions.7 Interpreting the students’ dissatisfaction as a result of their not yet being “used to” China, the response of the guides and teachers, like that of any good host, was to try to provide students with what teachers assumed they were accustomed to in their everyday lives.8 One day, for example, we pulled into a deserted parking lot at lunchtime and waited in confusion for fifteen minutes before employees from a local McDonald’s climbed aboard with boxes full of Big Macs, French fries, and sodas. But as we chewed on our burgers and sipped our sodas in the parking lot, the student sitting next to me, rather than appreciating these efforts, complained, “I didn’t come to China to eat McDonald’s; I came to China to eat Chinese food,” his earlier dash to the Tokyo airport McDonald’s clearly forgotten. During our visit, I often noticed similar forms of hospitality, particularly at mealtimes, when alongside Chinese food, students were offered French fries and milk. When I questioned one of our guides about the ubiquitous French fries and the trip to McDonald’s, she replied that they wanted to make the students feel comfortable and “at home.” While making the students feel at home was a marker of gracious hospitality, it also demonstrated that China, too, had McDonald’s and milk and other recognized forms of global consumption. But many students often found these reminders of home unwelcome, both because they were seeking experiences that were different from home and because these attempts were often perceived as inadequate. The French fries, the students complained, were usually cold, and the milk was always warm, suggesting to the students that despite China’s efforts to achieve global commensurability by showcasing its modernization, the nation remained, in Homi Bhabha’s words, “almost the same, but not quite” (1984, 127). Although China might have gotten monumental architecture and luxury goods right, the same could not be said about the consumption of fast food and dairy products. Hospitality, Andrew Shryock contends (2012, S20), can be seen as a “test of sovereignty,” and the students’ refusal to submit to the CI guides’ assemblage of meaning in these interactions injected doubt about China’s ability to be the protective host and to model the global.9

The more our hosts provided material examples of China’s modernity that were meant to stress China’s rightful position on the global stage, the more their efforts were met with skepticism from the students, setting off what Robert Albro calls “boundary-patrolling” discourses that reify cultural difference and confirm negative stereotypes rather than promote diplomacy (Albro 2015). Indeed, as we exited a museum after having listened to detailed information on the building’s spectacular architecture and world-class status, and on China’s history of persecution at the hands of foreign imperialists, two students pulled me aside and asked why the museum tour guide “seems to leave out stuff and make it always seem like they [the Chinese] are the good guys.” The students were clearly either ignoring or blissfully unaware of how their own historical textbooks engaged in similar practices. “It’s all so controlled,” another grumbled. The CI program’s categories and opportunities for witnessing the modern had produced “zones of boredom and unreadability” (Tsing 2005,172). Confucius Institute attempts to relocate the locus of the global, to construct a global marker of appreciation for China through powerful and even charismatic evidentiary moments of categorization and validation, were not read by students as identification but rather as coercion.

Embodying Tradition

In short, Hanban’s efforts to produce soft power sometimes failed to resonate with American students. While Hanban strove to present an image of the Chinese nation as universally modern, student responses suggest that rather than commonality, commensurability, and evidence of China’s status as a global power, they sought particularity and what they perceived to be Chinese authenticity. The Chinese Bridge program attempted to fulfill that desire and advance its soft power objectives with a second strategy of presenting China not only as a worthy member of the global community but also as a superior model of globalization that, by maintaining a vibrant traditional “local” culture rather than succumbing to Western cultural imperialism, rejected the widespread perception that globalization initiates the cultural homogenization of the world.

The form of local particularity emphasized in CI programming and curriculum around the world highlights a China defined not only by its global modernization but also by its long cultural tradition. As Schmidt has argued, Hanban’s presentation of Chinese tradition suggests an attempt to “replace affective economies of fear” regarding China’s place in the world with “affective economies of a beneficial and good PRC” by making Chinese culture fun (2014, 357). I also suggest that this turn to tradition entails an attempt to restructure relations of global and local. As Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff have highlighted, “|‘Locality’ is not everywhere, nor for every purpose, the same thing; sometimes it is a family, sometimes a town, a nation, sometimes a flow or a field, sometimes a continent or even the world; often it lies at the point of articulation among two or more of these things” (1999, 294). It is this point of articulation that is important here, for the CIs thus not only posed China as challenging what “counts” for the local and the global; they also suggested a reconceptualization of the relationship between the local and the global.

Hanban headquarters. Photo by J. Hubbert

The first stop on the Chinese Bridge program’s tour of Beijing was a trip to Hanban headquarters, an interactive and educational space that offered a glimpse of how local tradition would be rendered and experienced over the next two weeks. In the “Exploratorium” section, an instructional space that resembled US children’s museums by offering opportunities for hands-on manipulation of artifacts and computerized lessons on history, students could don Beijing opera costumes, manipulate beads on a massive abacus, make paper and print a book, and view ink-brush paintings, all either common symbols of traditional Chinese culture or recognized examples of historically advanced technological accomplishments. Students could also take computer quizzes asking such questions as “Which of the following is in Beijing: the Terra Cotta Warriors or the Temple of Heaven?”—an ostensible geography question that also called attention to globally recognized historic and cultural splendors of China. In a nearby room, students engaged in more applied activities, moving between tables staffed by arts and crafts experts demonstrating how to paint Beijing opera masks, tie Chinese knots, and cut paper into intricate forms, and offering samples for interested students to take home.10

The lessons on cultural tradition continued later that afternoon and into the evening. Our visit to Hanban headquarters was followed by stops at a Confucian temple and a Tibetan Buddhist temple, which the tour guide framed as examples of China’s ethnic harmony, cultural focus on education, and religious freedom (the last of these “as long as it doesn’t get too political,” he explained). During our evening lecture, titled “Getting to Know China,” the speaker referenced these afternoon activities and explained that Confucianism is key to understanding Chinese thought, emphasizing its philosophical focus on social order, good government, harmony, education, and filial piety (joking “That’s why we have tiger moms”). Much of his lecture provided background information intended to set the stage for the presentation of cultural traditions that would dominate our activities for the remainder of our visit, including discussions of yin-yang symbols, calligraphy, Chinese food, the Chinese zodiac, and the color red.

What was omitted from this lecture became visible when the speaker ended his presentation with a question-and-answer session. One student, speaking in Chinese, seemed to equate Chairman Mao with the absolute rulers of China’s imperial past by asking why the speaker had excluded Mao from his hurried list of Chinese historical dynasties. His face clouding over, the speaker brusquely responded that the last dynasty had ended in 1911, well before Mao came to power, and that Mao was not an emperor. The student, looking confused, asked her question again in English, which revealed that she had actually meant to ask why cats (a word that in Chinese has the same sound as Mao) had not been included in the list of zodiac signs. What had been perceived as a challenge to the lecturer’s apparent repression of contentious figures in Chinese history was in fact merely a reference to a cultural product (the Chinese lunar calendar) that is standard pedagogical fare in CI classrooms and was invoked frequently during the rest of our journey.11

After leaving Beijing, on most days the students gathered for several hours of Chinese instruction in the morning and after lunch for lectures on traditional culture and historic sites, including such topics as tile-roofed architecture, Confucianism, and the terra-cotta warriors. Following the lectures, local experts would demonstrate China’s art and craft traditions and then set students free to try their hands at cutting “double happiness” symbols from red paper, painting Beijing opera masks, and tying Chinese knots. These activities not only replicated almost exactly those at Hanban headquarters but were staple activities in CIs’ pedagogical method of combining language learning and cultural appreciation activities, and thus the students had “performed” China this way many times before in their CC classrooms.12

Opera mask activities. Photo by J. Hubbert

As I watched the students perform China through these activities over the span of our visit, it increasingly became clear that the practices intended to promote soft power had actually backfired in several ways. While this may have been a result of cultural differences in expectations—with American students perhaps less tolerant of repetition and uniformity than their hosts expected—their effectiveness also appeared limited by Hanban’s strategy of defining authenticity as “Culture with a capital C,” demonstrated by these projects’ failure to produce the intended admiration and appreciation. “Do we really have to do this?” one student moaned as an instructor pulled out piles of red paper and boxes of scissors to explain traditional Chinese paper-cutting techniques, complaining that “I’ve done this so many times.” To spur interest, one of the chaperones suggested having a competition for the best paper cut, but it seemed to have little effect, as evidenced by a row of boys in the back napping with their heads on the tables. And on opera-mask-painting day, students engaged not only in eye rolling and nap taking, but also, to the displeasure of the teachers, took considerable poetic license with their projects, several of which more closely resembled characters from Planet of the Apes and Batman than standard Chinese opera characters. As one student said to me toward the end of our seventeen-day tour, stressing the last word, “I want to come back on a college overseas trip, but not on a Confucius Institute trip. I want more culture, not all this Culture.

Students were eager to experience culture with an anthropological lowercase c, a different kind of particularity than was offered by the CI program. The contrast between the normalized “global” Chinese culture presented by the Chinese Bridge program and the exoticized local Chinese culture desired by the students demonstrates the gaps that can occur between soft power policy intentions and their actual effects. The students’ grumbling was not about China itself but about the didacticism and pedestrian classes and art projects through which it was being presented.13 Their days were structured from morning until night, with neither opportunity nor permission to explore beyond the confines of the mandated tour activities. The frames of reference through which Hanban attempted to advance China as characterizing the global remained illegible to the students, highlighting the paradoxical notions of authenticity that the various actors brought to the setting. Precisely because China has not consistently preserved past traditions within the modern, Hanban could only resort to paper cutting and terra-cotta warriors as emblematic of “tradition.” And yet, the authentic local offered by the CIs through these traditional practices had become so common and normalized—so global—that they no longer constituted a form of essentialized difference or at least the exoticized difference sought by students, as we will see in the following pages.

While the final week of our visit continued this pattern of language instruction, visits to historical sites and cultural monuments, meals with host families, and traditional arts and crafts projects, the afternoons were now dominated by hours of practice for a grand finale performance that would be presented in Beijing on the last evening of our stay. Local instructors had choreographed traditional and modern dance routines and selected students to perform, dressing them in traditional Chinese minority and Han costumes accessorized with feathered fans and elaborate headdresses. I grinned as I watched one Chinese American student, outfitted in a leopard-print costume, leap across the floor and proclaim himself the “Asian Macklemore,” a reference to the Seattle-based American rapper, and grimaced as I overheard the following exchange between two students: “What do we win if we’re the best group?” “Nothing. They make you stay in China longer.”

Preparing for the grand performance. Photo by J. Hubbert

During the final performance in Beijing, students from all over the United States came together to perform their routines. One group break-danced to Taiwanese pop idol Jay Chou’s hit sensation “Qinghuaci” (Blue and White Porcelain), a melodramatic love song that evokes traditional Chinese art forms, while another performed a tightly choreographed paean to filial piety that included prostrations before an immense image of Confucius and was set to a Chinese song about respecting one’s parents and elders. Still others mimicked the elaborate kung fu moves of Shaolin monks set to music. In the finale, all the performers joined onstage to sing and dance to “Beijing Welcomes You,” a theme song of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

These kinds of cultural performances are standard fare in China, similar most notably in the popular Chinese New Year Gala, an extravagant dance and musical variety show regularly viewed by more than 90 percent of the population (Liu Kang 2012, 928). Comparable state-sponsored “minority” performances featuring dancers and musicians in ethnic dress performing “traditional” routines are also common, an attempt to demonstrate China’s ethnic heterogeneity and multiculturalism.14 But the students themselves tended eventually to see these performances as what Dean MacCannell has termed “staged authenticity” (1976, 91), a phrase that implies the opposite of authenticity. Well before our arrival back in Beijing, many of the students in our group had wearied of Hanban’s attempts at inducing students to embody tradition; paper cutting, painting opera masks, and dressing up in traditional and minority costumes were not the form of authenticity they hoped to encounter during their visit, where they sought to learn about what they understood to be “the real China,” not Hanban’s sanitized version.

Ironically, the soft power objectives of the Chinese Bridge program were often more effectively met by moments in which the more blatant attempts to win hearts and minds were trumped by the unplanned and unintended. The unscheduled and unguided evening activities of the students illuminate some of the disparate assumptions and objectives of the China tour held by students and Hanban officials and teachers. The highly scripted days of the program often ended with students, tired and frustrated, wandering around the hotel hallways in search of experiences that seemed less derivative and universal. Because our hotel was located in a newly emerging area of town that afforded little in the way of entertainment and commerce, I frequently found myself the leader of unscripted nighttime excursions to an adjacent outdoor night market. Chinese night markets are typically informal and dynamic open-air spaces that come to life after sunset. This particular market was tucked into a corner of an intersection of two main thoroughfares and consisted of temporary stalls set up largely by migrants to the region or laid-off local laborers to market their various foodstuffs.

Most of the food at the market was quite unfamiliar to Americans, including baby octopus skewers, deep-fried grubs on a stick, “stinky tofu,” and spicy mutton. Yet, upon our arrival at the market, the students would race from stall to stall, asking questions about the cuisine, pantomiming animatedly when their rudimentary Chinese proved insufficient or enlisting my help with translation, and purchasing various food items, the more unrecognizable the better. Using their cell phone cameras, which were constantly out, they captured images of the sellers, the fare, and fellow students. “This is the real China,” one exclaimed as she stuffed a pungent bite of stinky tofu into her mouth. After our first visit, other students pleaded with me to accompany them to the market upon hearing that this was where one could find what they understood to be a genuine version of China. These market excursions provided students with an opportunity to experience what they perceived as a form of Chinese authenticity, in which snacking on unidentified creatures roasted on a stick delineated the “real.” To students, the value of these encounters rested upon a margin of essentialized difference that could not be overcome by the host university’s endeavors to improve the image of China by providing them with the global familiar or the prepackaged traditional. Student constructions of authenticity were based on consumption of the forbidden, the off-plan, the exotic unknown. Yet, what they placed value on was not the object of consumption itself, which was typically proclaimed “gross” by those who consumed it, but the act of consumption.15 Here the students performed China for each other and for the recipients of their Instagrams and Snapchats back home, mugging grimaces after ingesting deep-fried silkworm or smirking with octopus legs protruding from the corners of their mouths. Here the exotic indigestible was the object of a desire not to satisfy hunger, but for adventure and difference that reinforced, one could argue, their own sense of cosmopolitanism and globality, and their teenaged pushing at boundaries.16

Other visits to various retail outlets illustrated the distinctions between what students and guides considered culture that spoke positively for China. When our guides took us to upscale shopping malls whose luxury rivaled anything in the United States, students would wander around in desultory fashion and complain about the excursion. They appeared to come alive, though, on shopping trips to the informal markets that sold imitation Western products and inexpensive Chinese handicrafts. Indeed, some of the most animated discussions of the trip consisted of “battle stories” about bargaining with merchants for fake Beats headphones and Converse knock-offs. As a student I interviewed in the United States explained, visiting the “fake brands market” was “really cool”: when her group went to the market, “they [the merchants] tried to rip us off, of course.” She found this to be “the funnest part of the trip.” Seeming to reinforce the hierarchies of difference and power the program was intended to refute, the “fun” for this and other students lay in conquering the local by refusing to pay the higher prices targeted for global tourists, demanding that the market salesperson surrender to their demands to lower the price of their counterfeit goods. Rather than situate China as a model of the modern global, these excursions offered a space for the relatively affluent to enact their self-conceptions as knowing, cosmopolitan travelers not willing to be duped in a market whose flexible pricing was based on one’s skin tone or, for the phenotypically Asian students, one’s Chinese language abilities.

While students in general complained about the cold French fries, warm milk, lack of hot water, and somewhat dilapidated living conditions, they were forgiving of what they perceived to be the authentic China—symbolized here in exotic foodstuffs and bargaining for merchandise. Even if the food was “gross” and goods were overpriced imitations, they were imagined as involving experiences of the real China. That student assessments of local authenticity reflected not only the object (exotic food or branded products) but the form of its delivery (night markets or upscale shopping centers) was perhaps most visible when the CI offered this same “culture” but in a different format—alien foodstuffs at an expensive restaurant. By the end of our stay outside Beijing, the teachers and guides had become aware of student complaints and responded by trying to add activities to the standard Hanban package in order to counteract students’ seeming weariness with the familiar.17 One of these special activities was a guided boat tour of the city’s river that meandered through the downtown region, an experience that one of our guides suggested would allow us to witness the “spectacular sights and impressive development of the city,” while another was an elaborate and costly lunch at a local restaurant that was renowned for its preparation of a local delicacy called goubuli.18 During the lunch, the goubuli buns were accompanied by an endless stream of intricate delicacies that were greeted with vocal approbation by the Chinese guests and skepticism by the students, who found the food unfamiliar in texture and taste and ate very little, to the dismay of their hosts, who had spent a good deal of money on the adventure and gone to great lengths to procure last-minute tables at this popular upscale restaurant. Although the dishes at the banquet were no more “exotic” than those the students consumed so gleefully at the night market, they remained largely untouched and students complained to me that they were being “forced” to attend another boring public relations production. As Mei Zhan reports of a similar incident when soccer star David Beckham toured China and refused to consume the “exotic” dishes of a celebratory banquet in his honor, for the students, this food, in this context, was coded as the “imaginary of a traditional, exotic Chinese culture out of sync with a cosmopolitan world” (2005, 33). In contrast, the teachers and guides who accompanied us were aghast at the waste that sat before them and on the return bus revealed that they had not eaten because their university could not afford the extra expense of feeding everyone. As we got off the bus and the teachers ran into the cafeteria to see if any food remained from lunch, it was clear that the lunch had reproduced differences that confirmed rather than challenged students’ sense that China continued to lack the necessary ingredients to be counted as “global.”

Even when the CI offered particularity through opportunities to perform and consume the local, the activities failed to bridge the gap in expectations of the students, who resisted CI offerings of culture as tainted by an attempt to render them malleable soft power targets. These perceptions seemed confirmed when, at the end of our stay in China, students were required to compose final essays describing their experiences and many of them wrote about the excitement over their night market encounters for what they considered to be authentic China. One, for example, wrote as follows: “One night my friend and I got invited to visit the night market and we really wanted to go. Once we got there, I instantly loved it. Even though there were so many exotic foods and smells, I was out of the hotel and just enjoyed being out and experiencing in person instead of from a bus window. That night I felt adventurous and I managed to try a larva and octopus! It was really interesting and fun. . . . Overall I really enjoy walking on the streets day or night and just feel immersed into the culture because that it is why I wanted to come to China.”

However, when students turned in their essays, CI teachers quickly instructed them to remove references to their night market adventures and instead highlight Hanban-sanctioned activities that reflected the official intentions and values of the Chinese Bridge program. When one of the teachers explained to me that the students “need to mention the extra things that Hanban has done for them,” such as “the special lunch and the boat ride,” and I passed on this request to the students, they moaned, “But the night market was my favorite.” But by then, students had gotten the message that Hanban meant to communicate China as an exemplary peaceful first world nation, not a land of bizarre indigestibles. Along with their required essays, they were asked to hand in a copy of their favorite picture of their time in China, and I overheard two debating which one to chose. One asked the other, “Which official picture are you going to send?”—by “official” clearly referring to a picture that would portray China “appropriately” in the eyes of the CIs. Acerbically, her friend responded, “They want the photo to show the way they want you to see it, and then you need to say thank you.” The tourist boat trip, opera masks, and traditional foodstuffs in an upmarket restaurant intended to improve China’s image had simply fed into student skepticism and perceptions of propaganda and, by this time, a desire for home.

Russell Cobb notes how the word “authenticity” is only “a few linguistic paces removed from the word ‘authoritarian’” (2014, 1), and the paradox of authenticity could hardly be less palpable in these student CI experiences. While students were unable to articulate what, for them, constituted the authentic real of China, they presumed that anything prepackaged by Hanban, precisely because it was prepared, could not count for an authentic China/local that might be understood as an alternative form of modernity. Although students identified their own subject positions as grounded in and attributed to a universal global, China reemerged in these excursions as the parochial local that rendered their own resolute globality possible. In this construction, students embodied the global and China the local, and the CI program, rather than successfully producing a vision of China as an alternative global through invoking authentic tradition, offered the opportunity to produce the students as the “adepts” (Orta 2013, 697) who managed the global. As for students in the MBA study tours in Mexico studied by Andrew Orta, these excursions in China were “value added” projects that boosted their own worth as global citizens (Orta 2013, 697) rather than that of the Chinese nation, precisely because of their ability to recognize and manage the authentic local.

Evoking Domestic Desire for China

The paradoxes of modernity and authenticity seemingly inherent in the CI program did not necessarily mean the China tours were entirely unsuccessful in terms of their goals of soft power production, both because there were always a few students who truly enjoyed their experiences and, as is discussed in this section, because there is more than one type of spectator whose opinion and support are at stake. As student experiences of this tour frequently revealed, the more Hanban’s instrumentalization of culture became apparent—the less “authentic” and more “authoritarian” it was perceived—the more it fed into students’ worst perceptions about China’s structures of governance and control. However, translating culture into national comprehensive power on the global stage requires more than the acquiescence of a global audience; soft power is not reducible to the realm of international diplomacy. As scholars of soft power have observed in general, power in the global arena also necessitates domestic approval of processes and practices that structure China’s place in the world (Barr 2012; Cai 2010) and as Ingrid d’Hooghe (2014) has observed in particular, Chinese officials recognize that soft power and public diplomacy also serve an important domestic function.19 Framing the CIs solely as a tool of global persuasion misses an important point about the language programs as a form of domestic soft power in which China tells a story to its own citizens about globalization in order, as Shanghai’s Tongji University scholar Cai Jianguo explains of another soft power project, to provide “my nation” and “Chinese people” with the opportunity to “learn from the [2010 Shanghai] Expo through embracing the latest achievements of human civilization” (Cai 2010). Considering soft power from a domestic perspective also allows us to grapple with the rise of China in a more complex fashion than common discourses of a global Chinese threat might suggest.

Before I ventured to China on the Chinese Bridge program, a principal at a high school with a CI reassured me that in his experience, although “there’s a blatant propaganda element to all of this trip” that would “include a lot of cheesy photo opportunities . . . the photos are as intrusive as it gets, no one’s trying to indoctrinate anyone. These photos end up on the desks of politicians, who can say, ‘See what we do’.” What this comment about photos ending up on official desktops suggests is that soft power efforts are intended not only to provide global audiences with information but also to respond to domestic concerns about authority, representation, and CI program expense.20 While, for instance, Italy Town might seem to a global audience just another unauthorized reproduction of global products akin to the fake designer handbags that proliferate at informal markets in China, to a domestic audience it might indicate the authenticity of the nation’s globalization and encourage the nation’s citizens to “feel confident in their homeland and [promote] a sense of belonging” (Barr 2012, 82). Chinese scholars have argued that soft power must assume a holistic approach and be developed both internationally and domestically through “making China’s culture . . . attractive to both a Chinese and an international audience (Glaser and Murphy 2009, 20). The soft power of spectacle, in other words, depends as much on the specific audience as it does on the performance itself.21

Scholars have argued that being “global” means to be perceived as the site of universal desire and value “that needs no justification” (Handler 2013, 186; see also Ho 2009 and Orta 2013). A central facet of reconceptualizing what counts as local and global—as China is trying to do—thus involves the production and materialization of desire, something that is at the heart of soft power efforts. And on our first day in Beijing, we were given several hints of the mechanisms through which soft power productions were also a domestic mode of engagement that sought to show a local audience the world’s desire for China’s globalization. It was also clear that attempts to illustrate desire for China were not entirely directed toward a global audience. The hour-long bus ride from our dorm to Hanban headquarters on our first day in Beijing took us past suburban housing developments with such names as Beijing Riviera and Palm Beach, reproductions of a more commonly assumed flow of desire from East to West. Upon our arrival, however, desire that was represented as flowing instead from West to East was on immediate and evident display. In the first room of our headquarters tour, glass cases arranged in a maze-like formation led viewers through a display on the history and current state of the CI program. One of the first displays began with a quote from Wang Yongli, current deputy director of Hanban: “China, like an economic giant, suddenly appears in front of the world and everybody is shocked. They want to know the history and the home of this giant.” The global encounter in that case was embodied by a young Chinese teacher assigned to the CI at the London School of Economics, where she tutored “high profile business professionals from London’s bustling economic sector in Chinese for business dealings.” This display’s illustration of the world “working together” presented CIs not as an attempt by China to push its programs onto an unwilling global population but as a response to a demand for Chinese for the purpose of increasing the economic productivity of Europe.22 The direction of this desire was later reinforced by a display that quoted a statement by the director of an American CI at a major US university that the US government itself was “pushing for students to learn Chinese.”23 As an affirmation of Hanban’s success in fulfilling that American desire, a nearby poster declared that 82 percent of surveyed Confucius Institute students liked the program, 76 percent believed that learning Chinese would help them in the future, and 75 percent were interested in visiting China. While this display could easily be interpreted as an attempt to convince the American students and chaperones of the direction of desire—we were, after all, the invited guests—in practice it was the Chinese teachers and guides who composed the main audience. Students assiduously avoided the display cases in favor of the more interactive sections of the building, while the CI teachers and guides with whom I toured the building and read the promotional information on display remarked consistently with both surprise and pride at the spread of the CIs around the world and at how much China had accomplished in such a short time.24

This first day at headquarters provided us with a second hint of the mechanisms through which soft power productions were also a domestic mode of engagement in the form of a fifteen-foot banner that identified us as part of the Chinese Bridge program and accompanied us for the duration of our stay in China. The welcome speech that day was followed by the first of many photo sessions of the students with CI administrators and chaperones in which those in front were kneeling and holding the banner. For all seventeen days, we were rarely without a professional photographer documenting our experience in China, the banner unfurled and our visit memorialized at museums, airplane factories, Beijing opera performances, airports, and restaurants and through the images and videos that were reproduced in local media and on the Hanban Web page that evening or the following day.

On our visit to the airplane factory, for instance, our guides positioned us in front of the massive corporate sign outside the entrance gate holding the banner as the official photographer took numerous pictures, simultaneously documenting our American presence and China’s accomplishments in the field of aviation. The next day, one of the young tour guides ran up to me after breakfast and asked excitedly if I had seen the local news that evening, which had featured a story about our presence in the city and visit to the factory that included our picture with the banner. Rather than address an overseas audience, this story offered Chinese citizens the opportunity to behold foreigners appreciating China’s global modernity under the tutelage and beneficence of the CI program. Hanban’s efforts to demonstrate China as an object of desire by inviting six hundred American students to consume its globalization also provided evidence to its domestic population, which might read the very presence of the students as desire for China.

Yet, as I had suspected from earlier conversations with American CI administrators and as became increasingly evident throughout our time in China, the CI photographers’ photos and videos were not randomly composed but highlighted a particular type of foreigner desiring China’s global modernity and consequently challenging what counts for the global and assumed object of desire. Although half of the students in our group were phenotypically Asian, the photographers typically focused their lenses on our Caucasian members.25 This intention could be observed even on our first-day visit to Hanban headquarters, where the opening exhibit of the world’s CIs consisted almost exclusively of photographs of European and US CIs. This was augmented by a continuously looping video of the previous year’s Hanban-sponsored international Chinese Bridge language competition, which featured only the Caucasian and a few African youth exhibiting their Chinese language skills in performances and “expressing warmly their love of China.”26

This process of particularizing the ethnically appropriate target of soft power policy began even before the students arrive in China. One of the American CI administrators on the Chinese Bridge trip that summer explained to me that when the program first began, Hanban had been explicit about which ethnic groups were eligible for the program, and another administrator reported that she once had to advocate specifically for the inclusion of a couple of Chinese American students, arguing that, because these particular students spoke better Chinese, they could assist the non–Chinese language speakers. Yet another related a story about the trouble several years ago their group had including a Chinese American student who had been adopted from China. Yet over time, the programs became increasingly unable to fill their available slots with non–ethnically Asian students, and by the year of my visit half of our group consisted of children of immigrants from China, Chinese children adopted by Caucasian parents, and other Chinese Americans. Nonetheless, the final video montage of our group’s activities revealed this preference for the white witness, as nearly all the close-ups were of non-Asian students. Similarly, the two students who were chosen to introduce the final celebratory performance in Beijing that was performed in front of a line-up of dignitaries from central headquarters appeared to be the two blondest, most classically “foreign” girls of the six hundred students invited to China. One who was observably not selected for her prowess in the language, ended her introductory address exclaiming in Chinese, “I love you, I love China.”

This emphasis on the white foreigner desiring China projects a particular claim about China’s global position, one that upends extant racial hierarchies that undergird global hierarchies of power. Although the Chinese American students in our group were largely invisible in the visual record of the program, they themselves largely rejected the “brother” and “sister” appellations they were subjected to in public markets or in the assumption, by teachers and guides, that they felt some sort of “natural” affinity for China. Their responses to the program instead reinforced their own structural “whiteness” as members of a middle class who failed to engage with the CIs’ offerings that were intended to produce appreciation. Playing on this identity, one of the Chinese American students, when called upon in class to write a paragraph in Chinese, jokingly responded in an indignant voice, “What do you think I look like, Chinese?”

Despite this structural whiteness of the Asian American students, Hanban photographers time and time again overlooked those students who presented less obvious “difference” from the local norm, less seeming need for education about China, and less symbolic power as a CI soft power policy target.27 In the displays at headquarters, the promotional videos, and the closing ceremony, it was the white foreigner, the assumed universal norm, who was revealed as appreciating the Chinese other. This marks a reversal of common assumptions of desire that challenges the directionality of globalization and the assumption that global means whiteness. Yet as I sat in the closing ceremony pondering the photography and the performance, the obvious delight of the first two rows of the audience, which were filled with visiting dignitaries from Hanban and other governmental offices, and the massive Chinese couplet that framed the stage on both sides quoting the last line of an esoteric Tang dynasty poem by Shi Jianwu—“Conviction allows one to cope with changes in the world”—it was also evident that the white foreigner was not the only potential target of Hanban’s representational efforts. It was unlikely that the students and US chaperones around me could either read or comprehend the couplet’s message that the global order was indeed changing and that China was offering a new model for managing that change. Its message addressed not only China’s power in the international realm but its national cohesion and cultural significance in the domestic context,28 offering visions of national greatness in the interest of state power to a local audience.29 Soft power production in this case is as much in the interest of enhancing domestic governance and civic pride as it is about global competitiveness.30

This pleasure among Chinese officials and guests in seeing the students perform Chinese culture so successfully, despite the students’ often negative responses to the cultural activities of the Chinese Bridge tour, to a certain extent reflects, perhaps counterintuitively, a measure of success for the CIs in their ability to have globalized China. While student expectations for authentic cultural difference were not met by the paper cutting and opera masks, these practices and images had become so common and normalized that they no longer constituted some form of essentialized difference. Students had mastered paper cutting and knot tying, they could already sing along to Jay Chou, and they were familiar with the basic tenets of Confucian philosophy that stressed the importance of family ties and education. Thus rather than analyze Hanban’s efforts merely as hackneyed attempts to create desire, we can also see how these invocations of tradition are central to China’s claims of political legitimacy domestically (Hubbert 2017) and, in the context of the CIs, constitute a key method of soft power strategy for a nation that sees its cultural heritage as a “huge reservoir of great and positive assets” (Guo 2008, 28). Watching students confirm this was clearly a joyful experience for the domestic audience.

Conclusion: An Economy of Appearances

This chapter has explored one of Hanban’s most popular programs, the annual Chinese Bridge travel-study excursion to China for high school students studying Chinese at CIs in the United States. The program seeks to contest conceptions of the global as a fixed space located in the West and to offer contemporary China and its traditional culture as sites for the production and expression of alternative ways of being global. The summer program was not suggesting the universal promotion of Confucius or opera masks—the content itself is somewhat irrelevant—but arguing that a nation may be “global” through the production of the resolutely and authentically “local.” Yet the fundamental problem for China’s attempts to establish soft power through this reconfiguration returns directly to the product itself and the fraught nature of “culture” as a form of power. For it was clear in the Chinese Bridge program that not all culture is equal and official strategies for the promotion of soft power through Chinese culture collided with student expectations of what constituted the “real” cultured China. While Hanban sought to remap the United States as China’s frontier zone of possibilities, the students were more likely to see China as their own untamed Wild West, to be conquered as a marker of their own cosmopolitanism, not China’s. Summer programming worked to redefine globalization and position China as a subject rather than an object of cultural and economic flows, and as an initiator of what it means to be global, yet the objects of its soft power efforts often failed to recognize it as such; the officially authentic local sometimes emerged as “jail,” reinforcing perceptions of censorship and political control. And bizarre indigestibles, perceived as the truly authentic, constructed value, but not for China. Similar to how Chinese medicine operates as a “bridge” between cultures (Zhan 2009), the “bridge” of the Chinese Bridge program is not easily spanned. This is because, for “East and West, China and America . . . are not fixed and easily identifiable nodes within circuits of globalization but rather are shifting and uneven spatiotemporal imaginaries produced and refigured through particular translocal encounters” (Zhan 2009, 179).

Yet, it is not merely a “gap” between policy and practice that is at work here, nor a necessary result of a set of practices that produce policy only “in the sense that actors . . . devote their energies to maintaining coherent representations regardless of events” (Mosse 2005, 2). As this chapter has explored, the CI production of power for China occurred sometimes through the nonscripted, ad hoc, off-policy experiences of China, rather than the planned excursions and characterizations, and sometimes had little relationship with policy itself. Rather, these frictions emerge through the inherent paradoxes in the forms of global modernity and authenticity promoted through the CIs and anticipated and experienced by the students, manifest in this case in the illustrations and expectations of global and local on the part of both policy makers and policy targets.

To invoke, in a modified manner, Anna Tsing’s idea of an economy of appearances—what she defines as the dramatization of dreams that attracts investors (2000b, 118)—here the CI economy of appearances depends upon the simultaneous production of geographic and dramatic performances, the self-conscious making of a spectacle to aid in the gathering of power (Tsing 2000b, 118). Tsing’s discussion of the economy of appearances renders evident how analyses of the global frequently juxtapose both its physical presence and its spectacular conception to an imagined, parochial Other, understood as the “local.” Here, the geographic production of globalization arrives in the form of the Chinese presence of some seventeen hundred CIs around the world, evidence, Hanban’s displays suggest, of the world’s desire. And when CI critics equate the growth of CIs with a necessary diminution of US power, it is presence that is fetishized as performance, marking a successful economy of appearances in which the “self-conscious making of a spectacle” (Tsing 2005, 57) emerges as a form of presumed state power. Yet global presence remains insufficient as a foundation for embodying the global, and China must also dramatize, through the actions of those who are meant to “desire” China, a coherent narrative and practice of globalization to render geographic presence an efficacious source of power. Hanban expects the students to appreciate the glories of China’s ancient past and revel in its astonishing modernity and yet fails to grasp the paradoxes in trying to present both simultaneously as markers of an authentic globalization. The oxymoronic goals of convincing a foreign audience of China’s modernity by stressing its glorious past represent an attempt at rewriting the implicit rules of the source and directionality of globalization and its constitution but appear to have in this case reinforced the juxtaposition between the spectacular conception of physical global presence and its imagined, parochial Other. Victims of Hanban’s own “success” at globalizing the CI programs, the authentic ancient, now standard fare around the world, emerged in its origins as a metaphorical cousin of authoritarian politics.

Indeed, after most of the Chinese Bridge’s scheduled programs were completed and the only thing left was the farewell ceremony and a bus ride to the airport, students were instructed to complete an exit survey that included, among many others, two questions that asked, “Do you intend to further your study in China?” and “If not, do you plan to learn Chinese in the future?” Interestingly, many of the students answered the first question in the negative and the second in the positive, not intending to study Chinese within China in the future, but continuing to learn the language. While the tour may have frequently rendered the object “China” problematic, “Chinese” may persist as an object of desire. In that case, language remains intact as an intended soft power attraction and route to the global, but sometimes only when divorced from the broader intended object of desire—China—itself. Through attending to both policy strategy and engagements in practice, we can see more clearly not only how China is working to challenge expectations for the global, but also how soft power policy effect is more than the sum of its intentional parts. It also allows us to expand our conception of soft power’s audience and hence of soft power policy’s effects since policy envisions different communities in relation to different goals and encounters, and “success” may also be defined by the reactions of the domestic audience as well as the foreign global.


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Jennifer Hubbert is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Asian studies and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.

Global Research is indebted to The Asia Pacific Journal for having brought this important article to our attention


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Such sponsored trips explain some of the enthusiasm of cash-strapped US school administrators, for they can bolster the students’ study abroad and cultural enrichment opportunities at no cost to the school.

I focus here on the disparities between policy intention and policy actualization to highlight the more common results of soft power policy effects. Of our group of twenty-six students, there were two or three who reacted far more positively than the rest to the program’s soft power intentions. These students tended to be those who received special validation for their language proficiency or who found themselves the target of attention they were not used to receiving at home because they specifically sought the company of the guides and teachers while other students tended to gather among themselves.

My conversations with CI teachers and administrators also revealed that CIs were intended to enhance China’s own globalization process, for example, through fostering business connections that would promote economic development and academic exchanges that would enhance domestic university reputations as “global” universities. Refers to Chinese universities not the American ones, right?

All names and places have either been changed or excised from the text for purposes of anonymity. Many universities in China have similarly moved their urban campuses to or built satellite campuses in more rural locations, both because they need to expand and because the property is far less expensive.

Taylor (2014, 219) invokes the felicitously phrased concept of the “pity of modernity” to illustrate the disappointment of tourists who discover signs of global modernization in the very places they are hoping to find local difference. This describes succinctly the frustrations of the students who went to China predominantly seeking exoticism and distinction, not commensurability.

This reflects a belief that, as one Chinese college president declared, “Many westerners’ biases toward China result from their lack of understanding of the essence of the Chinese culture” and that “promotion of the Chinese culture is a good remedy for dissolving the ‘China threat’ argument” (cited in Lai 2012, 85).

Given what they revealed about their training, they were also likely instructed to respond in such a manner.

CI teachers I interviewed in the United States who had acted as chaperones on these Chinese Bridge summer trips sometimes expressed frustration with the lack of appreciation expressed by the American students and chaperones. One invoked a comparison with gift giving to express his sense that this behavior was inappropriate. “When you receive a gift, even if you don’t like it, you don’t criticize it.”

The presence of such markers of the global, as the McDonald’s that dot the landscape and internationally lauded contemporary architecture, reveals an environment ripe for the global production of soft power; indeed it is globalization that enables the production of soft power and demands it assume a prominent role in international relations (Nye 2004). Yet, as Kalathil argues (2011), this same environment also has the potential to reveal the gaps between soft power narratives and perceptions of “reality”: the contiguous modernity and poverty and the cold French fries became instead experiences through which students refuted efforts to equate globalization with being a model of or for the global.

10 Schmidt’s 2014 essay provides an extensive description and analysis of the Exploratorium.

11 Several years later, I was reminded of this incident of misinterpretation while observing a CI class at a high school. While discussing the AP Chinese test’s culture section, the teacher reminded the students that the exam always included questions about China’s dynastic history and then sang them a song that listed all the emperors as a mnemonic device. This time, the song included Mao Zedong.

12 Albro explains how oftentimes cultural diplomacy fails as a strategy for effective intercultural dialogue because the intended audience “watches the show but is seldom an active participant in it” (2015, 385). Through directly engaging the students in such activities, Hanban attempted to promote a more embodied mimetic experience, calling literally upon students, in their reenactments of the past, to “understand” China through rehearsing a select form of cultural practice. This is meant, as Schmidt explains, to “elicit a feeling, a happy feeling which makes the PRC happy by association [and] . . . in which China is a ‘good’ and happy, and most importantly, benign place” (2014, 372). Schmidt’s analysis ends at the level of potential, and she warns us in her conclusion, citing Berlant (2010, 116), that “shifts in affective atmosphere are not equal to changing the world,” a cautionary but prescient speculation that, as we move through policy analysis into the realm of engagement, this becomes apparent.

13 Hua and Wei offer similar analysis from their research in a CI in the United Kingdom. Students confronted with these forms of traditional culture in the classroom similarly assessed them as inauthentic and felt that only when they could visit China itself would they encounter “authentic Chinese” culture (2014, 333).

14 See, for example, Gladney 1994; Litzinger 2000; and Schein 2000.

15 Thus, as hooks suggests, locating value in the body of the “eater” of the Other ([1992] 2006).

16 See Clifford 1992 for a related discussion of traveling, cosmopolitanism, and assumptions of difference.

17 Earlier and later conversations with CI teachers in the United States reinforced this recognition that Chinese Bridge programming was not achieving its intended results. One Chinese teacher who chaperoned a group a year after I attended was quite frank with me in his assessment:

The students had no interest. When we went to Hanban headquarters it was pointless. Students just laid on the floor, some actually slept. Hanban is stupid. Hanban wants communication and conversation but I couldn’t really see what the goal or the point of the visits to places like headquarters would accomplish. It got better when we left Beijing and students were allowed to go out with Chinese students. Really what this all does though is help the American students treasure their own lives in the United States. . . . They complain about the United States a lot and then they realize there is this whole other reality to the world that makes the United States look really good. I had students actually say this to me. It makes them feel really lucky and then they stop complaining.

This first sentiment, that the programs were not enticing to an American student audience, was also invoked at a 2012 House of Representatives hearing on public diplomacy and China that frequently addressed the CIs. One of the panelists, Robert Daly, then director of the Maryland China Initiative at the University of Maryland, College Park, noted that the language programs “tend to deal in culture as decoration, culture as celebration, culture as friendship ritual. If we are going to criticize their programs, one of the things we can throw at them is that they often, actually, can be sort of dull and uninteresting in those ways” (US Congress 2012, 37).

18 At lunch, our leaders explained the history behind the unusual name of the restaurant’s feature dish. According to local lore, goubuli is said to derive from the childhood name of the dish’s creator, who had been nicknamed “Doggy” (Gouzi) by his parents to protect him from bad luck, for why would evil gods desire to harm a child named for a dog? When the child grew up to become a renowned chef, his steamed buns were so popular that customers had difficulty placing orders. They hence joked that Gou does not pay attention (bu li) and the buns became known as goubuli.

19 Hongying Wang argues that China’s government promotes global soft power projects, such as the CIs, largely to bolster domestic legitimacy (2011, 52). Michael Barr likewise concludes that soft power deployment at home is as critical as its projections abroad for national development (2012).

20 CI teachers in the United States frequently complained to me about the expense of the language programs when, as they argued, rural education in China was so deficient. Graan argues that nation-branding efforts, similar to soft power projections, also allow the state to respond to domestic challenges to its authority (2013, 165).

21 Barr, for example, argues that Chinese soft power engagements are important for its drive to instill loyalty to the party and strengthen its legitimacy (2012, 81).

22 This perspective attempts to reaffirm the program’s constitution, which declares that CIs “devote themselves to satisfying the demands of people from different countries and regions in the world who learn the Chinese language.” The constitution and bylaws can be found at

23 In a later conversation with the director of this particular CI, she explained to me that her program turned down the teachers offered by Hanban, agreeing to take the money on condition that the university hire its own faculty. She also noted that her organization has taken three hundred American students to China but has avoided the Chinese Bridge program, traveling independently instead. Calling her program a “square peg in a round hole,” she shared that an upcoming CI-sponsored film festival at her school was showing a series of films that introduced China in a less-than-flattering light. Her point was to affirm that while the Chinese government funded the CI, the programming at her institution was solely under the purview of the American directors. This was an unusual arrangement. Most programs have a Chinese administrator who coordinates activities.

24 Beyond Hanban headquarters, Chinese media frequently cite what they describe as a global demand for learning the Chinese language as evidence of the world’s attraction to China and the rationale for the spread of CIs. Reporting on this supposed international demand for Chinese instruction, an article in, a Chinese government-authorized Internet portal, stated that “Nancy Jervis, vice president of the China Institute in New York . . . spoke of her disbelief that the ‘Chinese language could become so popular’” and that “France, exhorted by its China-loving President Jacques Chirac, has seen 110 of its top universities open Chinese departments.” This interest had also spread far beyond the West, according to the article, which claimed that “Chinese teaching is also a pillar of Sino-African cooperation,” as illustrated by a group of African universities and student organizations that had “addressed a letter to the Chinese ambassador to Liberia wishing to soon be able to learn Chinese language and culture” and “sent up a clamor asking for a Confucius Institute” (Li 2007). According to one author, even the Swedes, who are “normally keen on protecting their own language . . . have shown great enthusiasm in learning Chinese and have admirably opened their arms to the Confucius Institute” (Guo 2008, 33) (although the Swedish CI discussed by this author has since been shut down). The underlying assumption of these claims is that the popularity of a nation’s native language corresponds to an inherent interest in and admiration for that nation. These assertions of desire mirror the protestations of a China fever discussed in Chapter 3.

25 Stambach notes a similar experience at a CI in the American Midwest, in which Chinese students were recruited to attend a CI cooking class but excluded from the “series of photographs” chronicling the event that were “a means of documenting the work of the Confucius Institutes to Hanban administrators” (2014, 81).

26 This was a line spoken by one of the American students in the video. Fallon (2014) offers an interesting analysis of a Hanban-sponsored Chinese language skit performed by foreigners very similar to the one featured in this film. She argues that in featuring the Caucasian students wearing traditional Chinese clothing, it is as if China “absorbs” them into its culture, thus challenging typical racial hierarchies, while the African student in traditional native African dress, and the only foreigner not in Chinese clothing, sings about how learning Chinese will provide opportunities for her future, thus placing China in a superior position as the benevolent provider.

27 Ebron (1999) analyzes similar processes in homeland tours for African Americans.

28 Li makes a similar point (2009, 28).

29 See also Zhang and Li 2010. Indeed, domestically, the Chinese government portrays the global spread of CIs as a national cause, designed to strengthen China’s sense of self-esteem (Wang and Adamson 2015).

30 Zhou and Luk, for example, see the CIs as playing a role in “strengthening national identity, national dignity and national cohesiveness” (2016, 7). The presentation of national culture thus emerges as a resource for the national solidarity of the domestic audience.


On 30 April 2019, 86-year-old Emperor Akihito 明仁made history. He became the first modern emperor to abdicate. Indeed, his was the first abdication since that of Emperor Kōkaku 光格over two centuries before in 1817. By the same token, the succession of Akihito’s 59-year-old son, Crown Prince Naruhito 徳仁on 1 May was an historic event. For he was the first in modern times to succeed to the throne while his father was alive and well. The trigger for all these firsts was an extraordinary event that took place nearly three years before. On 8 August 2016, Emperor Akihito appeared on NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, to address the nation. He gave an understated but riveting performance. Speaking of his advanced years and the growing burden of his duties, he intimated his desire to abdicate. Abdication rumors had been circulating for some weeks, but his address dispelled all doubt. An address of this sort was quite without precedent. The Constitution requires that succession to the throne accord with the Imperial Household Law of 1946, but that law does not recognize abdication. The emperor was thus challenging the law. The challenge, however circumspect, was a political act, and political acts are not permitted him under the Constitution. It is little wonder that he caused a stir; it is no less than remarkable that he got his way.1

The emperor’s TV address, watched by some 12% of the population, triggered a national debate that led to Prime Minister Abe Shinzō’s government enacting a special abdication bill, which became law in June 2017.2 It was this bill that enabled Akihito to abdicate, yielding the throne to his son. Emperor Akihito raised fundamental questions about the role of the emperor in 21st Century Japanese society. What are emperors for? What is their place in contemporary Japan, and what are their future prospects? This article sets out to explore precisely these questions. The place to start is that August 2016 address.

1. The Emperor’s Words: O-kotoba

Image on the right: Emperor Akihito delivering his address to the nation on NHK, 8 August 20163

The emperor began by framing his reign as a personal search for meaning. He had dutifully carried out the “acts of the emperor in matters of state” as stipulated in Article 7 of the Constitution. These include convocation of the Diet, dissolution of the House of Representatives, attestation of ministerial appointments, awarding of honors, and so on. However, he had “spent [his] days searching for and contemplating on” the meaning of Article 1’s designation of him as “symbol of the State and of the unity of the people.” The Constitution, after all, fails to elucidate what action is required of, or indeed permitted to, a “symbol of the State.” The emperor’s search led him to conclude that he must serve as “an active and inherent part of society, responding to the expectations of the people.”

What matters, he said, is to “stand by the people, listen to their voices, and be close to them in their thoughts.” Many of those who tuned in to his eleven-minute broadcast must have cast their minds back to the visits he made with the empress throughout Japan, especially in times of national crisis. Never was the emperor closer to the people than in 2011 after the Great East Japan earthquake. Historically a distant figure, he made a powerful TV appearance after the disaster struck, articulating his concerns, offering solace and hope.4 He and the empress visited survivors in Saitama, Chiba, Ibaraki, Miyagi, Iwate, Fukushima, and Tochigi prefectures, and, of course, in Tokyo, too.5 In his August 2016 broadcast, the emperor left no doubt that such active devotion to the Japanese people was his calling. It was demanded of him, he believed, as “symbol of the State.”

It was at this point in the broadcast that the emperor broached his dilemma. What to do when an emperor has become too old to serve the people? He acknowledged, only to dismiss, the constitutional answer: the appointment of a regent. A regency was, in his view, no solution. For when an emperor ceases to serve the people, he no longer functions as symbol. His role is done, and he must step down. Emperor Akihito intimated that stepping down was, indeed, his intention. He was especially concerned lest he become a burden to the people. He was thinking ahead here to his own death, and to the “heavy mourning” that would endure for months were he to die in situ as emperor. If he gave up the throne, he would inconvenience no one; his son Naruhito would succeed him, and continue the vital work of public service uninterrupted. Such was his “earnest wish.” Emperor Akihito concluded with a plea to the people of Japan: “I sincerely hope for your understanding.”6 Nowhere in his address did the emperor deploy the word “abdication,” but this was the radical solution he offered.7

2. Abdication

Emperor Akihito’s address was more than an appeal for understanding: it was a personal challenge to the law, and a call for critical reflection on the role of the emperor in the 21st Century. It was undeniably political. During his thirty-year reign, the emperor made several statements frieghted with political meaning. In 2001, he declared “a certain kinship with Korea” on learning that the mother of Emperor Kanmu 桓武– the 8th Century founder of the city of Kyoto – was descended from Korean immigrants.8 In 2004, he said it was desirable not to compel Japanese school pupils to sing the national anthem.9 In 2009, he reflected that the monarchy under the 1946 Constitution was closer to Japan’s “traditional model” than it had been under the 1889 Constitution. The 1946 Constitution, he implied, was more appropriate for the 21st Century.10 Likewise, in 2013, he praised the postwar Constitution for laying the foundations of peace and democracy.11 These issues – relations with Korea, the anthem and the Constitution – were all, to differing degrees, political. The emperor’s statements were political interventions, but he had never before questioned the law. Nor, of course, had he played any role in fashioning the law.

What did the Japanese people make of it all? The Yomiuri newspaper, Japan’s best-selling daily, conducted an opinion poll three days after the NHK broadcast and found that it had won the approval of 93% of the population. This figure was reflected in other media surveys. The Asahi reported that 84% supported abdication, while 5% opposed it. The Mainichi survey yielded a somewhat lower 67% approval rating, but it rose to 84% in a second survey. Of those polled by the Kyōdō news agency, 86% approved changing the law to allow abdication.12 In any case, it was abundantly clear that the emperor’s wish to abdicate accorded with the “will of the people,” albeit after the fact. This degree of popular support was little cause for surprise, given the consistently high ratings the emperor and empress had enjoyed in recent years, especially since the disaster of 2011.13

What is interesting is the reaction of ultra-conservative groups, the self-appointed guardians of Japan’s imperial legacy. The most vociferous among them today is Nippon Kaigi 日本会議 (Japan Conference; hereafter NK). This is a powerful group, whose board features many Shinto religious leaders. The chief priests of the Ise Shrines, the Yasukuni Shrine, and the Meiji Shrine are among them. But NK matters because Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and the majority of his cabinet are members.14 How did NK respond to the emperor’s address? NK was swift to deny press reports that it was “vigorously opposed” to abdication, but statements by key NK members suggested otherwise. The most articulate among them was Kobori Keiichirō 小堀桂一郎, emeritus professor of Tokyo University and incumbent NK Vice-Chairman.

PM Abe Shinzō addressing Nippon Kaigi’s 20th anniversary gathering, 27 November 201715

Kobori was “confused” by the emperor’s pressing the government to take extra-constitutional measures to satisfy his personal wishes. He wondered at the government’s apparent compliance, and was dismayed at the precedent set, namely of an emperor successfully challenging the Constitution. For Kobori and his colleagues, however, the real issue lay elsewhere, in the nature of emperorship. Is it really necessary, asked Kobori, for the emperor to engage in those actions that he finds so meaningful? Kobori’s answer was no. “Symbol of the state,” he argued, does not require social engagement from the emperor. That the emperor’s age rendered him no longer able to serve the people was, therefore, no reason for him to abdicate. Kobori blamed the American makers of the “anti-kokutai Constitution” for creating confusion about the emperor’s role.16

Other NK members were less measured. Murata Haruki 村田春樹authored an extraordinary opinion piece in the journal Seiron 正論in October 2017. His critique of Emperor Akihito makes for fascinating reading. Murata saw the emperor’s wish to abdicate as symptomatic of his failure to appreciate the unique nature of Japanese emperorship. The emperor cannot refer to himself as an individual, as he did in the broadcast, since he is semi-divine; he has no need for popular approval, since he is neither politician nor performer, but descendant of the Sun Goddess; and he has no business appearing on TV to address the people; it is his ancestors – the Sun Goddess and the first emperor Jinmu above all – whom he should be addressing.17 Murata found, moreover, that Emperor Akihito had breached the Constitution on three counts: 1) he had failed to consult the will of the people before taking action; 2) he was responsible for the fact that an abdication bill – not the Imperial Household Law – would determine succession for the first time ever; and 3) as a consequence, he had effectively exercised legislative power. All of this, asserted Murata, was “blatantly in breach of the Constitution.”18

Nippon Kaigi is, in fact, divided over the abdication issue, but it is clear that what matters to Kobori, Murata and their fellows is not the person of the reigning emperor, nor the Constitution, but the unbroken imperial line that began, so they believe, with the Sun Goddess. Emperor Akihito’s words and actions constituted a threat to their view of emperorship. Clearly, if an emperor can change the rules of succession on a whim, the myth becomes untenable. What then would they and their allies have had the emperor do? On the specific issue of succession, they wanted him to hand the burdensome tasks over to a regent, and stay put. As a general principle, emperors should abstain from the sort of public service in which Emperor Akihito found meaning. They should instead remain within the walls of the palace, perform their acts “in matters of state,” and otherwise devote themselves to prayer.

Emperor Akihito was clearly not averse to praying. Indeed, he stressed the importance of prayer twice in his TV address. “The first and foremost duty of the Emperor,” he insisted, “is to pray for peace and happiness of all the people.” He reflected further that it was always incumbent on him to “think of the people and pray for the people, with deep respect and love for the people.”19 But for him, prayer alone was never sufficient. The NK position, by contrast, is that “symbol of the State” means precisely the emperor’s performance of prayer at the shrine-complex within the Tokyo palace. The complex in question, built in 1888, is known as the kyūchū sanden宮中三殿, and as the name suggests, it comprises three sites. There is a central shrine for the Sun Goddess (the kashikodokoro賢所) , which is flanked by the kōreiden皇霊殿, a shrine dedicated to the imperial ancestors (the spirits, that is, of all deceased emperors since the time of the mythical Emperor Jinmu), and by a shrine for the myriad gods of heaven and earth (the shinden神殿). It is worth noting in passing that the rites which Akihito and his father before him performed at the shrine-complex since 1945 are precisely those of prewar Japan; they differ only in that they are private, and no longer public, events.

Emperor Akihito enters the kashikodokoro shrine in the imperial palace to report his abdication to the Sun Goddess, 12 March 201920

There is every reason to believe that Prime Minister Abe shared the concerns of his fellow NK members. He appears to have known of the emperor’s wishes since the autumn of 2015, but denied him permission – or so it is claimed – to raise the matter at his birthday press conference in December that year. The emperor’s frustration grew thereafter, and in July 2016, he had the Imperial Household tell NHK of his wish to abdicate. NHK informed the nation in a broadcast on the night of 13 July, and this paved the way for the emperor’s address on 8 August.21 Opinion polls quickly made it clear that a large majority of Japanese were sympathetic to the emperor; the broadcast and print media generated support and sustained interest. The prime minister had no choice but to act.

The choice facing Prime Minister Abe was between a change to the Imperial Household Law, allowing abdication for all future emperors, and the enactment of an abdication bill, applicable to Emperor Akihito alone. The emperor was known to favor the former; the prime minister would only countenance the latter. He moved swiftly to appoint a council of experts to advise him. Over a six-month period starting in autumn 2016, he consulted twenty experts, eight of whom were affiliated with, or openly sympathetic to, NK.22 Their final report recommended the enactment of a one-off abdication bill. The bill was duly drafted and approved by the Diet.

3. Succession

Emperor Akihito was reportedly shocked by the criticism leveled at him by certain experts during the consultation period, and he was displeased, too, with the compromised outcome.23 Still, it rendered abdication possible for the first time in 200 years. The emperor duly abdicated on 30 April 2019 in a brief rite in the Matsu no Ma 松の間chamber of the palace.24 He stood with the empress before an audience of some 300 dignitaries. Prime Minister Abe faced them, and delivered a short speech, expressing his respect and gratitude for the emperor’s reign on behalf of the Japanese people. The emperor responded by articulating his love and respect for the people of Japan. He thanked them for supporting his symbolic role, and concluded with a prayer that the new Reiwa 令和era might be one of peace and happiness.25

Then, at 10.30 am on 1 May, Crown Prince Naruhito received the sword and jewel of the imperial regalia in the very brief senso 践祚succession rite.26 This senso took place in the same Matsu no Ma chamber in the presence of the prime minister, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the speaker of the Lower House and the president of the Upper House, among others, and was an entirely male affair. In line with prewar practice, the participation of the empress and the many other female members of the imperial family was not permitted. After the senso, the emperor proceeded directly to the palace shrine-complex to inform the Sun Goddess and his ancestors of his succession. In a third ritual phase, Emperor Naruhito, accompanied now by the empress, returned to the Matsu no Ma to receive the heads of the three branches of government and some 250 dignitaries, and deliver his inaugural address to the nation.27 Here, he spoke of his deep respect for his father and mother for their unwavering devotion to the people. He, for his part, promised to think always of the people and be with them. He committed himself to fulfilling his constitutional role as symbolic emperor, and prayed for peace.

What happens next? On 4 May, members of the general public will be admitted to the palace grounds, and the emperor and empress will appear on the veranda of the Chōwaden building to greet them. Then, on 22 October, the emperor and empress will ascend their respective thrones before an assembly of dignitaries, Japanese and foreign, in the sokui 即位enthronement rite. They will then parade through the streets of Tokyo, before hosting a banquet in the evening. The abdication, senso and sokui rites are held as “acts in matters of state.” It is worth pointing out that, although they are broadly secular in nature, they are not entirely so. At the very least, the sword and the jewel that feature in all three rites are sacred objects, and treated as such. According to Japan’s seventh century state foundation myths, these objects, along with a sacred mirror, were handed by the Sun Goddess to her grandson before he descended to earth. These objects are testament, in other words, to the sacred nature of Japanese emperorship.

The climax of the enthronement sequence is indisputably sacred in character. This is the daijōsai 大嘗祭or “rite of great feasting,” which will take place on the night of 14-15 November. A complex of wooden buildings, featuring two main pavilions (the Yukiden悠紀田and Sukiden主基田), will be erected on the palace grounds. Both pavilions are furnished with bed and shroud to welcome the Sun Goddess. Two different districts of Japan – the Yuki field to the west of Tokyo and the Suki field to the east – supply the rice for feasting. In each pavilion, the emperor will offer the Sun Goddess meals of rice, before partaking of it himself. He will emerge at dawn, transformed by his mystical communion with his ancestress.

This enthronement sequence – senso, sokui and daijōsai – is of great vintage. In some form or other, the rites can be traced back to the 7th Century. They have played a vital role in producing and reaffirming Japan’s emperor-centered order for over a millennium.28 The daijōsai, in particular, has undergone multiple interpretations over time, and its mise-en-scène has changed drastically, too. Only in modern times has it been it regarded as the most important of the three enthronement rites, and this is because it was interpreted now as the ultimate act of imperial piety. It served, by the same token, as dramatic proof that the emperor was indeed descended from the Sun Goddess. It was for this reason that the modern daijōsai as performed by the Meiji, Taishō and Shōwa emperors were staged as truly national events; they sought to engage the whole of Japan and, indeed, the empire with the imperial myth.

Emperor Akihito’s daijōsai, the first in the postwar era, took place on the night of 22-23 November 1990. It had the distinction of being the first ever to cause legal controversy. The controversy and its resolution deserve to be more widely known. Articles 20 and 89 of the Constitution provide for the separation of state and religion. And yet, the state funded the daijōsai, which is “religious” to the extent that it features the Sun Goddess. The government fended off accusations of unconstitutionality by citing the “object and effect” principle established in a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1977.29 The essence of the ruling was that the state may engage with religion, so long as neither the “object” nor the “effect” of its engagement amounts to the promotion of any specific religion. The government’s position was that public funding of the daijōsaicontravened neither criteria. Many citizens’ groups disagreed, and took legal action, but their suits all foundered on the “object and effect” principle.30

Prince Akishino no Miya Fumihito 秋篠宮文仁with the Princess at his birthday press conference, November 201831

Controversy surrounds the 2019 daijōsai, too. Citizens’ groups are poised once more to take legal action against the government, even though they stand little chance of success. This time, however, they appear to have the moral support of Prince Akishino no Miya Fumihito, the new emperor’s younger brother and next in line to the throne. At his birthday meeting with the press on 11 November 2018, the prince queried the wisdom of the government underwriting the daijōsai as it had in 1990. He confessed it left him feeling “uneasy.” The cause of his uneasiness was this: the government sets aside two funds for imperial family use. There is the “court fund” (kyūteihi宮廷費), totaling some $83 million, which covers all of the emperor’s public activities – his “acts in matters of state.” There is also a much more modest “imperial family fund” (naiteihi内廷費) of some $2.7 million, which is for the private use of the emperor and his family.32

Both funds are, of course, tax payers’ money, but the prince is uneasy at the government’s insistence on using the “court fund” to underwrite the “religious” daijōsai. This implies that the daijōsai is, after all, a public not private act.33 The prince’s radical idea, intended to preserve the constitutional separation of state and religion, was that the daijōsai be scaled back to a point where it might be covered entirely by the “imperial family fund.” The prince had raised this matter time and again with Imperial Household officials, but, he lamented, they had “refused to pay him heed.” He was, indeed, ignored by both the Imperial Household and the Abe administration.34 No one doubts that the prince was articulating views shared by his older brother and father.

In any case, the daijōsai rite remains essential to emperor-making in Japan. In its postwar manifestation, it merits attention as one further piece of evidence of the sacred encroaching into Japan’s public sphere. By “the sacred,” I refer specifically to ritual performances involving the Sun Goddess, and to the myth of the emperor’s descent from the Sun Goddess, which the rites serve to animate. The postwar Constitution sought to confine the sacred to the private sphere of the imperial court, and yet, in the seven decades since its promulgation – and especially during Abe Shinzō’s premiership – the sacred has become ever more public. Abe’s active association with the Ise Shrines is a case in point. In 2013, when the Ise Shrines underwent their vicennial rebuild, he played a key ritual role, escorting the Sun Goddess on her solemn progress through the night from old shrine to new.35 In 2016, he hosted the G7 summit in Ise, and took heads of the G7 states to the shrines as though they were a national site. In law, of course, they are a private religious juridical entity. In both 2017 and 2018, Abe participated in the niinamesai 新嘗祭court rite, which also celebrates the Sun Goddess. The rite is held within the palace’s shrine complex annually on 23 November.36 It is in this broader context that the Abe administration will fund Emperor Naruhito’s daijōsaiin November 2019.

Prime Minister Abe Shinzō at the palace shrine-complex, 23 November 201837

2018 marked the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, which brought emperors out of the shadows of the premodern court, allowing them to occupy the center of modern Japan’s public culture. The myth of the emperor’s descent from the Sun Goddess, which the Meiji government actively promoted and exploited, remains alive and well today. The myth, and the rites that sustain it, will be on more secure footing if the Abe administration effects its promised revisions to the Constitution. Article 20 deals with the separation of state and religion. The government plans to retain the principle of separation, of course, but wishes to render the daijōsai and other imperial court rites as non-religious “social rituals or customary practices.”38 If, and when, the revisions are effected, there will be no further impediment to the state’s sponsorship of, and engagement with, such events. Their place in the public sphere will be assured.

We have seen evidence that the imperial institution itself is highly contested. The emperor’s 2016 address, the abdication bill that it produced, and the very fact that an emperor abdicated for the first time in two hundred years, have highlighted the multiplicity of views on emperorship in 21st Century Japan. The prohibition of abdication, it should be stressed, is modern. There are fifty-eight known cases of emperors abdicating before the practice was prohibited in the late 19th Century. Meiji bureaucrats ended abdication, fearful that it threatened the myth that guaranteed the stability of the imperial line. Their concerns are shared today by NK members with close ties to the Abe administration.

Let us not forget that there is, objectively speaking, a graver challenge to the imperial institution than abdication. It is the absence of male heirs. Emperor Naruhito’s younger brother, Crown Prince Akishino no Miya, is now next in line to the throne, and his son the 13-year-old Hisahito 悠仁will succeed him. If Hisahito produces no male heirs, that is it. This dire situation has generated impassioned debate about the pros and cons of female succession to the throne. According to the latest polls, 76% of the population would be happy to see a woman enthroned. There is, after all, ample precedent for this: women have succeeded to the throne on ten previous occasions. What is striking is that 74% have no objection to the offspring of a woman emperor succeeding to the throne. If this were to happen, it would be an historical first.39

Finally, it should be pointed out that, for ultraconservatives, the abdication issue and the future of the imperial line are intimately related. Yagi Hidetsugu八木秀次, a radical conservative intellectual, who is sometimes referred to as Prime Minister Abe’s “brain,” puts it like this:

If an emperor is free to abdicate, it won’t be long before a man is free to decline the throne. Abdication, as the free choice of the emperor, can only lead in time to a man’s right to refuse succession. [When this comes to pass,] the emperor system, which depends on an unbroken line of male heirs, will collapse.40

The historic precedent set by Akihito’s abdication and the absence of male heirs will ensure that Japanese emperorship is contested for years to come.


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This is a revised, updated and expanded version of an article that was first published in Spanish as “El emperador ha hablado” (Vanguardia Dossier: 71 Japón debilidad y fortaleza (2018), pp. 39-42.) A much-abridged version will appear in Joy Hendry. Understanding Japanese Society. Routledge, 2019. The author would like to thank Geoffrey Wilkinson, Nick Breen and Mark Selden for helpful comments on earlier drafts.

John Breen is a professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, where he edits the journal Japan Review.

Global Research is indebted to The Asia Pacific Journal for having brought this important article to our attention


Asahi shinbun

Breen, John and Mark Teeuwen. A New history of Shinto. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Gomi Yōji. Seizen taii o meguru Abe shushō no sakubō. Takarajimasha Shinsho, 2017

Guthmann, Thiery. “Nationalist Circles in Japan Today: The Impossibility of Secularization.” Japan Review30 (2017).

Hara Takeshi. Heisei no shūen: taii to tennō, kōgo. Iwanami Shoten, 2019

Hosaka Masayasu. Tennō heika “seizen taii” e no omoi. Mainichi Shinbun Shuppan, 2016

Jiyūminshutō comp. Nihonkoku kenpō kaisei sōan. 2012

Kobori Keichirō. “Tennō = shōchōkan no konjaku.” Kōdō (January 2018)

Mainichi shinbun

Murata Haruki. “Sakunen hachigatsu yōka no Heika no Okotoba wa.” Seiron 326 (1 October 2017)

Shirai Satoshi. Kokutairon: Kiku to seijōki. Shūeisha Shinsho, 2018

Teeuwen, Mark and John Breen. A Social History of the Ise Shrines: Divine Capital. Bloomsbury, 2017.


The official designation of the emperor’s address is Shōchō toshite no o-tsutome ni tsuite no tennō heika no o-kotoba象徴としてのお務めについての天皇陛下のおことば. The address can be replayed on the Kunaichō website, where the Japanese and English transcriptions can also be found: here and here.

The full Japanese title of the bill is Tennō no taii tō ni kansuru kōshitsu tenpan tokureihō 天皇の退位等に関する皇室典範特例法. The bill’s nine articles can be accessed here.


The emperor’s address in the aftermath of the Great East Japan earthquake can be replayed on the Kunaichō website; the Japanese text and English translation can be accessed there too: here and here.

For an overview of the activities of the emperor and empress at this time, see here.

The closest critical reading of the emperor’s address can be found in Hara Takeshi原武史. Heisei no shūen: taii to tennō, kōgo平成の終焉:退位と天皇皇后. Iwanami Shoten, 2019, pp.11-68.

Abdication is hardly a new issue for the imperial family. In 1946, Prince Mikasa no Miya三笠宮, Akihito’s uncle, famously attacked the government’s refusal to sanction abdication. The government was effectively “binding the emperor in chains, making him a slave of the cabinet.” (Asahi Shinbun 17 December 2017)

For the original Japanese, see here. There is an English translation at here.

Asahi shinbun 28 October 2004.

10 The emperor offered this view of the postwar constitution at a press conference to celebrate his 50thwedding anniversary. Note that here, too, he mentioned his struggle to interpret the meaning of “symbol of the state and of the Unity of the People.” For the original Japanese and an English translation, see: here.

11 The occasion for this statement was the emperor’s birthday press conference. See, for the Japanese original, here and, for the English translation, here.

12 For a survey of polls, see Hosaka Masayasu保阪正康. Tennō heika “seizen taii” e no omoi天皇陛下生前退位への思い. Mainichi Shinbun Shuppan, 2016, pp.85-88.

13 The latest poll conducted by the Asahi newspaper in April 2019 shows that 76% of the population “feel an intimacy” with the imperial family. This is the highest “intimacy factor” ever recorded. (Asahi Shinbun, 19 April 2019.)

14 For a recent academic study of Nippon Kaigi, see Thiery Guthmann. “Nationalist Circles in Japan Today: The Impossibility of Secularization.” Japan Review, 30 (2017), pp.207-235.

15 Source

16 Kobori Keichiirō has articulated his views most cogently in Kōdō弘道, the journal of the conservative organization, Nippon Kōdōkai日本弘道会. See “Tennō = shōchōkan no konjaku.” 天皇象徴感の今昔 Kōdō(January 2018), pp. 6-11. Kobori refers frequently in his recent writings to the “kokutai-wrecking Constitution.”

17 Murata Haruki. “Sakunen hachigatsu yōka no heika no o-kotoba wa.” 昨年八月八日の陛下のお言葉Seiron 326 (1 October 2017), p. 3.

18 Ibid.

19 Source

20 Source

21 For the events behind NHK’s July broadcast, which was watched by 14 million people, see Gomi Yōji五味洋治. Seizen taii o meguru Abe shushō no sakubō生前退位をめぐる安倍首相の策謀. Takarajimasha Shinsho, 2017, pp. 20-24, and Hosaka. Tennō heika, pp. 14-16 and pp. 81-83.

22 On the advisory council (yūshokusha kaigi有職者会議) and its experts, see Hara. Heisei no shūen, pp. 4-6, and Gomi. Seizen taii, pp. 104-109. The agenda and the minutes of the several council meetings are accessible on the website of the Prime Minister’s Office.

23 For the emperor’s shock, see both Mainichi shinbun 21 May 2017 and the discussion in Shirai Satoshi白井聡. Kokutairon: Kiku to seijōki菊と星条旗. Shūeisha Shinsho, 2018, pp.16-19.

24 The official name given to the abdication is Taii rei seiden no gi 退位礼正殿の儀or (Palace rite of abdication.)

25 The emperor’s address in both English and Japanese can be accessed on the Imperial Household website: here and here.

26 The official designation of the rite is Kenji tō shōkei no gi剣璽等承継の儀. Ken is “sword” and ji is “jewel.” , meaning “et cetera,” refers to the fact that the emperor receives other objects, too. These objects include the state seal (kokuji国璽) and the imperial seal (gyoji御璽) and also the entire palace shrine-complex.

27 This audience is officially known as the Sokuigo chōken no gi 即位後朝見の儀or “Rite of audience after succession.”

28 For a concise critical history of the daijōsai, see John Breen and Mark Teeuwen. A New history of Shinto. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), Chapter 5.

29 This is known in Japanese as mokuteki kōka kijun目的効果基準.

30 For a summary view of the legal controversy concerning the 1999 daijōsai, see Breen and Teeuwen 2011, Chapter 5.

31 Source

32 It is, incidentally, this latter fund which pays for the rites performed by the emperor and empress at the palace shrine-complex.

33 The total budget for the 2019 daijōsai is set by the government at $21 million.

34 The full text of the prince’s statement on the daijōsai can be accessed on the Imperial Household home page.

35 On postwar conservative administrations’ cultivation of the Ise shrines, see Mark Teeuwen and John Breen. A Social History of the Ise Shrines: Divine Capital. Bloomsbury, 2017, especially Chapter 10.

36 The niinamesai is the annual version of the once-in-a-reign daijōsai. The prime minister informed the nation of his participation on Twitter.

37 Source

38 For the LDP’s proposed revisions to Article 20, see Jiyūminshutō comp. Nihonkoku kenpō kaisei sōan(2012), p.7

39 The poll referred to was conducted by the Asahi shinbun, and published on 19 April 2019.

40 Asahi Shinbun 10 September 2016. For Yagi’s intimate relationship to PM Abe, see also Asahi Shinbun 28 March 2018.

The original Japanese letter is here.

This is the English translation of the original Japanese letter to Emperor Akihito written by Yuki Tanaka. The letter was sent to Emperor Akihito on January 6, 2019 under two names – Yuki Tanaka, as the representative of the annual conference of “August 6 Hiroshima Assembly for Peace,” and Kuno Naruaki, a committee member of the same conference.

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At the New Year’s opening of the Imperial Palace on 2 January 1969, a Japanese war veteran named Okuzaki Kenzo (1920–2005) fired three pinballs from a slingshot aimed at Emperor Hirohito from 26.5 meters away. Hirohito was standing on the veranda and greeting about 15,000 visitors. All three pinballs hit the bottom of the veranda, missing Hirohito. Okuzaki took this bizarre action in order to be arrested so that he could pursue Hirohito’s war responsibility in the Japanese court system. In his trials, Okuzaki argued that Chapter 1 of Japan’s Constitution (“the emperor”) was unconstitutional. However, all the judges of the Tokyo District and High Courts, as well as the Supreme Court, ignored Okuzaki’s argument. As far as we know, Okuzaki is the only person in Japan’s modern history to legally challenge the constitutionality of the emperor system, and furthermore with compelling disputation. Yet, we do not endorse Okuzaki’s act of violence. Remembering Okuzaki’s unwavering effort to pursue the war responsibility of Emperor Hirohito and the Japanese government, as well as his courageous legal challenge to the emperor system, we are writing the following letter to Emperor Akihito.

Happy New Year Akihito-san,

We are writing this letter to you, addressing you as a human being, rather than as Japan’s emperor. We therefore avoid using the title “emperor” as much as possible when referring to you or your late father. For the same reason, we refer to other members of your family by their names, without official royal titles.

Intrinsic Contradictions in Chapter 1 of Japan’s Constitution

On 8 August 2016, when you publicly expressed your desire to abdicate from the throne, you emphasized that you had been sincerely making efforts over the past twenty-eight years to fulfill the role of “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People,” as defined by the constitution. During the press conference on 20 December 2018, three days before your eighty-fifth birthday, you again stressed your sincerity over many years of public performance as the emperor. We have no doubt about your sincerity in this regard, yet “sincerity” does not necessarily justify one’s actions.

As you are undoubtedly aware Article 14 of Japan’s constitution stipulates that “All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.” Yet, according to Article 1 of the current Imperial Family Law, only male successors can succeed to the Imperial throne. The Imperial Family Law clearly violates Article 14 of the constitution, openly discriminating against women. Among the modern democratic nations in the world, we presume that none except Japan allows the head of the state to openly discriminate against women by law, despite the constitutional guarantee of sexual equality. Furthermore, it is bewildering to note that hardly any politicians, constitutional scholars or citizens find this discrepancy between the constitution and law contradictory. In this sense, it can be said that the sexual discrimination represented in the emperor system and widespread sexual discrimination against women in Japanese society are mirror reflections of each other.

Article 2 of the constitution, as well as Articles 1 and 2 of the Imperial House Law, stipulate that your position as emperor is dynastic and hereditary. This means that only your family and descendants exclusively enjoy reverence by the people. This elevated status of your family also violates “equality in family origin” guaranteed by Article 14 of the constitution. Furthermore, as you are deemed a descendant of “the pure Japanese and unbroken Imperial line from time immemorial,” consciously or unconsciously, certain groups of the Japanese population see your position as an ideological ground for justifying discrimination against foreigners, in particular the so-called “zainichi,” i.e. Koreans and Chinese living in Japan. The current increase of hate speech and vulgar demonstrations conducted by ultra-xenophobic organizations in Japan such as Zaitoku-kai (the Citizens Group That Will Not Forgive Special Privileges for Koreans in Japan) are, we believe, closely related to the fact that your ideological status widely and deeply impinges on national sentiment, albeit on an unconscious level.

You and your family attach great importance to Shintoism. Shinto was the official religion of Japan until 1946, yet the separation of government and religion was clearly defined by Article 20 of the new constitution, promulgated that year. Despite this clear-cut severance of Shinto and the state by the constitution, the Rites of Imperial Funeral of your father conducted in 1989, the Ceremonies of the Enthronement of the Emperor held for you in 1990, and many other royal ceremonies, have been conducted as Shinto rituals, each time spending an enormous amount of taxpayers’ money.

April 18 2019, Emperor Akihito visiting the Grand Shrine of Ise to report his upcoming abdication to the ancestral deities of the Imperial family enshrined there. He took with him two of the three Sanshu no Jingi(The Three Sacred Treasures of the Imperial Family)- the Imperial sword and jewel. No women were allowed to join this ceremony, not even Empress.

It is clear that the conduct of these Shinto ceremonies at taxpayers’ expense was undoubtedly a grave violation of the constitution. It is now planned to hold grand Ceremonies of the Enthronement for your son, Naruhito-san, in November 2019, yet again at the expense of the national budget. Incidentally, the female members of the royal family are not allowed to be present at the Kenji – one of the Ceremonies of the Enthronement of the Emperor – for inheriting the sacred sword and jewels. This is another example of discrimination against women in the royal family.

As you see from these examples, no matter how sincerely you carry out the role of “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People,” as defined by Article 1 of the constitution, the problem is that your position as emperor is the main source of various types of discrimination and unconstitutional conduct. We wonder how you respond to this criticism.

Articles 6 and 7 stipulate that it is your duty to carry out various constitutional functions. But you have no right to refuse to conduct such official functions, nor do you have the freedom to express your personal opinions concerning such functions. This means that you have no freedoms and rights, which are guaranteed to all the people of Japan by Article 12 of the constitution. Article 13 states that “All of the people shall be respected as individuals,” but this does not apply to you. You may contend that many Japanese citizens truly respect you. You are surely revered to some extent as the emperor, but not respected as an individual. This is because most Japanese citizens hardly know you as an individual human being. It is not just you but your wife, Michiko-san, your two sons, Naruhito-san and Fumihito-san, their partners, Masako-san and Kiko-san, and your grandchildren, are all denied basic human rights if they remain in the royal family. Don’t you think this state of affairs is contradictory to the constitution and therefore absurd?

Your existence as emperor is the source of discrimination against others. Simultaneously, you and your family are victims of discrimination in a unique sense. The fact that you are denied basic human rights means that you are not regarded as an ordinary human being. It is a strange phenomenon that you, the emperor who is generally esteemed as the highest and most noble person in the nation, fundamentally share characteristics with slaves, who could not be blessed with basic human rights. Given these facts, we believe that the position of emperor can be easily exploited by certain politicians for their own political ends.

Your Father’s War Guilt

We truly sympathize with you. You were born in a difficult position. You and your family are caught in an untenable position for the sake of the nation, until the end of your lives. Yet, at the same time, we cannot sympathize with you and your family when we think of people in the Asia-Pacific region who were oppressed, discriminated against, assaulted and killed by the Japanese military forces under the banner of Hakkō Ichiu (Universal Brotherhood under the Rule of the Emperor). We also think of millions of Koreans and Taiwanese who endured harsh colonial rule and exploitation by the Japanese Empire, as well as millions of Japanese who were mobilized into the Asia-Pacific War and forced to die for the Emperor. In other words, we cannot stop thinking of the people who became the victims of the Japanese emperor system since the beginning of the Meiji era in 1868.

In this regard, your father, Hirohito-san, committed grave crimes and was therefore responsible for causing tragedies to numerous people. Between September 1931 and August 1945, the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy Forces, under the Supreme-Commander, Emperor Hirohito, conducted extremely destructive battles against Chinese and the Allied forces in many parts of China, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

In particular, Japanese military conduct in China was a war of aggression from the very beginning. It is said that the estimated number of Chinese victims was about 20 million. For example, in his 1941 reportage entitled “Scorched Earth,” the renowned American journalist, Edgar Snow described Japanese atrocities as “an orgy of rape, murder, looting and general debauchery which has nowhere been equaled in modern times.”

In addition to the massive numbers of Chinese victims, the following are the estimated number of other Asian fatalities of Japanese military violence in the fifteen year war: 1.5 million in India, 2 million in Vietnam, 100 thousand in Malaya and Singapore, 1.1 million in the Philippines, and 4 million in Indonesia. If we add losses of Pacific islanders, we can speculate that about 10 million people died as the result of the war that Japan conducted. We should not forget that 2.3 million Japanese soldiers and civilian employees (including about 50 thousand Koreans and Formosan Chinese) died in this war, and 60 per cent of this death toll was due to starvation and illness. The total Japanese death toll was about 3.1 million if we add the numbers of civilian victims of fire and atomic bombings conducted by U.S. forces, as well as civilians who died in Okinawa and Manchuria in the last stages of the war. (The U.S. committed war crimes—crimes against humanity—by conducting indiscriminate fire and atomic bombings of Japanese cities and towns. In this letter, however, we are not going to discuss this issue in order to avoid getting sidetracked.)

After the war, your father evaded his responsibility, claiming that military leaders acted against his will. Yet, when we read the war records compiled by the Defense Studies Military History Section of the Defense Agency National Institute, we find evidence that your father was deeply involved in drafting various war policies and making strategies through his “questionings to reports to the throne” and “advice to military leaders.” It is undeniable from the record of the wartime diary written by Marquis Kido Kōichi that your father played the decisive role in making the final decision to enter the war against the Allied nations in December 1941.

At the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal conducted after the war, under the political pressure of the U.S. occupation forces and the Japanese government, former Prime Minister Tōjō Hideki falsely testified that Emperor Hirohito “reluctantly” decided to enter the war because of the advice given by him, together with other officers of the High Command in charge of the war strategies. Yet it cannot be denied that your father signed the declaration of war even if reluctantly. In any case, it is a historic fact that he did sign as Supreme Commander of the Imperial Army and Navy. Thus it is indisputable that he was in a position of ultimate responsibility. In the end, twenty-eight former military and political leaders were prosecuted as A-class war criminals on your father’s birthday of 29 April 1946. Seven were executed on your birthday of 23 December 1948. In this way, the issue of war responsibility was deemed finalized and resolved simply by blaming only a handful of militarists and politicians who served your father.

However, it is also the fact that the war began as a result of your father’s order and the war ended as a result of the order that your father issued. Consequently, as mentioned before, a few tens of millions of Asians and Pacific islanders as well as 3.1 million Japanese people lost their lives. In other words, the lives of this large number of people depended on your father’s decision more than anything else. We would like to respect the grief of each victim – not only the dead, but also the survivors of Japanese exploitation such as forced laborers, sex slaves and POWs, survivors of the fire and atomic bombings, survivors of the military violence in Okinawa and Manchuria, and the like. This is because we tend to forget the great sorrow people experienced if we deal with the issue of war victims simply from the viewpoint of abstract numbers.

Incidentally, Akihito-san, do you know that Watanabe Kiyoshi (1925–1981) wrote an open letter addressed to your father in 1961? Watanabe-san was a sailor who was on board the battleship Musashi. Musashi, one of the largest battleships in the world, was sunk by U.S. forces in the Battle of Leyte Gulf on 24 October 1944. As a result, more than one thousand sailors lost their lives. In his letter, Watanabe-san wrote:

If you are an ordinary person and just think of the fact that so many people died as the result of the orders you issued, I imagine you would be extremely distressed in deep agony. I believe that is how an ordinary person naturally feels as a human being. Therefore, if one does not have such a natural feeling, I think that person is a heartless human being. I think that that person is a human being, yet simultaneously not really a human being, or some strange creature disguising himself with the name of “human being.” I cannot think of you in any other way…

On January 1, 1946, you issued an imperial rescript … and in it you denied that you were a god in human form… Despite that you had driven so many people into death during the war, (in this rescript) you emphasized “mutual trust and affection” between you and the people of the nation. Although I do not know how other people took those words of yours, I no longer believe such a barefaced lie. You could not deceive me any more. This New Year’s rescript of 1946 did not show even a glimpse of sense of your responsibility.

The same can be said about the imperial rescript that you issued at the defeat of the war. In that rescript, you did not apologize at all and did not say even simple words like “I am sorry. I was responsible for the war.” You apologized neither to the people of your own nation nor to the people of China and Southeast Asia to whom you caused tremendous damage and heavy casualties. Indeed, you have not touched the issue of war responsibility in any of rescripts that you have so far issued since the end of the war.

We are not sure if your father read this letter, Akihito-san. If he did, we wonder how he felt about it.

The Problem of your Journeys to Console the Spirits of those Lost in World War II

Over the years you and your wife, Michiko-san, traveled extensively in Japan and in the Pacific region to console the spirits of those lost in the war. We presume that was because you feel your father was accountable for miseries people suffered due to the war. As stated before, we acknowledge your sincerity. Yet, despite your sincerity, we think your war memorial visits have serious problems.

For example, in April 2015, shortly before you visited the island of Peleliu in the South Pacific nation of Palau, you issued a statement which included the following words.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, which brought fierce fighting to various parts of the Pacific Ocean, resulting in the loss of countless lives. Our thoughts go out to all those who went to the battlefields to defend their countries, never to return home.

A year before the end of the war, fierce battles were conducted in this region, and on many islands Japanese soldiers died as the result of suicidal attacks. Peleliu Island that we are going to visit is one of them, and in the battle on this island some 10,000 Japanese soldiers were killed and the U.S. also lost approximately 1,700 troops. We believe that we must never forget that those beautiful islands in the Pacific Ocean have such a tragic history.

(Emphasis added. Incidentally, it is more accurate to say that the number of U.S. dead is closer to 2,200, not 1,700.)

As you explained, large numbers of Japanese soldiers lost their lives on Pacific islands. On the island of Guadalcanal, between August 1942 and February 1943, 20,860 of the 31,400 soldiers sent there perished. About 15,000 of this death toll were victims of starvation and tropical disease. From March 1943, 157,646 men were sent to East New Guinea. Only 10,724 survived. The mortality rate was 90 per cent; and, here too, many died due to starvation and tropical disease without engaging in battle.

In 1944, U.S. forces began a series of campaigns to capture Bougainville, Pohnapei, Truk, Guam, Saipan etc. On each island many Japanese soldiers as well as civilians were killed. On the island of Saipan, for example, more than 55,000 soldiers and civilians died: many of them committed suicide. The tragic and meaningless suicidal attacks like those carried out on the island of Peleliu were repeated in the battle of Iwo Jima Island between 19 February and 26 March 1945, resulting in more than 21,000 deaths (a mortality rate of 93 per cent). In Okinawa, about 100 thousand Japanese soldiers, as well as the same number of Okinawan civilians, perished between April and June 1945.

In the statement you made in April 2015, you described the dead soldiers with the following flowery words: “those who went to the battlefields to defend their countries, never to return home.” Many Japanese soldiers died in tropical jungles because of starvation and disease. Even those who managed to narrowly survive hunger and thirst were eventually forced to conduct suicidal attacks. Do you really think that those Japanese men died “to defend their country”? In your war memorial voyages, you have never addressed a fundamental question: Who was responsible for their deaths? Frankly speaking, those who “never returned” died wastefully for nothing. As the writer, Oda Makoto (1932–2007), used to say, their deaths were utter “nanshi” (deaths in agony). In other words the result of “miserable, meaningless plain slaughter.” Furthermore, they were literally abandoned by their leaders, of whom your father was the primary leader. You and many politicians often say that Japan’s prosperity after the war was built at the sacrifice of the victims of the war. We think such rhetoric is pure sophistry. Their “deaths in agony” were irrelevant to Japan’s post-war prosperity. Their deaths were for nothing and utterly meaningless. That is why their deaths were so pitiful.

To “never forget such a tragic history,” to remember those many “deaths in agony” and not to repeat the same mistake, we believe it is vital to ask why we made such a tragic history. We must ask who was responsible for such a tragic history? Yet in your speeches at the annual Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead on August 15 and at other similar memorials, reference to “the cause of and responsibility for the tragic history” has always been missing. Without referring to your father’s responsibility your memorial journeys have contributed to obscuring his guilt; and, therefore, ultimately our national responsibility. In other words, your memorial voyages are nothing but political performances to cover up Japanese responsibility.

Moreover, the aim of your memorial voyages has always been to console the spirits of Japanese victims, not sufferers of the atrocities committed by Japanese troops. Occasionally you have referred to “war victims” of the Allied soldiers or of the Asia-Pacific nations using a very abstract expression, but your eyes have always been focused on the Japanese war dead. For example, on your memorial journey to Saipan in June 2005, you and your wife bowed deeply as you offered prayers in front of the so-called “Banzai Cliff,” where many Japanese committed suicide, plunging into the sea. Immediately after this ceremony, you also visited the memorial of the Korean victims on the same island and paid your respects. Yet, your visit to the Korean memorial was initially not included in the schedule. According to a press report, the original schedule was quickly changed after a group of Korean residents on Saipan demanded an apology from you and your wife. Although you did not offer any apologies, your visit to the memorial soothed their fury.

It can be concluded that your memorial journeys have contributed to strengthening Japanese “war victim” sentiment, but were never intended to create a sense of moral responsibility among the Japanese for the pain and sorrow of foreign victims of Japanese atrocities. In other words, your war memorial performance has never inspired the Japanese people to rectify our lack of collective responsibility, and to cultivate thoughts on the basic nature of war through comprehensive understanding of the inter-relationship between victims and perpetrators. Thus, the Japanese continue to reinforce a resilient sense of the ideologically biased “national value,” that we were war victims, never perpetrators. It is therefore not surprising that most Japanese do not pay attention to the foreign victims of Japanese wartime brutality such as “forced laborers” and “military sex slaves.” Because of this “national value,” together with deep-rooted and widespread Japanese jingoism and xenophobia, even seventy-three years after the war, Japan is still unable to establish peaceful relationships with foreign nations, in particular Korea and China.

Indeed, we Japanese unconsciously feel obliged to hold and share this “sense of national value.” Your authority as “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People” has a distinctive function not only to create such a national value but also to make the people feel obligated for sustaining it without realizing that they are in fact compelled to do so. We are not sure how clearly you are aware of this unique phenomenon, but your performance as the symbol of the nation has a strong political function in practice to justify, defend and preserve the national value and policy of Japan. As the emperor’s performance hardly gives the people an impression of “political control,” this function can be a useful tool for power holders or ruthless politicians who want to control the populace cunningly.

Article 3 of Chapter 1 of the constitution stipulates that “The Emperor shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in this Constitution and he shall not have powers related to government.
” This suggests that the emperor should have no political function. Yet, in actual fact, he has considerable influence over political and social ideas. We think you should be aware of this critical function of your position as emperor.

Political Factors in Your Constitutional Functions

Strictly speaking, your performance as the symbol of the nation must be limited to the seemingly depoliticized constitutional functions defined by Articles 3 to 7 of the constitution. Despite this lucid definition, various so-called “non-political activities” of the emperor, including “war memorial voyages,” which are in fact outside this definition, have been sanctioned and openly carried out since the promulgation of the current constitution in 1946. Because such ostensibly “non-political activities” were sanctioned even before you ascended the throne, you must have thought that you also should fully utilize such activities as your duty of the symbol of the nation. Among such activities conducted under “the symbolic authority” of the nation, you found that the most effective performances to gain the people’s trust were those of philanthropic (in your words) “activities to sit close to the people and to show my stance of sharing joys and sorrows with the people.” You must have learned the value of philanthropic performance from your ancestors, in particular “motherly affection” as demonstrated thorough benefactions provided by the preceding empresses.

Thus, together with Michiko-san, you have enthusiastically conducted what I call “the activities of parental-like affection” – war memorial journeys, meeting with families of the war dead, meeting with victims of various kinds of natural disasters, and visiting patients suffering from rare and serious illness. All such functions are unconstitutional in the strict sense.

You must be proud that you have strengthened and augmented the people’s trust in the emperor and the royal family through such benevolen activities. However, contrary to your thought, we think your “symbolic authority” has been playing the decisive role in implicitly controlling people’s ideas and will continue to do so into the future. We wonder if you know your “symbolic authority” plays an important political role in obscuring the cause of and responsibility for various current social and political problems, thus concealing them. In other words, your “symbolic authority” makes the people unable to critically analyze current social situations and to develop perspectives for reforming society.

In short, it makes people accept existing social conditions, and thereby conform to authority. This function is indeed a very astute and convenient tool for politicians, as the people are unaware that they are being manipulated. Furthermore, if one criticizes “the symbolic authority” of a “kindhearted and gentle” emperor, the individual is alienated by social pressure of conformity.

Let us explain how your “symbolic authority” works to deftly conceal social and political problems, and how “social pressure of conformity” also functions, with the following concrete example. Below is a press report from Tokyo Shimbun newspaper concerning your visit to Kawauchi village of Fukushima Prefecture in October 2012.

When the wind blew the water of the pressure hose that workers are using to clean off the radioactive particles on the roof, the water showered down onto the emperor and empress. But they did not really care at all. The emperor and empress kept eagerly asking questions such as “how high is the radiation dosage here?” and “Oh, then it is alright, isn’t it?”
At that time, people from fifty households were living in temporary housing there. The emperor and empress talked to each of them, setting their eye levels at the same level of each person and asking them questions like “How are you? Are you alright?” Most of these people who returned to the village are old people, while young breadwinners still remain in places to which they were evacuated. One of the villagers, Mr. Endo, told the reporter “Some of us were deeply touched with their visit and shed tears. After Their Imperial Majesties’ visit, we were rejuvenated with a thought that we should do whatever we can do by ourselves.” (Tokyo Shimbun, 5 December 2017.)

You and your wife visited Kawauchi, a place located in one of the regions most badly affected by radiation from the No.1 Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Your visit to Kawauchi took place during the so-called “radiation decontamination” widely conducted in Fukushima Prefecture a year and a half after the accident. There you asked the radiation specialist questions concerning the level of radiation, and responded to his explanation by saying “Oh then it is alright, isn’t it?” When you talked to the villagers, you set your eye level at the same level as theirs, as if you had descended from heaven! The villagers were so moved by your kindhearted and caring words that they couldn’t stop shedding tears. Then they thought that, because they were truly honored by the tenderness of Their Imperial Majesties, they should not complain about their hardship and they should do as much as they can by themselves to improve their lives.

In this way your presence blurred the responsibilities of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and of other nuclear power companies for causing the nuclear disaster. Similarly, the responsibility of the Japanese government, which had been vigorously promoting the nuclear power industry with propaganda like “nuclear power is absolutely clean and safe,” was obscured. Moreover, the difference between the victims of the accident – farmers, fishermen and ordinary workers – and those responsible for causing the accident – rich CEOs of TEPCO and the powerful politicians behind them – was obscured. Additionally, a strong sense of “self-responsibility” – “we should do as much as we can by ourselves” – arose in the mind of the victims, which would eventually contribute to creating what I call “the illusion of unity,” i.e., the idea that we should all work together to solve the problem without asking who was responsible.

Japanese media repeatedly published articles praising you and your wife even five years after your visit to Fukushima without examining the political impact of your visit upon the populace. Anyone who might dare to criticize your “compassionate and caring visits” to the suffering people is likely to face severe social pressure to desist. We would like to know how you feel about that? Do you still believe that the emperor system supports democracy in Japan?

The Fundamental Contradiction of Chapter 1 to the Preamble and Article 9 of the Constitution

With the above-mentioned examples, we have tried to show that Chapter 1 of the constitution and its effective utilization are fundamentally incompatible with the spirit of Japan’s “democratic constitution.” Let us now explain in more detail how and why Chapter 1 is incompatible with other parts of the constitution, in particular the Preamble and Article 9.

In the first paragraph of the Preamble, it is said, “We, the Japanese people … resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government, do proclaim that sovereign power resides with the people and do firmly establish this Constitution.”

It is clear that Article 9 is also based on our experience of war and the recognition of our responsibility for the war Japan conducted between 1931 and 1945. In other words, the idea of pacifism – renunciation of war and demilitarization of Japan – articulated in Article 9 is closely intertwined with the basic philosophy of the constitution spelled out in the Preamble. We strongly believe therefore that we should consider the Preamble and Article 9 as one set of declarations. In this regard, we believe, the second and third paragraphs of the Preamble are particularly important.

We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationship, and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world. We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace, and the banishment of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance for all time from the earth. We recognize that all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want.

We believe that no nation is responsible to itself alone, but that laws of political morality are universal; and that obedience to such laws is incumbent upon all nations who would sustain their own sovereignty and justify their sovereign relationship with other nations.

Japan was the nation that manipulated “tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance” under the militarism combined with the emperor system. In the Preamble we are therefore confirming our determination to not let our government conduct war again, clearly recognizing and deeply internalizing our responsibility for the indescribable war tragedies our nation created. Based on this determination, we are claiming that we would like to “occupy an honored place in an international society” by contributing to the world community establishing peaceful relationships between all peoples of the world. It also acknowledges that everyone has the right to live in peace.

In a way, the Preamble reconfirms not only the Japanese people’s pacifist determination, but also our strong desire to be actively involved in constructing peaceful human relationships, based on the idea that everyone has the right to live in peace. In other words, it claims that peace is a matter of human rights, in particular the right to live in peace; peace is a matter of global and universal justice; and peace is a matter of international cooperation. In this sense, although it is the Preamble of a national constitution, it is quite unique in that it offers a perspective on the establishment of a universal peace.

Therefore, it can be said that the Preamble, together with Article 9, contains the proposition of the illegality of any war in the world, and not just of Japanese war. As we have mentioned before, we believe this is the reason we should always treat the Preamble and Article 9 as one set of pronouncements. The Preamble, together with Article 9, is a comprehensive sketch map for a peaceful world.

Intriguingly, even though Chapter 1 (Articles 1 to 8) lies between the Preamble and Article 9, there is no explanation whatsoever of how the position of emperor, who was the Grand Marshall of the extremely brutal Imperial Forces until August 1945, had been reformed in accordance with “universal principle of mankind,” the principles of “the sovereignty of people,” or “universal laws of political morality,” which are all emphasized in the Preamble. In other words, the constitution provides no explanation how the seemingly “democratized” emperor’s position was to relate to “the sovereignty of people” and “pacifism.”

It is clear that the Preamble emphasizes “the sovereignty of people,” which is elaborated upon in Chapter 3 (Article 10 to 40), and “pacifism,” which is embodied in Chapter 2 (Article 9). It provides a basic philosophy of these two vital principles and expounds on them. Yet, the Preamble provides not a single word concerning the fundamental philosophical discussion in Chapter 1 “Emperor.” Don’t you think this is odd? Why does our constitution take such a strange form?

As mentioned earlier, all the principles emphasized in the Preamble concern universal principles of human behavior, which are beyond Japan’s national values and rules. On the contrary, until August 1945, the emperor system cruelly denied the sovereignty of the people, brutally violated many peoples’ right to live in peace, and violently destroyed international cooperation.

After the war, the U.S. occupation forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur and the U.S. government decided to make your father Hirohito-san immune from the war crimes tribunal and to politically utilize him to suppress the rapidly growing Communist movement in Japan, thereby controlling the Japanese populace. For this aim, the emperor system was depoliticized and preserved, presenting your father as an innocent and peaceful person. Even though it is claimed in the Preamble “We, the Japanese people … resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government,” the resolution was made without pursuing your father’s responsibility for the war. In addition, the emperor system is a uniquely Japanese system rooted in Shinto thought, which is contradictory to “the universal principle of mankind.” Therefore, it was not possible to discuss the principle of the emperor system side by side with “the universal principle of mankind” in the Preamble.

We hope you can now understand why it is natural that Chapter 1 of the constitution and its actual utilization are fundamentally incompatible with the spirit of Japan’s “democratic constitution.”

Abdication is not enough. You should become an ordinary citizen

It is a general perception that the emperor system was “depoliticized” and “democratized” after the war, and that, as a result, it became “a constitutional and democratic monarchy.” Yet, no one in your family has ever admitted the war guilt and responsibility of Emperor Hirohito and apologized for it. The position of a “democratic emperor” is contradictory to basic human rights, freedoms and equality guaranteed by the constitution; and the emperor himself openly and constantly violates the constitution by conducting Shinto religious rites and other ostensibly “non-political” performances.

Because the long-surviving traditional emperor ideology is still widespread and deeply imbedded in Japanese society, all these “undemocratic” aspects of the emperor system do not appear “undemocratic” to the public eye. Many people accept them as natural. This is partly because of one of the functions of the emperor ideology, which is to deify you. Do you still call this state of Japan “democratic”?

We believe that a genuine democracy cannot take root in Japanese society as long as the emperor system exists. We do not believe that Japan’s current state will improve even after you abdicate in April 2019. On the contrary, the situation will probably get worse as the highly jingoistic Abe government is expected to fully exploit a series of the grand ceremonies of the enthronement of the next emperor planned in November 2019 for their own political aims, in particular enhancing the Prime Minister’s authority. Abe will make your son, the new emperor and officially open the Tokyo Olympics next year to promote Japan’s national prestige. We also believe that Abe will make your son review the troops of the Self Defense Forces, taking every opportunity to enhance nationalism and to make the Japanese people accept a rapidly increasing military budget.

We understand it is difficult to abolish the emperor system for the sake of democracy under Japan’s current social conditions. However, we are sure conditions will improve if you refuse to remain a Court noble, if you refuse to become Jyōkō (Ex-emperor: the literal meaning is “a noble person above the emperor”), and if you and your wife, Michiko-san, become ordinary citizens. Only if you admit your father’s war guilt and publicly apologize to war victims and the victimized nations, and express your joy to be an ordinary citizen endowed with basic human rights, can Japan become a place where people can live comfortably and peacefully.

Akihito-san, why don’t you cease to be a slave of the nation? Why not become an ordinary human being and share normal human emotions with us? Don’t you think it is important for you to become an ordinary human being and an ordinary citizen to establish genuine democracy in Japan?

Yours sincerely,
1 January 2019.

Yuki Tanaka (Representative of “August 6 Hiroshima Assembly for Peace”)

Kuno Naruaki (Committee Member of “August 6 Hiroshima Assembly for Peace”)


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All images in this article are from APJJF

In Indonesia, both presidential candidates have declared victory, just a few days after the elections that were held on 17thApril, 2019. Both of them are pro-business, both Muslim, and both insist that the Communist Party should continue to be banned. Neither of them is even thinking about stopping their country from committing one of the bloodiest genocides on earth, that in West Papua; or ending the unbridled plunder and environmental disaster on the third largest island in the world, Borneo (in Indonesia known as Kalimantan).

Country is tense. The final results will be announced on May the 22nd, but anything could happen before that, including violence and clashes between the two camps.

If both candidates are pro-business and anti-Communist, then what is the fuss about, really? What makes these elections so different from the previous ones, and what makes the situation so volatile?

The explanation is simple: while the current president ‘Jokowi’ (his real name is Joko Widodo) is a former furniture-maker from a city in Central Java – Solo (also known as Surakarta) – who first became the relatively successful mayor of his city and then governor of the capital Jakarta, before being elected as Indonesian president in 2014, his rival Prabowo Subianto is the Indonesian answer to Bolsonaro: a man who was trained in the United States at Fort Benning, and who was deployed in East Timor in the early 90’s, becoming the commander of Kopassusspecial forces, committing mass murder there, and using the notorious hooded “ninja” gangs, during the so-called operation “Eradicate”. His murderous career did not end there: In 1996 he embarked on terrorizing villages in the occupied and plundered West Papua.Two years later, in 1998 his troops kidnapped and tortured at least nine anti-Suharto activists.

His military career ended there, after he publicly took responsibility for the kidnappings.

But in Indonesia, brutal deeds are hardly ever condemned or punished. The killers who participated in the 1965/66 US-backed coup and consequent mass murder of between 1 and 3 million leftists and intellectuals, are still proudly appearing on Indonesian television shows, bragging about committing monstrous assassinations, raping women and children, and about ‘saving the country from the Communist menace’. They usually receive standing ovations, as documented in Oppenheimer’s film the “Art of Killing”.

Most likely, Jokowi won by approximately a 10% margin, but against him, there is an entire force of increasingly influential right-wing Islamist groups and movements. They want extreme capitalism, they want strong conservative rule, they want a physical crackdown against the leftists (particularly ‘hidden Communists’), some want Sharia Law and a Caliphate; in brief, they want Prabowo.

The election campaigns were dirty and low. Prabowo’s people tried to accuse President Jokowi of being a closet Communist (and a secret sympathizer of the once powerful political party PKI, that was crushed in 1965 and banned until now), and of being a ‘non-Muslim’.

In Indonesia, these are extremely dangerous accusations. People blamed of siding with the ‘Communists’ or even leftists, are often confronted by physical violence and could face prosecution in the courts, and then lengthy prison terms. Without exception, they are banned from participating in political life. Being ‘non-Muslim’ or even worse, being branded as ‘anti-Islamic’, means that a person has all doors slammed in his or her face. To illustrate the point: the extremely successful governor of Jakarta, ‘Ahok’, was both Chinese by blood, and progressive by political belief. As a result of his socialist reforms, he was thrown into jail after being accused of ‘insulting Islam’, a ridiculous and never proven charge.

The fact that Jokowi is interested in participating in China’s BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), has gained him an avalanche of accusations from Prabowo’s camp, that he is ‘pro-China’, and therefore a Communist.

In extremely racist Indonesia, which perpetrated three genocides and countless pogroms against its minorities in little more than half a century, being ‘Chinese’ is another ‘crime’. Between the 1965 coup and the reign of President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) who lifted the ban, everything Chinese was forbidden: from spoken and written language, to films, names, traditional lamps and dragons, to cakes.

The West, of course, has been admiring and supporting all this, from 1965 until now. It cherishes fascist, anti-Chinese, extremely capitalist Indonesia, ruled by brutal military and increasingly radical (pro-Western) Wahhabi Islamists; a country that allows, even encourages the unrestrained plunder of its own natural resources; enriching North American, European and Australian companies,while impoverishing its own indoctrinated, uninformed religious and obedient population.


President Jokowi is no hero. While pushing for some very moderate reforms in such areas as medical care and slowly although reluctantly improving Indonesian infrastructure, he is refusing to defend victims of Islamism and of regressive local culture, which brutally oppresses and intimidates both minorities and women, and which still bans both ‘atheism’ and many of the left-wing ideals as well as all Communist movements.

“He is Javanese,” a local architect explained. “He never confronts his enemies directly.”

But some are now beginning to question: “How much compromise becomes really ‘too much’?

Not long ago, Jokowi stepped back and let his friend and political ally, Ahok, be tried unfairly, consequently ending up in prison.

When a lady teacher got sexually harassed by her superior and publicly denounced abuse, demanding justice, she was arrested, tried and thrown into jail. Not her tormentor, but her! Instead of stepping in and ordering her immediate release, Jokowi cowardly remained ‘impartial’, and even refused to ‘pardon her’.

He also does absolutely nothing to stop the genocide and plunder of West Papua. Instead he is building new roads there, to help to move the loot extracted by the foreign and local mining and timber companies. The Papuan opposition and freedom fighters are hunted down, tortured and killed.

On the island of Kalimantan, unbridled plunder and the environmental destruction goes on and on, unchallenged and unquestioned.

In the meantime, draconic laws are curbing free flow of information and are now muzzling all potential left-wing opposition.

The extremely low level of education and knowledge (after the demise of the greatest Indonesian [Communist] writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, the country does not count one single world-class thinker, writer or scientist) is happening to uphold the depressing status quo. It often looks like the country of 300 million is basically involved in only two major activities: the plunder of its minerals and timber, and the ‘business’ (selling all that is being looted).

It is important to repeat again: this is precisely where the West wants to have Indonesia, since 1965. And this is where it has it now.

So what is the response of Jokowi, when he is accused of being ‘pro-Chinese’, or a ‘Communist’, or ‘non-Muslim’?

The response is shameful: Whenever attacked, he truly ‘bends’, and immediately begins officially distancing himself even further from left-wing ideals. He makes ridiculous gestures (like not going to the 2ndBRI Forum in Beijing, whereas both the Malaysian PM Mahathir and the president of the Philippines, Duterte, are proudly attending). Or, he goes to Mecca periodically, to show how devoted he is. He publicly leads prayers, and above all, he had chosen as his running mate Ma’ruf Amin, a former Indonesian Ulama Council leader.

Earlier, in 2016, Jokowi appointed General Wiranto (another murderous military cadre from the Suharto’s era), a Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, an extremely powerful position. What next, ‘appeasing’ the Indonesian fascist, regressive forces? Nobody knows.


Image on the right: Great Indonesian painter Djokopekik

In the past, perhaps the most important Indonesia’s artist, 82-years old Djokopekik, had survived imprisonment, isolation and censorship. Now he lives with his wife and eleven dogs, on the outskirts of the historic Javanese city of Yogyakarta, on a vast compound, near, as he says, a ‘ghost infested river’.

Political and ‘red’ to the core, Djokopekik appeared in my feature documentary, about the 1965 massacres. Now, predicting that Jokowi gained the majority of votes, he appears to be cautiously optimistic:

“Of course, the victims of this government’s slowness are already mounting… but Jokowi never had it easy. You see, he used to be just a small businessman, and then a mayor of Solo. Only in Jakarta, after teaming up with Ahok, he learned about the politics. There and then, all that hate was thrown at him…”

“Jokowi was born in 1961, and in 1965 he was only 4 years old. Like others, he was greatly influenced by Suharto’s ‘New Order’ propaganda. He is not yet a political animal; not savvy yet… But if he would be really brave and determined, chances are that there would be another 1965; another coup.”

“Just to illustrate to you how bad are things here: If Prabowo would win, many of Jokowi’s supporters would be gone; killed…”

So, what do the supporters of Prabowo say?

Mr. Reza Esfan Asjoedjir, former General Manager of a fertilizer producing company, Pusri, shared his thoughts for this essay:

“Maybe Prabowo is not the best candidate. But in more than 4 years, the performance of the government of Jokowi is far from good. Whether when it concerns economy, or good corporate governance… and they don’t care about the interests of the Muslims. I am sorry, but the indecisiveness towards the PKI (former Communist Party of Indonesia), is irritating, too. After all, we still have the laws that ban the Party, right? Also, Jokowi opted to be close to the People’s Republic of China.Other issues include his positive attitude towards LGBT (lesbian gay bisexual transgender). Also, he already broke many promises.”

Now in Indonesia, many families are bitterly divided over politics. Arif (not his real name), an up and coming filmmaker from Central Java, is not hiding his disgust with the present situation in Indonesia:

“I am ‘golput’ (against voting). But my family not only voted for Prabowo; they are actually actively campaigning for him.”

Prabowo secured a clear and decisive victory in Aceh, West Sumatra and West Java, the strongholds of Islamism, conservativism and backwardness.

In most of the villages of Central Java, including Plaosan (known for its ancient temple complexes), most of the local farmers are supporting Jokowi. However, the ‘other side’ often comes and intimidates them.

Ms. Rum, a small coffee and noodle stall owner:

“There were many visitors to the temple asking me whom I voted for, but I did not tell them. I just laughed, noncommittedly. But I voted for the candidate that has already proven to be able to rule, which is our current President. During the 2014 elections, there were many issues that were thrown in Jokowi’s face, such as being anti-Muslim, or a member of the PKI, and many other things. But we were not convinced hearing such things. During these elections, they did not dare to use those issues anymore; at least not here. But they said that ‘how come Jokowi who comes from such a humble background could become a mayor, then governor, and then president; that is, if he is not using ‘black power’.”

Ghosts; Indonesia is too obsessed with ghosts, with black magic and other irrational beliefs.

Now, many farmers at least get some help from the state; not much but at least some, and some food, if they are in need. And this goes a long way here, in a still desperately poor Indonesia.

Ms. Ponirah, craft-maker and seller:

“I voted for Jokowi. He is the best, especially for the ‘little’ people like us here. During the previous administration of SBY, what we received as aid for the poor people was only very bad-quality rice. We couldn’t even eat it. Now we get good rice and also some other basic necessities. In this village, Jokowi won! Jokowi Yesss!”


All this is still very far from ‘real changes’; far from where other countries in Southeast Asia that have broken away from the traditional ‘client states of the West mentality’ are right now: Vietnam, and even the Philippines.

But it appears that the ‘worst scenario’ has been prevented: the ‘Bolsonaro development’, or worse still: a scenario that would take Indonesia back to the days of the military dictatorship of the murderous imbecile – General Suharto.

If his re-election is confirmed, Jokowi should toughen up and do what the deposed left-wing President Abdurrahman Wahid (a progressive Muslim cleric, a socialist, and until his death, my dear friend) tried to do on behalf of Indonesia; to apologize to the Communists, to tell the truth about the genocides of 1965 and in East Timor, to stop the on-going genocide in West Papua, to halt the plunder of natural resources all over archipelago, to curb savage capitalism, legalize both Communists and atheists, and thoroughly reform education, upholding the secular Constitution of Indonesia.

Like in South Africa, Chile, Argentina and elsewhere, those who collaborated with the West, murdering and torturing their own citizens, should be exposed, arrested, and tried for treason and violation of basic human rights, instead of being allowed to join the government, or to run for office.

Image below: Indonesian voters

For Indonesia to prosper or at least to get out of the horrific state it is now in, it has to return to the pre-1965 era, and resume an independent, patriotic and socialist course, the sooner the better.

It is clear that Jokowi will not have guts to do all this. But at least he should create conditions for others to do what he, perhaps, does not even dare to dream about, yet.

In the meantime, the regressive forces have to be stopped. Indonesians should not allow themselves to be reduced to the level of Afghanistan, where the West has implanted and then supported the Wahhabi Mujahedin, in order to destroy socialism.

Right now, the two presidential candidates of Indonesia are claiming victory.

Polls are indicating that this time, again, Jokowi is the winner. However, at least 40%, and perhaps more, voted for a former fascist and murderous general.


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This article was originally published on New Eastern Outlook.

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Four of his latest books are China and Ecological Civilization with John B. Cobb, Jr., Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism, a revolutionary novel “Aurora” and a bestselling work of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”. View his other books here. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky “On Western Terrorism”. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter. His Patreon.

All images in this article are from the author; featured image: prison in which Ahok was held

BJP President Amit Shah was stumping on the campaign trail when he decided that the best way to inspire his party’s base to go out and vote was to proudly compare India’s “anti-terror” strikes to “Israel’s” and the US’, proving once and for all that the ruling Hindutva ideologues have much more in common with Zionism and American Exceptionalism than with the principles that embody the emerging Multipolar World Order.

Dishonest Dogma

One of the most bald-faced lies to ever become part of the Alt-Media Community’s dogma is that India is supposedly on the same side as Russia, China, and Iran in the New Cold War just because it preaches the high-sounding policy of “multi-alignment” and its Prime Minister warmly embraces Presidents Putin, Xi, and Rouhani on camera. The “politically correct” narrative is that the BJP has returned India to its past glory and that it’s therefore destined to play a central role in the emerging Multipolar World Order, but nothing could be further from the truth. The ruling party is actually vehemently pro-Western in both its geopolitical outlook and ideology, as proven by the fact that India has since clinched game-changing military-strategic partnerships with “Israel” and the US, two interconnected and important developments that its perception managers always dishonestly attempt to downplay in order to hoodwink Russia, China, and Iran for as long as they can until it’s no longer possible to deny this obvious reality.

India’s “Israelis” & American “Anti-Terrorism” Role Models

While there’s been a plethora of proof about this regularly emerging over the past three years already, the most recent incident might be an inflection point that makes it impossible for India to repair the self-inflicted damage to its international reputation. BJP President Amit Shah was stumping on the campaign trail during the ongoing month-long electoral process in his country when he decided that the best way to inspire his party’s base to go out and vote was to proudly compare India’s “anti-terror” strikes to “Israel’s” and the US’, proving once and for all that the ruling Hindutva ideologues have much more in common with Zionism and American Exceptionalism than with the principles that embody the emerging Multilpolar World Order. Speaking about the Bollywood-style “surgical strike” from February, he said that “India is only the third country after Israel and United States of America to have retaliated to terrorism in this brave manner“, which was an unambiguous endorsement of the aggressive actions carried out by India’s two newest military-strategic partners.

Spitting In The Face Of Every Palestinian, Syrian, & Iranian

It deserves to be pointed out that “Israel” describes its attacks against the Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank as “anti-terrorist” strikes, which is the exact same terminology that it uses when claiming credit for its attacks against Iran and Hezbollah in Syria. As for the US, it’s carried out “anti-terrorist” strikes all across the so-called “Greater Middle East”, most notoriously in Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, all of which BJP President Shah regards as “retaliating to terrorism in a brave manner” regardless of the countless civilian casualties that America and “Israel” are responsible for with these attacks. Interestingly, India apparently doesn’t care about the message that it’s sending to Iran by celebrating “Israel’s” “anti-terrorist” strikes in Syria that have allegedly martyred many Iranian servicemen who were legally operating in the Arab Republic, but then again, all tact regarding the Indian-Iranian partnership is being thrown out the window after New Delhi decided to abide by Washington’s unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Bringing Accountability To The Alt-Media Community

What’s most striking about all of this is that the BJP President thinks that comparing his country’s international aggression to “Israel’s” and the US’ will help the incumbent party win re-election, strongly suggesting that India’s current rulers understand just how Islamophobic and pro-American their base really is and that many of their supporters are ecstatic about New Delhi’s new military-strategic partnerships with Tel Aviv and Washington. If the majority of Indians were really as multipolar-inclined as their government’s perception managers would deceptively have the Alt-Media Community believe, then BJP President Shah wouldn’t have dared to say what he did during the ongoing heated election where the wrong word could doom his party’s re-election prospects, proving that he’s sincerely confident that playing the pro-Western, Islamophobic, unipolar card might end up being the key to the BJP’s success. This should give India’s die-hard supporters in the Alt-Media Community a reason to reconsider the dogma that they were indoctrinated to believe and begin bringing those who brainwashed them to account.


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This article was originally published on Eurasia Future.

Andrew Korybko is an American Moscow-based political analyst specializing in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, and Hybrid Warfare. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

Featured image: BJP President Amit Shah (Source: The Asian Age)

On 21st April 2019 Sri Lanka experienced 9 multiple terror attacks killing over 250 innocent people. The actions & reactions of the government is leaving citizens seriously anxious. The frightful prospect of a government neglecting the national sovereignty & security of its citizens is now beginning to sink in.

Also linked is a clearly visible foreign intrusion which the government is rolling red carpets for even before arrival making many to wonder whether 21 April was part of a plot & plan for their entry.

It is therefore important to look at the geopolitical aspect of what happened on Easter Sunday & ask who really planned the attacks, who executed it, why & who now benefits by the attacks and what Sri Lanka can do to set things rights. Whatever foreign involvement it is without a doubt the fault of the Sri Lankan Govt who not only had intel warnings but had appeals and requests for action against Islamic extremists by the Sri Lankan Muslim community itself. All of which had been ignored or not taken seriously.

Was this team of killers really planning for Easter or was it pre-advanced for some sudden change of plan?

Are these men on their own or do they have external handlers, if so who are they?

Did they get training to carry out their killings if so where & by whom? Why did educated & well to do men who had everything in life wish to take lives of innocent people – how strong is this brainwashing making it all the more dangerous as to how illiterate’s can be drawn to do the same in future. Are there political and others assisting with or without knowledge of ultimate plan to kill?

If so, are they being investigated and arrested & more importantly charged? Can Sri Lankan authorities go all out to nullify the menace without keeping it as a beggars wound for political survival?

Why Easter? Is it aligned with the historical Christian-Islam rivalry that has a record of millions of deaths by both religions covering Crusades, Inquisition, Colonial invasions etc?

It also enabled immediate international attention. Attacks on churches naturally got quicker & powerful international response than attacking Buddhist temples or Hindu kovils. While these killers are no real friends of Muslims too (though they are Muslims) it has kickstarted an international hate campaign against Muslims which will be aligned to another campaign against the hate-campaigners probably by the same parties handling the two camps. There are hidden hands to all these campaigns!

Why churches & why kill praying people?

14 May 1985 LTTE attacked Sacred Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura killing 146 Buddhist worshippers including Buddhist monks while meditating. 2 June 1987, 33 student Buddhist monks were slaughtered one after the other in Aranthalawa. 3 August 1990 LTTE attacked Kattankudy mosque killing 147 Muslims praying. It is no secret that the Catholic church sided with LTTE. Reasons for LTTE attacking Muslims & Sinhalese was to ethnically cleanse them from North & parts of East.

Why hotels?

Some 35 foreigners died – many of these were regular visitors and had funded construction of even hospitals as their love for Sri Lanka was so great. Some have lost their children too. Targeting foreigners & hotels was purposely to hit at our economy & tourism and drive out tourists but why (like Bali bombing), what do Islamic terrorists gain from this or is it their handlers who benefit by negating a booming industry? Tourists from India & China are the highest.

What we should know by now


All of the Islamic terrorist groups have some link, funding, training & support to foreign intelligence agencies, their governments & their satellite states.

While the UN has no common definition for a terrorist/organization, countries have their own lists of banned terrorist groups. These powerful links contract these groups to carry out political assassinations, election campaigning, election intimidation etc. Just as terrorists are linked – intel agencies are also linked often carrying out objectives without even the knowledge of their governments. LTTE-Islamic terrorist connections also emerging.


Terrorist groups are linked to some form of international illegal racket from which they generate phenomenal illegal income. Illegal drug smuggling, human smuggling, underworld mafia who thrive on extortion, other illegal businesses, generate money used to bribe or buy over anyone from politicians, businessmen to individuals.

The recent arrests of drug kingpins, raids & confiscation of drugs are all inter-connected. The entities may function independent of each other but their godfathers monitor their movements! Increase patrols by Navy in areas where illegal entry is possible and strengthen checking in port/airport by customs on rogue businessmen with a record of undeclaring goods or undervaluing what they bring.


Divide & Rule worked superbly during colonial rule & the same template continues. Filter people into groups (ethnicity, religion, caste, political party, colour of skin etc) divide each group into extreme/moderates, create others group to react to these extremes.

Fund all groups covertly & pit them against each other from time to time deploying various tactics that are made to trigger people’s nerves & set into motion a gradual hate/anger psychosis.

Keep negative sentiment at a controllable level & use when time is right. The manner a handful of Muslims from covering their head with their saree in the 1960s suddenly began wearing a black silk garment covering body from head to toe increased while simultaneously building opposition to it. Similar new cultures introduced & demanded as religious rights were factors that built animosities. Muslims must now remove these as compromise to return to living cordially with all communities.


Countries create terrorists, transport them to countries where their policy goals need their deployment, get them to spread terror, present global scenario that countries cannot handle ‘Islamic terrorists’ using media they control they justify their troop presence. Ironically, the very Islamic terrorists that they create end up being used and killed while these terrorists also end up killing the troops the countries deploy to kill the terrorists.

Mary’s lambs are these Islamic terrorists sure to follow Mary wherever Mary goes – they become sacrificial lambs too! what a complicated scenario! So have Mary’s lamb chosen Sri Lanka? Is this the reason for the spate of bombings and is Christian & touristS targeted to justify international presence & interference. Coincidentally, wherever the Islamic terrorists are US-UK-NATO will enter and often for a long haul stay. Quite frightening scenario for Sri Lanka in view of the surprising wave of Islamic terror too true to even believe!

So what we have to understand is that no terrorist organization can function without the tacit approval and blessings of some powerful nation(s). Terrorists are fighting with more sophisticated weaponry than some governments can afford (we saw this with LTTE).

Terrorists do not manufacture arms, they buy their arms from countries that manufacture them so countries that manufacture arms & ammunition sell to both countries fighting the terrorists & to the terrorists fighting the countries. The countries that send troops to kill the terrorists also end up dying from the very guns their governments have sold to the terrorists they created. You think the UN does not know this?

“War on Terror” is just a sham

Image on the right: MARJAH, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Corporal Mark Hickok, a 23-year-old combat engineer from North Olmstead, Ohio, patrols through a field during a clearing mission April 9.  Marines with Company B, 1st Tank Battalion, learned basic route clearance techniques from engineers like Hickok, who are deployed with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. John M. McCall)

9/11 launched the global war on terror with 51 powerful nations invading & occupying a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. Osama & Al Qaeda was ousted in 2001 & replaced by US-NATO.

It’s now 18 years and no signs of US-NATO leaving Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the source of more than 90% of world’s opium supply and opium is grown in areas under US-NATO control & not Taliban control!

Heroin industry makes $1.5 trillion annually. Michael Chossudovsky says for US State Dept, CIA & Pentagon this is a multibillion dollar trade & comes third to oil & arms trade all of which US now controls.

Countries even pay Taliban not to attack them while Taliban collects tax for selling opium. Heroin is transported with diplomatic immunity on diplomatic flights! A joint report by Pentagon, US Geological Survey (USGS) and USAID says Afghanistan possesses “previously unknown” and untapped mineral reserves, estimated authoritatively to be of the order of one trillion dollars (New York Times, ISIS earns over US$1 million from oil smuggling. U.S. Identifies Vast Mineral Riches in Afghanistan –, June 14, 2010). The US war on terror is a tax burden on the American tax payer but very lucrative for all the US arms manufacturers, construction and other US-UK-European firms who are sharing all the spoils of reconstructing what their governments purposely destroyed.

There was no Al Qaeda or ISIS during Saddam’s reign but he was ousted promising Iraq liberation. Iraq became a fighting ground for ISIS-US control and Iraqis ended up losers. Libya was the most developed country in North Africa, its citizens enjoyed many freebies under its leader Gaddafi but imported ‘rebels’ and hired media projected the notion that the Libyans wanted Gaddafi out and then it was a case of ‘we came, we saw and he died’ (Hillary Clinton) Today, Libya is a hell hole. Libyans are grieving over the country they lost & the leader who was sodomized & killed. Kosovo independence came by funding Kosovo Liberation Army whose leader became the leader of newly independent Kosovo and in exchange for independence came a massive NATO base in Kosovo. There are 193 countries. Some 165,000 American Special Operations forces are deployed in 149 countries in 2017 alone.

ISIS is ousted in Middle East but replaced by US-UK-NATO. Isn’t that convenient!

In 2009 Sri Lanka ended LTTE and commenced a massive development program. In 2011 US announced ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy not surprisingly ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s also declared a caliphate. In 2013 China announced a global development program Belt & Road Initiative. In September 2014 Sri Lanka & China sign Port-City Project same time that Ayman al-Zawahiri declares jihad in Indian subcontinent.

Strangely, there are 200 Million Muslims in India but only 80 cases of ISIS-related investigations. It was the Indian intelligence that alerted Sri Lanka on the attacks, where even giving names of the killers too. What is strange here is that according to Observer Research Foundation it was foreign intelligence that informed India on pro-ISIS activities on Facebook!

The current happenings cannot be dislodged from the US-India backed regime change that took place in 2015 to oust Rajapakse & install a puppet & a pawn to power to escalate the geopolitical objectives politically via Sri Lanka’s leadership. The go-away China chorus in 2015 by the PM backfired & Sri Lanka’s PM had to eventually crawl back to China and offer Hambantota Port as equity swop plus pay enormous compensation for closure of the Port City. Nevertheless, using the leverage from 2012,2013,2014 UNHRC Resolutions, the West was quick to insist on internal system changes that would weaken the country, its national security plus pave way for even a new constitution. India at the other end was pushing its agenda up North and in Central Sri Lanka.

India & West & China’s power struggle is making Sri Lankans vulnerable at home because of a weak government unable to handle either while giving in to all without a proper national policy. It was a matter of time that some form of destabilizing element would surface.

All of these Islamic militants are locals whether they have had internal training or influence it is immaterial. Laws must be applied and every person linked must be charged. The very terrorism act that the West wanted annulled is what Sri Lanka has to turn to. When we have had 30 years of terrorism, foreigners have also died why is it that the West wants their intelligence in Sri Lanka for just one act of terror? Is this linked to the status of forces agreement that is said to be secretly signed that allows US troops in Sri Lanka where Sri Lankan laws are not applicable to them? A lot of people are in the dark at what is being signed by the government as if Sri Lanka is their personal property. These approvals hidden from the citizens do not carry any weightage and should be annulled by a future government.

We do not wish to have any pivot, diplomatic or terrorist for the same reason of making Sri Lanka into a client state.

We do not wish our beautiful island to be the ground for any hostilities between countries and we certainly do not wish to be victim of other people’s hostilities.

We have traditional friends and no one can ask us to stop our friendship with these countries. China’s relationship with Sri Lanka is a long and cherished one. Our relationships with others will be the same if only they learnt not to extend one hand of friendship but try to stab us with the other.


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In February 2010, the Indian government placed an indefinite moratorium on the commercial release of Bt brinjal. (Genetically Modified Aubergine or EggPlant) Prior to this decision, numerous independent scientists from India and abroad had pointed out safety concerns regarding Bt brinjal based on data and reports in the biosafety dossier that Mahyco, the crop developer, had submitted to the regulators.

Campaigner Aruna Rodrigues explains: 

“The then Minister of the Ministry of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh instituted a unique four-month scientific enquiry and public hearings. His decision to reject the commercialisation of Bt brinjal was supported by advice he received from several renowned international scientists. Their collective appraisals demonstrated serious environmental and biosafety concerns, which included issues regarding the toxity of Bt proteins resulting from their mode of action on the human gut system.”

She went on to say that India is a centre of origin of brinjal with the greatest genetic diversity and that contamination was a certainty. Rodrigues added:

“In his summing-up of the unsustainability of Bt brinjal and of its implications if introduced, one of the experts involved, Professor Andow, said it posed several unique challenges because the likelihood of resistance evolving quickly is high. He added that without any management of resistance evolution, Bt brinjal is projected to fail in 4-12 years.”

Jairam Ramesh pronounced a moratorium on Bt brinjal in February 2010 founded on what he called “a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach.” The moratorium is still in place and has not been lifted.

Despite this, the illegal cultivation of Bt brinjal has recently been discovered in the state of Haryana. In response, the Coalition for a GM Free India held a press conference in Delhi on 25 April 2019 demanding immediate action from state and central governments.

Afsar Jafri, agriculture trade policy analyst, argued that there was good reason why India opted to impose an indefinite moratorium on Bt brinjal and that all the environmental and health hazards acknowledged at the time continue to remain intact.

Kapil Shah, founder of Jatan Trust in Gujarat, said:

“This is clearly a failure of concerned government agencies that illegal Bt brinjal is being cultivated in the country. The regulatory body Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee behaves as a promotional body than a regulator and therein lies a major problem.”

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) was created as the apex regulatory body to protect the environment, nature and health from the risks of gene technology. Shah added that when illegal GM soy cultivation was discovered in Gujarat in 2017 and a complaint lodged with GEAC, the response was slow and “dangerously lackadaisical”.

Dr Rajinder Chaudhary of Kudarti Kheti Abhiyan in Haryana stated that the discovery of Bt brinjal cultivation demonstrated a failure of departments of horticulture and agriculture to remain vigilant about such hazardous seeds entering seed supply chains:

“It is also a failure of the central regulators for not creating extensive awareness about hazards of Bt brinjal and why a moratorium has been placed on the same. If civil society groups can get to know about this, why can’t alert government agencies?”

Sridhar Radhakrishnan of Thanal Agroecology Centre in Kerala said that India could not afford to allow this Bt brinjal cultivation to continue or spread. He argued that it represented a bio-hazard that had to be contained and destroyed:

“GEAC should ascertain and confirm that illegal Bt brinjal cultivation is indeed happening and find out the full extent of such cultivation… no penal action should be taken against farmers who have been duped into cultivating these illegal seeds… there should be deterrent penal action against seed suppliers and against the crop developer company whose seeds are being illegally spread.”

Brief history of GMO contamination in India

In India, five high-level reports have advised against the adoption of GM crops: the Jairam Ramesh Report, imposing an indefinite moratorium on Bt Brinjal (2010); the Sopory Committee Report (2012); the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report (2012); The Technical Expert Committee Final Report (2013); and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment and Forests (2017).

One of the reasons for advising against GM adoption is that India’s GMO regulating bodies lack competency, are riddled with endemic conflicts of interest and lack expertise in GMO risk assessment protocols, including food safety assessment and the assessment of environmental impacts. 

India’s first and only legal GM crop cultivation – Bt cotton – was discovered in 2001 growing on thousands of hectares in Gujarat, spread surreptitiously and illegally by the biotech industry. News of large-scale illegal cultivation of Bt cotton emerged, even as field trials that were to decide whether India would opt for this GM crop were still underway. In March 2002, the GEAC ended up approving Bt cotton for commercial cultivation in India: approval-by-contamination.

In 2005, biologist Pushpa Bhargava noted that unapproved varieties of several GM crops were being sold to farmers. In 2008, it was reported that illegally cultivated GM okra was growing in India and poor farmers had been offered lucrative deals to plant ‘special seed’ of all sorts of vegetables.

In 2013, scientists and NGOs protested the introduction of transgenic brinjal in Bangladesh – a centre for origin and diversity of the vegetable – as it would give rise to contamination of the crop in India. In 2014, the West Bengal government said it had received information regarding “infiltration” of commercial seeds of GM Bt brinjal from Bangladesh.

During the press conference in Delhi, trade policy analyst Afsar Jafri said India and other countries are part of the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, which requires prior informed consent for any transboundary movement. He said that India should therefore put pressure on Bangladesh at the highest level to ensure that there is compliance and that their seed producers and others are warned about smuggling into India any transgenic material from Bangladesh.  

In 2017, the illegal cultivation of GM Herbicide-tolerant (HT) soybean was reported in Gujarat.

In 2018, there were reports of HT cotton illegally growing in India. In relation to this, a 2017 journal paper reported that cotton farmers have been encouraged to change their ploughing practices, which has led to more weeds being left in their fields. It is suggested that the outcome in terms of yields (or farmer profit) is arguably no better than before. However, it coincides with the appearance of an increasing supply (and farmer demand) for HT cotton seeds.

The authors, Glenn Stone and Andrew Flachs observe:

“The challenge for agrocapital is how to break the dependence on double-lining and ox-weeding to open the door to herbicide-based management…. how could farmers be pushed onto an herbicide-intensive path?”

They show how farmers are indeed being nudged onto such a path and also note the potential market for herbicide growth alone in India is huge: sales could reach USD 800 million this year with scope for even greater expansion. From cotton to soybean, little wonder we see the appearance of HT seeds in the country.

In 2018, Rohit Parakh of India for Safe Food stated indicated that GM seeds are being imported into India:

“Commerce Ministry’s own data on imports of live seeds clearly indicates that India continues to import genetically modified seeds including GM canola, GM sugar beet, GM papaya, GM squash and GM corn seeds (apart from soybean) from countries such as the USA… with no approval from the GEAC as is the requirement.”

In 2018, the Centre for Science and Environment tested 65 imported and domestically produced processed food samples in India. Some 32 per cent of the samples tested were GM positive. Some brands had claims on their labels suggesting that they had no GM ingredients but were found to be GM positive.

We also have bogus arguments about GM mustard being forwarded by developers at Delhi University and the government. And USAID has been pushing for GM in Punjab and twisting a problematic situation to further Monsanto’s (now Bayer) interests by trying to get GM soybean planted in the state.

Given the issues surrounding GM crops (including the failure of Bt cotton in the country), there is good reason to be concerned, not least about the technology placing an economic noose on subsistence farmers for the sake of profits, as we have witnessed with Bt cotton.” 

A decade ago, rigorous consultations and lawful practices and procedures were adhered to when assessing Bt brinjal. If legitimate outcomes and scientific-based decisions are ultimately to be ignored and flouted at will, then we may ask what is the point of carrying out such assessments?

With regulators who seem to be wilfully “lackadaisical” and compromised, we may also ask: who is really pulling the strings? 


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Colin Todhunter is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research.

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10 Questions on Sri Lanka Easter Day Bombings?

April 27th, 2019 by Binu Mathew

The Sri Lanka Easter bombings that killed more than 350 people including foreign nationals raise several pertinent questions

  1. Why did the bombings receive far less foreign media coverage than the Christchurch (NZ) terrorist attack and the Notre Dame (Paris) fire?
  2. Why was the intelligence warning which came on April 4 ignored and even withheld according to Sri Lankan minister Lakshman Kiriella
  3. It was India which gave the intelligence warning. How did India get this information?
  4. Why was little known group National Thowheeth Jama’ath named in the intelligence report?
  5. Why was Sri Lanka’s booming tourism industry was attacked?
  6. Why was ISIS which is virtually unknown in Sri Lanka allegedly claim responsibility three days after the terrorist attacks?
  7. How is it that ISIS which was decimated in the Middle East managed to carry out these massive coordinated attacks in Sri Lanka where they do not have any strategic base or interest?
  8. Why ISIS?
  9. Why would the persecuted Muslim minority in Sri Lanka carry out a terrorist attack on another minority group?
  10. Who benefits?

I hope that journalists who report the Sri Lanka terrorist attacks will keep these questions in mind while filing their report. Reporters should not be stenographers.


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Bloody Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka

April 24th, 2019 by Stephen Lendman

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Lethal Bungling: Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings

April 23rd, 2019 by Dr. Binoy Kampmark

The number of dead is bound to rise, already standing at more than three hundred.  The bombs, worn by seven suicide bombers, struck at three churches during the period of Easter Sunday worship, and three hotels.  As the dead were counted and the wounded accounted for, the situation through the glass darkly was a troubled one.  Information relayed had either been ignored or discounted. In some cases, it never reached necessary recipients.

While the individuals behind the bombings were hardly forthcoming about their handiwork, there were suggestions as early as April 4 from Indian security sources that one group was readying to initiate various attacks.  National Thowheeth Jama’ath, an Islamic group, had piqued the interest of police enough to lead to the identification of members and their addresses on April 11.

One of the suicide bombers, it transpired, had also been arrested some few months prior on suspicion of vandalizing a statue of Buddha.  Such acts of serious desecration were not alien to the NTJ; the use of bombings on such scale was, however, not their forte.

On Monday, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne, confirmed what had already been a fast held suspicion: even after the warning of April 4, the prime minister and his associates had been “completely blind to the situation.”

The picture painted by the minister seemed a gruesome admission of defiance in the face of detailed warnings.  Intelligence agencies had “informed, from time to time, starting from April 4, 48 hours before the attacks and finally ten minutes before the tragedy struck.  They gave warnings about a possible attack on April 4 for the first time.”  From then on, the National Intelligence Chief Sisira Mendis kept the Inspector General Police (IGP) abreast of the “imminent attacks” having “actually informed that an organisation called ‘Thowheed Jamath’ planned suicide attacks and had even mentioned their names.”

Scenes of confusion and dangerously comic dysfunction unfolded in the government.  Despite various organs being informed about the threat – the ministerial security division (MSD), the judicial security division, and security divisions of former presidents and the Diplomatic Security Unit, there was a failure, according to Senaratne, “to warn the Prime Ministerial Security Division (PMSD) and the Presidential Security Division (PSD) of the attacks.”  When the PM attempted to convene a security council meeting, no one turned up.  When the President had made a previous effort to do the same thing, there was a delay of 20 minutes.  He had to “sit in the State Defence Minister’s room for some time.”  Nor was the Tourism Minister, John Amaratunga, briefed.  “Unfortunately, I did not know anything about it.”

Efforts to minimise, contain and deflect have become standard fare, with blithe ignorance forming the central defence.  Rich lashings of blame are also in full circulation.  This gives the air of monstrous acceptance: we bungled, but haven’t we before?  Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, on Monday, felt that the intelligence assessments had not warranted a serious, full security response, despite the level of detail supplied, and their frequency.

“Intelligence,” he stated disingenuously, “never indicated that it’s going to be an attack on this magnitude.  They were talking about isolated incidents.  Besides, there is no emergency in this country.  We cannot request the armed forces to come and assist as we can only depend on the police.”

Having claimed the received intelligence pointed to mere potential “isolated incidents” (the suggestion here is that a monstrous act, when seen as an isolated one, can be rationalised according to a security and ethical calculus; in short, more permissible), Fernando proceeded to normalise the entire episode.

“It’s not the first time a bomb went off in this country.  During the height of the war, when emergency regulations were in force and roadblocks installed at every two kilometres, bombs went off.  Why are you trying to isolate this unfortunate incident?”

At the highest levels, the Sri Lankan government has suffered political sclerosis.  President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, have been waging wars cold and hot against each other for some time.  When Wickremesinghe was re-appointed after being sacked by the cranky Sirisena in December last year, in turn replacing a cantankerous Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President extolled his own democratic credentials.  While he held a personal dislike for his appointee, he also respected “the parliamentary tradition”.

The post-attack reaction is also proving to be an unhinged affair.  Sri Lankan authorities immediately imposed a social media blackout.  Dazed and confused as officials are, the idea of not containing an agitated public as inquiries are conducted seemed a grave threat.  Besides, a country bathed in the blood of decades of communal violence continues to teeter before the next provocation, the next inflammatory message of inspired retribution.

There was little pride in asserting that the group was “a local organisation”, with all suicide bombers having been Sri Lankan citizens.  But not wishing it to be an entirely indigenous affair, Senaratne wished to speculate that, “there was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”  Another source of blame had been identified.

As Fernando surmised, it would be foolish to put too much stock in future efforts on the part of the government.  Yes, assistance was being sought from Interpol, the FBI and the Australian Federal Police. But he could not “take confidence with terrorism.  No country in the world can assure that it’s not going to happen.  But we are trying our best.”  A brutally frank response, though hardly a cleansing exculpation.


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Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research. Email: [email protected]

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Lethal Fluctuations: The Death Penalty in Asia

April 9th, 2019 by Dr. Binoy Kampmark

The Malaysian government last year expressed a surprise change of heart on a policy long held dear; it would reconsider the death penalty. The case of Muhammad Lukman, sentenced to death in August for the purchase and sharing of medicinal marijuana, did much to stimulate outrage.  On October 10th, law minister Liew Vui Keong announced that it would be abolished.  Doing so would leave such last bastions as Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. 

In other parts, capital punishment is either continuing its grim dance (in Singapore, usage is on the rise; in Vietnam, it remains consistently high) or getting back in business, singing its deadly siren song.  Killing people in the name of state vengeance is becoming vogue even as it retreats in other contexts.  The Kingdom of Brunei, despite having it on the books since the days of being a British protectorate, is only now contemplating, in all seriousness, putting people to death who have a liking, or find themselves, committing sodomy.  (Lesbian reverie will see a penalty of 40 lashes and a potential prison sentence of 10 years.) 

In the Philippines, an aggressive, insistent President Rodrigo Duterte has proven something of a trail blazer, scorching his way through human rights quibbles and filling the morgues.   In July 2017, he explained the rationale for using capital punishment without mercy in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA). 

“It is time for us to fulfil our mandate to protect our people.  Tapos na’yan.  For so long we have to act decisively on this contentious issue.  Capital punishment is not only about deterrence, it’s also about retribution.”  

Duterte’s view of the penal code is stripped of ornate reasoning.  It is one of vengeance and pessimism, marshalled against any hope of restorative justice or therapeutic reform.  The law, a legacy of the Spaniards and then translated into English, with revisions, “is the essence of retribution.”  The attitude there involved “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  You took life, you must pay with it.  That is the only way to even.  You can’t place a premium on the human mind that he will go straight.”

The result has been one of carnage: over 5,000 deaths between July 1, 2016 and November 30, 2018, if you believe the official figures, or the greater number of 12,000, if you believe in activist assessments.  This pool drew on a total of 164,265 arrests (“drug personalities”, no less) as part of 115,435 anti-drugs operations.

In Sri Lanka, the interest has also been rekindled, inspired, in no small part, by the blood lust of the Philippines leader.  The Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena felt moved by Duterte’s efforts to combat drug trafficking, a true “example to the world”.  “I hope to carry out the first hanging within a month or two.  I appeal to human rights organisations not to try to pressure us on this decision.”  From a prison population of 1299 facing capital punishment, 48 are convicted drug offenders.

The Sri Lankan case had a twist.  While Sirisena had announced an end to the 43-year moratorium on capital punishment for drug-related crimes, complemented by Justice Minister Thalatha Atukorale’s clearing of the decks for five drug convicts to be dispatched, a reality started to sink in: the state lacked the necessary trained instruments of death.  The moratorium had been so lengthy so as to make the system rust.  Expertise in breaking necks, in other words, was lacking. The last executioner to reach retirement age left the post in 2014.  Three others have spent short stints gazing at unused gallows without rewarded effort. 

Advertisements to fill the vacancy were duly put out for two hangmen.  In the Daily News, a call out for applications with “an excellent moral character” was made.  They would also have to pass a test of “mind and mental strength”.

Such debates about the formalised death penalty in the Philippines and Sri Lanka avoid the obvious point.  Where to with the death squads who have donned extra-judicial uniforms?  Duterte’s encouragement of police brutality and extra-judicial killings (“my only sin,” he claims) is the stuff of legend.  Sri Lanka can also count itself as an enthusiast in the extra-judicial killing game.  In some states, the death penalty, dormant or otherwise, is a reminder about how state operatives go about their business of sowing terror when they prefer to avoid courts. 

While the death penalty has, at its core, a flawed philosophy, its attractiveness often lies in its sheer conclusiveness.  Such decisions are final, doing away with the problem.  They are economic – a corpse is less of a strain on the public purse than a living inmate.  To that end, imposing the death penalty can result from trivial impulses. 

Such monstrous triviality was recently in play in Thailand. In Phuket, the airport authorities have been entertaining the possibility of grave punishments for those taking “selfies” on Mai Khao Beach, a site known for sightings of low, incoming aircraft.  

“People and tourists will not be allowed to enter this area to take photos,” an emphatic Phuket airport chief Wichit Kaeothaithiam has claimed.

He issued further warnings: no drones, no shining lights, quite frankly nothing at all to distract incoming planes, would be tolerated.  Violating the provisions of the Air Navigation Act was a matter, quite literally, of death.  “The maximum penalty is the death sentence.”  Distractive idiocy, the authorities in Phuket suggest, is no excuse.


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Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  He is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research. Email: [email protected]

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Publicised Cruelty: Scott Morrison Visits Christmas Island

March 12th, 2019 by Dr. Binoy Kampmark

His visit struck a sour note.  The Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was making an effort to show he cared: about those intangible things called borders, secure firm and shut to the unwanted human matter coming by sea.  The distant Australian territory of Christmas Island was selected to assist in coping with arrivals from Manus and Nauru Island needing medical treatment.  Having lost the vote in parliament on preventing the move, the Morrison government has does its best to ensure that a cruel element remains.

During the visit, Morrison rationalised the re-opening as the fault of the opposition.

“As Prime Minister, I closed the Christmas Island detention centre and got all the children off Nauru.”

The Labor Party had “voted to weaken our borders and we have acted on official advice to reopen Christmas Island.”  The facilities provided “a deterrent to people smugglers and to anyone who thinks they can game the system to get to Australia.”  The mythology persists.

There are parallels with atrocity and jail tourism (fancy seeing concentration camps?) in a man being filmed going through such facilities, though this time, they are intended for full use rather than being a site for instructive purposes or moral outrage.  Should Australians ever wake up to the full implications of what their government does in their name, such camps might become appropriate measures of a gulag mentality that paralysed any sensible discourse on refugees for a generation.

Being a man obsessed by the moving image (once and adman always an adman), Morrison ensured that cameras never left their focus; the prime minister was keen to push the credentials of the North West Point Detention Centre.  He made a pit stop at a library.  (Cue necessary movement of arms to bookshelves; expansive hand movements).  He even found himself gazing at a lavatory.

“It was short,” recalled a disgusted resident, John Richardson.  Small businessman Troy Watson was also a touch bitter. “It’s got be some sort of publicity stunt.”

And stunt it is.  It belies the fact that Australia is facing, under its current Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton, a record number of asylum seekers who are entering as tourists and economise on their status.  They simply prefer to do so by that more approved mode of transport: the plane.  As former Department of Immigration official Abul Rizvi points out with sharp relevance,

“People arriving on visitor visas and changing their status onshore constituted an astonishing 24 percent of net migration in 2017-8, the mark of a visa system out of control.”

Dutton, he charges, has no genuine immigration or refugee policy to speak of.

The re-conversion of Christmas Island into a detention centre has also provided some encouragement to locals.  With refugee arrivals comes a market, an opportunity to expending cash.  Human cargo can have its value: increased number of personnel, more individuals to clothe and feed on the island, more, for want of a better term, services, however poor.  As Watson had to concede,

“The economy on Christmas Island has been low for a good 12 months now, all local businesses including our own have certainly suffered.”

The company providing such services Serco, is a UK-based security outfit that deserves being reviled.  Self-touted as adept in taking over outsourced services, the company specialises in running defence, health, transport, justice and immigration, and “citizen services”.  Forty percent of its work comes from the UK, with about half that share drawn from Australia, where it is involved in some 11 Australian immigration detention centres.

Lodged in the trove of corporate devilry known as the Paradise Papers is an assessment by a Mauritius-based law firm Appleby which regards the company as replete with “problems, failures, fatal errors and overcharging”.  This, it’s fair to say, comes with the troubled territory and again reminds us that privatising the swathe of public sector services does much to drain rather than save the treasury.  It also serves to corrupt the delivery of such services.  Again, deterrence comes before quality; harshness before vision.

The legal firm in question furnishes eager corporate watchers with a spicy note: in 2013, Serco was exposed, along with another charming counterpart, G4S, for overcharging the public purse by millions in the field of electronic tagging.  This delightful resume leads to the inevitable conclusion: the company is a “high risk” client that leaves more problems than solutions.

Despite such a patchy record, the company’s 2017 annual report is bright and confident, though concedes the following: “governments have become much more skilled at contracting and focused on risk-transfer; as a consequence margins and risk-adjusted returns earned by many suppliers to governments are much lower today than they were ten years ago”.  Not to be discouraged, the report picks up with the confident assertion that “the world still needs prisons, will need to manage immigration, and provide healthcare and transport, and that these services will be highly people-intensive for decades to come.”  Crudely and abysmally, the company might just be right, awaiting the commencement of the Christmas Island contract with mawkish eagerness.


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Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  He is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research. Email: [email protected]

India has cut the royalties that local seed companies pay to German drugmaker Bayer AG’s Monsanto unit for the third time in four years.

India’s government has decided to reduce royalties paid by Indian seed companies to Monsanto for its genetically modified (GM) cotton by 49 percent to 20 rupees for a packet of 450 grams, according to a farm ministry order. Before it was 39 rupees.

The decision could prompt Monsanto and other foreign seed companies to further scale back investment in the sector, said Ram Kaundinya, director general of the Federation of Seed Industry of India.

The decision comes at a time when India’s cotton output is falling and needs a breakthrough to help maintain its leading position in the global cotton market, said Kaundinya.

New Delhi’s cotton output is likely to fall to 32.8 million bales of 170 kg each in the year to September 2019 – the lowest in nine years, triggering higher imports of the fiber, according to industry group Cotton Association of India.

“The order is most disappointing,” said Shivendra Bajaj, executive director of the alliance for Agri Innovation, an advocacy group.

Other than cutting Monsanto’s royalties, the government raised the prices of GM cotton seeds by 1.43 percent to 710 rupees (US$10.16) a packet.

New Delhi approved Monsanto’s GM cotton seed trait, the only lab-altered crop allowed in India, in 2003 and an upgraded variety in 2006, helping transform the country into the world’s top producer and second-largest exporter of the fiber.

Monsanto’s GM cotton seed technology went on to dominate 90 percent of India’s cotton acreage.

However, Monsanto became embroiled in a dispute with Indian seed company Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd (NSL), which argued that India’s Patent Act did not allow Monsanto any patent cover for its GM cotton. Monsanto and NSL are engaged in a maze of arbitration proceedings and legal cases.


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Whatever may be the conclusion of the strike, there is little doubt that the practice of contractualization, which has done so much damage to labor in this country, is facing a mortal challenge from its victims


The lesson of the Pacific Plaza strike is that workers’ solidarity, not presidential promise, will end contractualization.

Kung titingnan natin sa umpisa, pumasok ako ng Pacific nung construction pa lang, hanggang maintenance.” This isn’t an uncommon sentiment for the workers of Pacific Plaza. Most of them have spent almost two decades tending to the needs of the residents of the lush twin-condominium towers, only to find themselves bearing the brunt of what would turn out to be one of 2018’s major labor struggles.

The Pacific Plaza workers union’s strike in the heart of Bonifacio Global City turned half a year old last February, having weathered so many challenges – from dispersal on the first day of the strike, typhoons, a steadily depleting strike, to TRO’s ignored by management.

Caving in is, however, the furthest thing from the mind of these workers, who have held one of the longest hunger strikes by labor since the 80s, as part of their campaign to pressure the Pacific Plaza management to regularize 17 contractuals terminated last July 2018. It is this perseverance in the face of the ruthless management of a prestigious institution that has attracted much attention from media, students, and even the Catholic Church.

Unlikely union

In most establishments, management has strictly enforced legal distinctions between regular workers and contractual workers, the most important being the contractuals’ insecurity of tenure. Many workers have, unfortunately, internalized these differences in status. One of the features of the Pacific Plaza strike that has caught the attention of observers of the labor scene is the way its participants have united despite their status distinctions, something that rarely happens.

Para sa akin, yung ginawa nila doon sa labing-pito na kontraktwal, gagawin din nila sa amin. Sa loob pa lang, kahit kontraktwal, kasama namin sila, ginagawa nila yung trabaho namin, at yung trabaho nila, ginagawa namin, (For me, what management did to the 17 contractuals, they will eventually do to us, regulars. Inside, we could see that the contractuals were with us, doing the same kind of work)” said Edgar Virtudazo, a regular employee and an officer of the Pacific Plaza union, Pacific Plaza United Action of Labor – SUPER (Punyal-SUPER, for short), when asked about why they formed the union with the contractuals.

The distinctions don’t matter, Edgar emphasized, and said that the union had organized themselves in this way because it made sense for them to do so. To leave out the contractuals would have been to dilute the struggle and recreate the same kind of distinctions management has imposed on them.

This wasn’t the first time the workers had tried to organize into a union. The first union in Pacific Plaza, composed of only the regular workers, was formed in 2015. However, during their first CBA (collective bargaining agreement) negotiations, management promised higher pay and better working conditions on the condition that the workers voluntarily dissolve the union. Under such pressure, the workers caved in, but it only took a short while for them to realize that they had been duped. Within that time period, management enforced more stringent rules, but no longer having a union, the workers were powerless to do anything about it.

It took almost 3 years for the workers to muster the courage to organize again, only this time including the contractuals. With the formation of their union with the contractuals, management made its move: on July 6, 2018, a total of 17 contractuals, half of the 34 members of the union, were terminated, with “end of service,” colloquially known as endo, as the officially stated reason. This was in clear violation of the rights of the contractuals whose contracts ran to December that year.

A month later, the union went on strike on the basis of union busting, when negotiations carried out at the level of the National Conciliatory and Mediation Board (NCMB) hit a dead-end.

On first day of the strike, the union was dispersed and the workers were detained by the police. The stated reason? That workers could not carry out a strike on private property–a senseless rationale since strike actions by workers are guaranteed by the constitution.

After that fateful day, the union decided to come back to Pacific Plaza armed with a letter from Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III stating that the police and the Bonifacio Global City marshals could not intervene in the strike action since it was covered by DOLE guidelines drawn up with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). The strikers felt confident management would come to terms.

6 months at the picket line

Six months passed. Six months at the picket is a feat, but also a struggle in and of itself. Perseverance has been accompanied by hardship, so that today, spirits are undoubtedly low.The picture of victory which seemed on the verge of attainment has begun to blur.

Gusto na namin matapos ito, kasi…masakit na,” Ka Edgar said, managing to smile as he did so.

It’s very rare to find the words to describe a strike, but Ka Edgar phrased it well for the workers of Pacific Plaza. The battle is truly far from over for the Pacific Plaza workers, but it is costly in terms of human suffering. People have had to tighten their belts. Families’ incomes have been sharply reduced. But even more serious than material privations was the demoralization that was lurking at the margins of the strike, ready to strike and spread if given the chance.

Ka Edgar’s admission that things were hurting was followed, however, by a realization that the struggle was still worth pursuing. We asked him that if he had known that the strike would be this long-drawn out process, would he still have gone out on strike? After a pause, he said that if by some miracle he had foreseen how things would turn out, he would still have chosen to go out.

Management colludes with manpower agencies

Ka Edgar isn’t wrong when he says that strikes, much like the one at Pacific Plaza, are bound to happen.

The Pacific Plaza workers are a particularly interesting case for labor in the country. Their strike makes a pointed critique of the current DOLE Department Order 174 and the subsequent Executive Order 51 of the President, both of which were proclaimed as the solution to the contractualization issue.

Contractualization was a one of the main issues in the 2016 election campaign, with candidate Rodrigo Duterte promising to abolish it. Along with other promises, Duterte’s vow to end contractualization led to a whopping 16 million votes. Nearly 3 years into this administration, however, the promise remains unfulfilled.

Currently the law does not prohibit bilateral contractual arrangements (better known as direct hire). This arrangement includes the probationary 6-month period and covers seasonal and project-based workers. Controversy, however, attaches to the trilateral arrangements that involve a principal or establishment that is serviced, a manpower agency, and a contractual worker.

Under the current department and executive orders, the only kind of trilateral arrangement that is banned is “labor-only contracting.” A manpower agency is considered a labor-only contractor if it does not have capital investment in the form of equipment, tools, uniforms, and other items necessary for the performance of work; it does not have direct power or control over its workers; and the jobs contracted out to its workers are not directly related to the main business of the principal, that is non-core functions.

Compliance with these criteria would mean that manpower agencies providing janitorial, security, and other non-core functions would be the only ones that would be classified as legitimate subcontractors.

The fact is that most workers in trilateral arrangements are either performing core functions, are under the direct control of the principal, or use equipment belonging to the principal. This is the issue at the heart of the Pacific Plaza strike: there is no difference in the work done by the Plaza’s regular workers and the contractual workers that are nominally under the control of a manpower agency.

More broadly, manpower agencies providing contractual labor have become a convenient vehicle for management to avoid regularizing workers that perform core functions and are under its direct control.

What lies ahead?

Definitely all hope is not lost for the workers, although at times many feel as if there is no hope left. “Bago ako lumabas naisip ko na obligasyon ko na ito. Papanindigan natin ito,” were Ka Edgar’s words of advice to workers who might be hesitating to fight for their rights.

Ka Edgar’s wife, Mildred Virtudazo, a housewife for most of her time before the strike, has become a de facto union member in the process. She has been to general meetings, has been part of every milestone and landmark of the strike, and even goes to shifts in the picket. When asked why she does this, when little to none is asked of her, she says, “Naisip ko na ang laban niya ay laban ko na rin.”

If there’s anything to describe the incredible sense of solidarity of the Pacific Plaza workers, it would be Mildred’s sentiment. It is a deep understanding that struggles are shared and carried by those who see, understand, and care.

Ultimately, what keeps Edgar and Mildred going is the fervent belief that “winning” the labor dispute is possible. Certainly wins are possible, and the Pacific Plaza strike has created the blueprints for workers everywhere – that it is indeed possible for regulars and contractuals to be organized together, without thinking that they are detrimental to each other’s interests. That in itself is the Pacific Plaza workers’ biggest achievement so far. But, of course, there is no substitute for victory in the strike.

Politically, what is there to do? With the broken promises of the Duterte administration, the Pacific Plaza workers teaches us that when we look to the most affected by these policies, there is much to learn about how we can make the country better for all of us, most especially for the workers.

We are at a point in contemporary history where labor is resurgent. The struggle against contractualization has reignited the labor movement. In the last 3 years alone, more than 24 strikes have taken place, compared to the 15 strikes that occurred during the six years of the Aquino administration.

Whatever may be the conclusion of the Pacific Plaza strike, there is little doubt that the practice of contractualization, which has done so much damage to labor in this country, is facing a mortal challenge from its victims.


Note to readers: please click the share buttons below. Forward this article to your email lists. Crosspost on your blog site, internet forums. etc.

Ia Maranon is a labor activist and researcher.

Walden Bello is a former member of the House of Representatives.

Featured image is from Rappler

North Korea as a Small Great Power

March 2nd, 2019 by Prof. Pekka Korhonen

During the recent years the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has rapidly advanced to the rank of a nuclear power, drawing simultaneously lots of attention on itself both by other states and the media. We argue that this means much more than only increase in its weaponry. Combined with its decades old steadfast strive for independence and opposition to the United States, this means a qualitative change in its position in the international system. The theoretical tool used for this analysis is not statistical size, but rather the style of behaviour. Small and great powers tend to have different styles of behaviour. Small powers usually orient towards acting as “good international citizens” performing important integrative and stabilizing tasks for the system, while great powers tend to play classical realist power games, ranging from readiness for military conflict to willingness for occasionally breaking international law. Despite its small size, North Korea systematically behaves like a great power, and its actions can meaningfully be interpreted from that angle.

On Prestige and Propaganda 

The year 2017 may already be a distant memory, but practically and theoretically something important related to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) happened then. Let’s refresh that memory a bit. His Excellency Donald Trump, President of the United States, in September 2017 announced in the United Nations General Assembly that North Korea ”threatens the whole world”.1 Trump threatened to destroy North Korea, prompting a response from the Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong Un, who charged Trump with not being a real politician, but only a ”political layman” (정치문외한), promising also to ”tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire” (늙다리미치광이를 […] 불로 다스릴것이다).2 As presumably only great powers can threaten the whole world, Trump obviously verbally treated North Korea as a great power, while the North Korea leader certainly answered with the panache of the leader of a great power. In early 2018, on the other hand, the international atmosphere rapidly changed into amicable international diplomacy, in which state leaders, the Chairman among others, engaged in games of international reconciliation. What is striking is the fact that North Korea appears to be playing its game from a position of strength, speaking and acting as if it was a power commensurate with the United States or China. Both in its practical implications, and in terms of international political theory, the situation is extraordinary, and should be treated seriously. The following is a theoretical and empirical attempt to do so.

Chairman Kim Touching President Trump. Screen grab from a video by the Korean Central News Agency; YouTube: KCTV documentary on Kim Jong Un’s trip to Singapore. President Trump is rather corpulent, easily intimidating with his body language toward people whom he meets, especially by touching them in a protecting and controlling manner. During the first summit in Singapore in 12 June 2018 it could be observed that Chairman Kim had done his homework well and answered in kind.

In East Asia one of the most dramatic processes has been North Korea’s rapid advance to the ranks of a nuclear power in the face of intense US pressure, especially during the final rush in 2017. But equally dramatic has been the sudden thaw in US-DPRK relations which remained ice cold during the Obama administration. Of great interest is what the current situation augurs in terms of international politics. Our argument is that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has come to manifest many of the characteristics of a great power, and this elevated position has important bearings on the way the diplomatic dynamics with other great powers, notably the United States and China, are taking shape. Calling North Korea a great power may sound surprising, as we also know well that it is a territorially small and economically poor state of only 25 million inhabitants with negligible soft power influence toward much of the world. Perhaps we should qualify our statement and say that North Korea is only a small great power, but the qualification notwithstanding, not seeing it as a kind of great power dismisses an important analytical ingredient necessary for understanding its behaviour as well as that of the United States.

Questions of perception of relative strength are easier to assess if the dimensions of a specific state are congruent, i.e. it is clearly big or small in major relevant fields of activity ranging from military, economic and political might to territorial size, population, etc. Interpretation is more difficult when there is no concordance, which is the situation in the case of North Korea. Some of its ranks, in economy or soft power, are very low, but it is higher in others. One important issue here is of course its missile and satellite capability, especially its nuclear weapons. The possession of nuclear weapons is a symbol of great powerness in certain ways comparable to the possession of colonies in the nineteenth century and through World War II. Conquering and ruling a colony implied substantial investment of material, political and administrative resources, while conquerable territories were scarce. This is the situation that rising powers like the United States, Germany, Italy, and Japan faced during the late nineteenth century. Each of them opted to establish colonies, not only because of their economic and geopolitical value, but also for the prestige they conveyed. Only a limited number of countries attained the rank of a colonial power, and a similar situation of scarcity has been created in the case of nuclear weapons with the help of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which was signed in 1968 and entered into force as international law in 1970.3 Scarcity implies a high value in the international market of images and power. A rank that only a few countries can attain commands respect.

Whether the possession of operational nuclear weapons also increases security, as argued by Kenneth Waltz in his classic 1981 article,4 is something that cannot be determined with certainty. This problem notwithstanding, at present the situation seems clear: no state has ever attacked another state that possesses nuclear weapons, but states that have not possessed them, such as Afghanistan or Georgia, or which have given up their development or possession in exchange for guarantees of international security, such as Iraq, Libya or Ukraine, have faced devastating attacks. In spite of the gradual development of international society with norms against the use of military violence, small or weak states still frequently face aggressive military action especially in the Middle East or Central Asia, and the attackers nearly always are great powers, or sometimes their allies. Many of the small states attacked have been destroyed, suggesting that it may be wise for any state to acquire nuclear weapons capabilities, and once started, it would be stupid not to go all the way. This is the kind of argument that Andrei Lankov has convincingly developed to explain the behaviour of North Korea.5 This also is the argument that North Korea itself advances in defence of its nuclear and missile programmes. The North Korean and Iranian cases notwithstanding, most small states do not take this route. It is costly, requires considerable technological resources, and strongly provokes other powers.

Our argument is that the nuclear issue and the international perception of rank are intertwined both in international theory and in the specific North Korean case. The security dilemma in the case of North Korea is real and the main focus of international attention, but we should not forget the rank and prestige factors, which also are real ingredients in the situation. The classical realist Hans Morgenthau considered prestige important enough to think of it as a fundamental category in its own right in understanding the international system. He categorized the essential policy orientations of states into antagonistic status quo and imperialistic varieties but considered both types of states to be engaging continuously in prestige politics.6 Prestige has to do with rank, honour, and reputation, and in terms of importance is indeed close to Joseph Nye’s concept of soft power,7 though not presented in equally marketable vocabulary. As Alexander Bukh reminds us, such international perceptions are cumulative entities, taking decades to build up, but also a long time to change.8 They are not only a matter of day to day diplomatic manoeuvres, though that aspect is also important. A reputation for being taken seriously is a necessary element in successful foreign policy, but it is also an end in itself. It feels good both in the psyches of the leadership and the population, and domestically it transforms into systemic legitimacy. Legitimacy is basically about political psychology, and international prestige enhances it.

What we saw during 2017 in and around North Korea was a huge circus of propaganda involving all participating states. North Korea displayed its advances in military technology in the form of frequent missile launches, and occasional nuclear detonations. It also boasted about its achievements and military capabilities in articles in state media and in videos in YouTube and Youku. By all this activity the North Korean leadership attempted to make the state look as powerful as possible. On the other hand, North Korea is surrounded by a number of countries that try to diminish its international status with classical war propaganda arguments by depicting it as an evil state, with a dismal human rights situation, a failed economy and an irrational dictatorial leadership. This is a situation where the proclamations of any of the participating states cannot be taken at face value. It simply has to be understood as war propaganda in a very classical sense of the term.9

However, even though these attempts to counter North Korea have been rather successful, and internationally the image of North Korea is exceedingly bad, in one important aspect it plays perfectly together with North Korean propaganda. It increases North Korea’s perceived size as a menace; perhaps not really to humankind, but at least to the United States and its allies in East Asia. Also, to China and Russia a nuclear-armed North Korea appears to pose a problem, if not a direct threat. During 2018 every single North Korean move either in cultural or traditional diplomacy towards South Korea, the United States, China or other countries has been followed with keen interest around the world, and the trend continues in early 2019. Countries of low rank do not arouse this level of international interest, unless large numbers of people die. Nobody is presently dying because of the tension around North Korea. Shots are not fired, bombs are not falling, but the degree of attention is high. Thus, we have to conclude that both neighbouring countries and the international media are bestowing on North Korea a high international rank. This is fascinating and its implications should be analysed in detail.

Small and Great Powers in History

Quite understandably, most theorizing of world politics deals with the so-called great powers, or something related with them. This is so especially in English language discussion, as it is so dominated by US centric perspectives, but we can find the same situation in other language spheres. There even was a time when small states were expected to disappear completely from the scene. This was from the latter half of the nineteenth century until World War I. The idea was the constant expansion of great powers, gradually eating up small states in the age of empire. At the level of practical politics this was argued most forcefully by Otto von Bismarck in his famous speech on 30 September 1862 before the budget commission of the Prussian parliament: “the great decisions of our day will not be made by speeches and majority decisions, but by blood and iron”.10

This tendency of heavy concentration on military means of expansion was then turned into a theory of international politics by Karl Theodor von Inama-Sternegg in his 1869 treatise whose title can be translated as “The Present Tendency Towards Great Power Construction”.11 At the end of the 30 Year War in 1648 over one hundred political entities in Europe alone partook in the Westphalian peace treaties, which established the concept of national sovereignty in international relations. This kind of existence of a large number of small states required a lot of speeches, negotiations and votes, despised by Bismarck. However, during the subsequent centuries the number of political organizations diminished greatly. Von Inama-Sternegg found two reasons for this, the first being nationalism, which integrated small principalities into larger national states, while the second was balance of power, which forced strong states to conquer smaller ones in order to increase their territory and power. The end result of this process was conceived as a single world state, the intermediate stage being a concert of mutually competing great powers, with no independent small political entities left on the scene.

This vision of the furious competition of the great powers had a powerful influence on subsequent continental European theorizing of the international system, such as in the work of Friedrich Ratzel.12 The most important theoretician of this tradition was the Swedish geopolitician Rudolf Kjellén. In his pre-World War I magnum opus Great Powers he paints a grand drama of the constant enlargement of world empires; no longer on the European, but on the global scale, with the United States and Japan appearing on the scene as challengers to the old European empires.13 However, in his work The State as a Form of Lifewritten during World War I, small states started to reappear on the theoretical scene. They did not do this as entities in their own right, because the competition of strong states continued on a global scale, but it had become obvious that organizational problems had started to inhibit the functioning of very large states, while new small states were again being created, such as Norway in 1905, Bulgaria in 1908, and Albania in 1913. This heralds the emergence of the concept of buffer states: small states that thrive in the peripheries and intermediate areas between great powers. Their existence is on one hand precarious, but on the other hand an intermediate position is lucrative, because trade flows through such states, and they can extort various benefits from larger states. Kjellén observed that such small states often tend to be rather wealthy.14 His examples were Switzerland and the Netherlands; nowadays Singapore, Hong Kong, or South Korea would fit equally well.

In the 21st Century most states are again small ones. In evolutionary terms, small states appear to be the most successful form of political organization in the current inter-state ecological environment. The ideological techniques of nationalism are so well developed that conquering and integrating them poses serious problems for bigger states, and simultaneously the spread and deepening of international organizations have changed the mores of the international system against territorial conquest. They have become an essential feature of the international system, though not extensively studied. An indication of this is that perhaps the most quoted American text on the question of state size in international politics is still Robert Keohane’s 1969 review essay ‘Lilliputians’ Dilemmas’.15 Small states have more functions necessary for the stability of the world political system than the buffer state aspect only, and many of them are relatively wealthy. They move faster and often adjust better to changes in the environment than big states, and usually do not spend as much of their resources as a percentage of GDP on military preparedness as big powers. According to Raimo Väyrynen, a Finnish scholar, who naturally provides a small power perspective on the issue, small states appear as a strong integrative and stabilizing force in the international system.16

The European Union and North Korea as Powers

A Norwegian scholar, Asle Toje, took up in an interesting way the question of size in connection with the European Union, claiming that its behaviour in the international scene is that of a small power.17 Taking the EU up here is illuminating, as it is in many ways the total opposite of North Korea, and because of this brings analytical light for understanding the latter. When one observes simultaneously the endless polite discussions on European Union foreign and security policies, and the furore around North Korea, one begins to doubt the usual statistical way of characterizing the sizes of states and state-like entities like the EU. In 2017, according to the figures of the IMF, the European Union statistically appears as the second largest economic entity in the world, only slightly smaller than the United States measured in nominal GDP, or slightly smaller than China measured in purchasing power parity.18 However you interpret the second place position, the EU is economically big. With over 500 million people, it has the third largest population in the world after China and India.19 These statistical facts notwithstanding, the EU appears to be a relatively light player in the security field in world politics – unless you limit yourself to reading its own publications. The EU indeed has a global strategy, published in 2016 by the External Action Service and titled Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe,20 but it is a moral soft power document. It describes the Union as a civilian and normative power, which has become slightly worried about the rapid pace of increasing armaments and belligerent verbal and military behaviour in its vicinity but is not going to waver from its basic civilian essence.

There is no doubt that the EU is a “global actor” given its presence in world markets and global administrative institutions. The EU is deeply integrated, not only within itself, but also with the rest of the world. Size indeed matters in sectors like trade and investment policy, or foreign aid, and history matters in the visible European presence in inter-state institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, or the Inter-Parliamentary Union, but there is little indication that it is a “world power”. The EU of course possesses nuclear weapons. Both Britain and France are legally nuclear weapons states as defined by the NPT while Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy are host states for US nuclear weapons. However, these nuclear arms are either directly or indirectly controlled by the United States. Although there are occasional exclamations about European “strategic autonomy”, there exist hardly any concrete measures.21 Nuclear weapons played absolutely no role in the latest EU foreign and security strategy.22 They are not used as a foreign policy tool.

The EU systematically attempts to take a moral high ground positing itself as a normative power. However, as Mikael Mattlin perceptively comments, it is not able to uphold a consistent normative approach towards big powers like the United States, Russia, China, or India without appearing hypocritical. The only states with which the EU has achieved some success are small states in its periphery wishing to join it, some poor African countries, and failed states in need of international economic assistance.23 A more recent study on EU’s external policy draws similar conclusions. In EU discourse there is a keen wish to be taken seriously in world politics, but few concrete steps have been taken in that direction.24

North Korea is in many ways the opposite of the EU. It is a lonely nation state without any allies, though China and Russia have to some extent helped it. Nevertheless, they have generally upheld United Nations Security Council sanctions against it. Its external relations in any field of activity are relatively thin, and it holds no decision-making positions in global institutions. It is statistically small. According to the latest published census, the population of North Korea in 2008 was somewhat over 24 million people.25 Its fertility rate is estimated to be 2.0,26 which makes the population still grow, although only slowly, so that it can nowadays be estimated to be about 25 million.27 This means that North Korea in terms of population is less than half of South Korea, a fifth of Japan, a thirteenth of the United States, a twentieth of the EU, and a fifty-fifth of China. Also, in terms of land mass it is quite small, 120,540 km2; a bit smaller than Greece, equal to Malawi, slightly larger than Iceland.28 The CIA estimates that its GDP per capita is among the lowest in the world, at the very poor African standard, on par with Togo and Gambia.29 North Korean own figures, published in October 2018 by professor Ri Gi Song of the Institute of Economics at the Academy of Social Sciences in Pyongyang in an interview with the Japanese Kyodo News Service, are similar. The GDP per capita figure that he gave was $1,214, though it is unclear how exactly this was calculated.30 The number anyway also points to a low African standard, which in the 2017 calculations of the IMF would correspond with Mozambique.31 On the basis of such statistics one could easily conclude that North Korea is a small, poor and weak state, forgotten by the world, never appearing in global media except in case of major natural disasters.32 Nevertheless, it definitely is not ignored by the international community. Quite the opposite, the international community has elevated it into a central focus of attention, where it regularly and repeatedly dominates the agenda of the Security Council of the United Nations.

How to Define a Great Power

This conceptual puzzle can perhaps be solved with the help of Kari Palonen’s idea of politics as a dramatic action situation, which treats actors as if on a stage, being observed and gamed by other actors. This kind of view opens the possibility of a narrative interpretation of politics. His argument is that politics is essentially conflictual action, or ”action-against-others”.33 Not all states behave in this way. Most small states tend to refrain from openly conflictual positions, but North Korea has chosen the road of drama for its foreign political style. This kind of action forces the actor to be taken seriously and elevates its rank and prestige, though not necessarily in a positive sense. The meaning of the concepts of great and small powers cannot be understood properly by contemplating only statistical sizes. A social position has to be understood as an action concept. Dramatic action presupposes the existence of an evaluating community, namely the international society of the English School theory.34 The community serves in the role of spectators and co-actors, allocating ranks to players on the stage.

Within this society, a small power is as a small power does, as Toje has formulated the idea.35 Correspondingly, a great power is as a great power does. Toje’s idea hearkens back to Rudolf Kjellén, who should be understood as an analyst of international psychology in addition to geopolitical theorizing. For him great powers were primarily organizations of will rather than matter: “A great power is not primarily a mathematical but rather a dynamic concept. A great power is most of all a unified and strong will, endowed with good resources.”36 In other words, resources in themselves do not establish status in the society of states. Ambitious behaviour does. If a state behaves like a great power, and can display resources supporting the behaviour, then it is likely to receive the corresponding treatment.

Toje classifies states into three categories, great powers, small powers and small states. However, as there is no discernible difference between the behavioural patterns of small states and small powers, the two categories can be subsumed into one here. All states have some kind of power resources, otherwise they could not be states, and can thus be seen as powers.37 Of course contracting the variety of the world under a dichotomous conceptual arrangement is a gross simplification. There is certainly a difference between nations of 100 million inhabitants and one million inhabitants, or states with large versus tiny economies, and especially old empires like Japan, India, Germany, France or Britain might resist being placed under the category of small powers, but that does not necessarily result in an essentially different kind of behaviour. They are relatively weaker than they were during their zenith, and their leaders are conscious of their increased vulnerability against current great powers. As Peter J. Katzenstein has noted, awareness of limitations is not a bad thing. Because of their clearly understood vulnerability, small powers try to avoid conflict, especially if they would have to face the costs and consequences alone by themselves. They observe their environment keenly and are quick to learn, adjust, and create multiple forms of national and international cooperation, which diminish their risks.38 In the international system there can be only a limited number of great powers at the same time. Moreover, because our interest is specifically on North Korea, a dichotomous apparatus makes the analytical discussion simpler and clearer. On this basis we can make a list of the typical behavioural patterns of small powers:

Dependence on one or more great powers

Neutrality or bandwagoning

Support of international institutions

Support of international law

Status quo orientation

Favour multilateral compromises39

Small powers typically do not try to rely exclusively on their own military strength in order to survive in conflictual situations but situate themselves within the spheres of influence of big powers, which then dictates the rest of their behaviour. They are not necessarily weak in all sectors; they may have a strong economy, or a well-educated population, but they have weaknesses in other sectors, which make them careful in their dealings with other powers. This incongruence is called variable geometry.

Small powers are inclined either towards neutrality or alliance, depending to some extent on the geopolitical location of the state, and to some extent on their position in the strategies of great powers, but the idea is to position themselves so that they would not suffer from a possible military conflict. They are status quo oriented, because they do not see themselves as capable of changing the system, and thus their orientation is typically towards adjustment rather than change. Because of this, they often adjust well, and thus tend to be beneficiaries of the system. The European Union may not necessarily be especially quick in its adjustments, but it certainly has benefited from the international trading regime and is thus a status quo organization par excellence. Small powers also are inclined to be strong supporters of international institutions; they favour multilateral compromising solutions to problems, and they attempt to display themselves as “good international citizens”.40 In Bismarckian terms, small powers thrive in an environment of “speeches and majority decisions”. They of course engage in military armaments, but all states do. Armaments do not differentiate between great and small powers, except that small powers tend to arm for defence, not for offence, and their pace for increasing their war potential tends to be slow. European states in general, the European Union itself, or Japan for that matter, tend to fit this description. The European Union actually has been since the end of the Cold War the only regional actor where military spending has been constantly and substantially falling as percentage of GDP, and although there has been since 2014 lots of talk about increasing it, it does not yet show in statistics.41

Of course, this is only good, morally and globally. Small states are an essential element of stability in the world system. The EU was not created for foreign political adventures, but for international peace, economic growth and welfare under the tutelage and protection of the United States. This situation of dependence continues without essential change, even under Donald Trump’s leadership, who to some extent challenges the premises of the EU-US relationship, but this is a side issue here. The main point is that the EU is a small power because it acts like a small power, being composed of states that nowadays are small powers. Little drama can be found in its foreign policy, though the domestic politics of the EU tend to be constant wrangling.

Great powers, by the logic of this dichotomic conceptualization, behave in ways quite different from small states. The characterization that fits best is that for a long-established great power status, especially the United States, and to a fair extent also Russia and China. It might not fit as well relatively large emerging states, such as India, Indonesia or Brazil, which still display variable geometry and do not have an established status. We are dealing here with a theoretical ideal type; practical foreign policy behaviour of any state at a specific moment does not necessarily correspond with it. Nonetheless, the typical characteristics of a great power would be these:


Prepared for military conflict

Change oriented

Control of international institutions

Control of international law

Favour bilateral deals

In essence, the characteristics of great powers read like a classical realist account of international politics. It is the existence of a large number of small powers that brings the aspects of international society into the system; great powers maintain the realist configuration. Great powers make the headlines in news and create the basic drama within the system. They are not necessarily ”good international citizens”. They do not mind being regarded as such and are actually quite interested in achieving a positive status. All the discussion about ”soft power” by representatives of big powers attests to this, but then the political constellation has to favour their foreign and domestic political needs. If it does not, they try to change the situation, even if it leads to violent or bullying behaviour. Great powers maintain large militaries and keep them constantly on alert, simply because the ability to raise and command armies is the ultimate guarantee of independence.42 They are able to act alone against any other state within the system if needed.

They initiate action that affects the basic character of the world system, and they try to change the system if it does not fit their goals. In Morgenthau’s concepts, if a great power is at the top of the world administrative system, it is likely to be a status quo power, but that aspect notwithstanding, it would not accept a situation unfavourable to it. Kjellén, Morgenthau, or Mearsheimer43 would agree with this. Great powers have to display constant will to act like great powers. They participate in international institutions, but treat them like organizations to be controlled, being less interested in their normative character inhibiting wilful action. Similarly, they participate in multilateral deals with small powers, but prefer bilateral ones, because there they can fully use the disparity of power to their advantage.

An indicative field of great power behaviour is international law. Because its norms are written, and even though there usually is ample leeway for interpretation, over time there appear situations where the legal norm and state behaviour cannot be reconciled. Great powers adhere to international law if it suits them but refuse to be restrained by it. For instance, the United States was one of the main architects of the United Nations convention on the Law of the Sea, yet it has refused to ratify it. This situation has prevailed already for over two decades, since 1994. The United States was the major victor of the UNCLOS and has taken all the territorial advantages it laid out. It is typical of United States behaviour in recent decades that it shapes major international initiatives but does not ratify them. This style is of course more manifest during the Trump administration, but he did not start it. He is only more vocal about it. Nor is the US alone in its policies. Russia ratified the UNCLOS document, but when in 2013 Greenpeace with its ship Arctic Sunriseattempted to protest against Russian exploration of oil and gas in international waters in the Arctic Sea, Russia refused to comply with the law and arrested the protestors as pirates. Similarly China has ratified it, but in 2016 in its dispute with the Philippines China refused to comply with the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration that ruled against it.44 In such situations legal haggling can continue,45 but there is no way of changing the decision of a great power in the absence of resort to military power, and that is not easily done. Great powers are autonomous, independent entities that break laws if they see it fit. It may hurt their reputation as good international citizens, but that aspect of international social capital is always secondary to their reputation as great powers.

Does North Korea Behave Like a Great Power?

In our judgement, North Korean behaviour fits much more closely that of a great power than of a small power. Its striving for independence has been of long duration and is systematic. The juche (주체) banner dates from the 1950s46 but became prominent in the 1960s47 after the reconstruction of the country from the devastation of the Korean War had been completed with extensive help from Eastern Bloc countries.48 Kim Il Sung stated the complete array of elements of juche in a speech at the Ali Archam Academy of Social Sciences in Indonesia in 14 April 1965. These elements were self-reliance in ideology, independence in politics, self-sufficiency in the economy, and self-reliance in national defence.49 This did not imply an isolationist policy; North Korea had barter trade relations with China and especially with the Soviet bloc states, and it also created an extensive array of diplomatic relations with countries around the world.50 The most important element was always political independence, which was steadfastly maintained by both the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il administrations over subsequent decades, regardless of the hardships this entailed. The rise of Kim Jong Un to the position of supreme leader did not lead into any softening of this position, as was made clear in a major policy speech in 6 April 2012. Juche only got the additional name of “Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism”. The expression implies that Kim Jong Il minutely organized Kim Il Sung’s juche thought into a theoretically comprehensive whole. At the same time, the contents are essentially the same.51 Nor have there been any changes since 2012 regarding this basic posture towards the outside world. Juche is frequently presented to the population in speeches, news, posters and slogans. It has been the constant ideological nucleus already for over 50 years.

A scene from the Grand Mass Gymnastics and Artistic Performance “The Glorious Country” in September 2018 in Pyongyang. Photo by Tomoomi Mori. The text says: self-sufficiency (자립), independence (자주), self-reliance (자위).

Is North Korea Prepared for Military Conflict?

Although North Korean budget allocations are notoriously difficult to ascertain, it no doubt has put a tremendous proportion of its national resources into military spending, especially on missile and nuclear technology, but also on conventional arms, and a large share of its adult population remains in military duty. All citizens, from school children onwards, receive military training.52 This is based on a policy adopted in a meeting of Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in 10 December 1962, which laid out the so-called Four Grand Military Lines. They were 1) arming all citizens, 2) turning the whole national territory into military use (전국토의 요새화), 3) establishing a cadre based military, and 4) modernizing the entire Korean People’s Army.53 The background of this decision was Park Chung-hee’s coup and the establishment of a military government in South Korea in May 1961, as well as the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962, which had made the possibility of nuclear war tangible. The Four Grand Military Lines implied a strategy of developing economic and military capabilities simultaneously. This is the historical source of the pyongjin (병진, parallel economic and military development) strategy adopted by Kim Jong Un in March 2013.54 Like juche as ideology, this strong military orientation has a long and systematic pedigree.

Likewise, North Korea does not shy away from military conflict and has periodically engaged in it, especially with South Korea. After the Korean War (1950-53), the period with most action was the latter half of the 1960s, but incidents also continued later. These actions include military border violations, infiltration of armed saboteurs and spies, as well as kidnapping of citizens of various countries, especially South Koreans and Japanese. These actions of course were not one-sided only. South Korea (Republic of Korea) also dispatched numerous agents to North Korea for information gathering and guerrilla activities.55 Specific actions against the United States include seizing the intelligence gathering ship Pueblo in 1968, which is still on display for domestic and foreign tourists in Pyongyang, as well as shooting down a US reconnaissance plane in 1969. From the 1990s onwards much of this kind of hostile action began to shift to the seas around the Korean Peninsula, although incidents in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) also continued to occur. There were frequent clashes with the South Korean navy, and even one with the Japanese coast guard in 2001, when a North Korean spy ship was sunk within the Japanese exclusive economic zone.56

In more recent times the major incident involved sinking of the South Korean torpedo ship Cheonan in 2010, although there is no consensus on who actually did it.57 What is certain is that this event was followed by artillery battles between the two Koreas in 2010.58 The last time the two Koreas exchanged rocket and artillery fire was in 2015. Shooting was started by North Korea, the reason ostensibly being South Korean loudspeakers along the border blaring propaganda towards the north. Until the recent thaw that began in New Year 2018, North Korea frequently threatened South Korea and the United States with a military attack, and launched missiles to the Japan Sea, occasionally over Japan. Without doubt the most famous video in YouTube depicting a missile attack on the United States is a cut from Moranbong Band’s 21 December 2012 concert, Without a Break (단숨에).59 North Korea has for decades been both prepared and engaged in military conflict, though the intensity has been gradually lowered over the years, and actual military clashes have been largely replaced by more symbolic activity such as missile launch tests, music videos and pronouncements in state media.

Is North Korea Change Oriented?

The concept of change orientation here points to one of the central ideas in the realist canon, namely the category of states called “imperialist” (Morgenthau) or “revisionist” (Mearsheimer). It means states that move against the current hegemon and its allies, which are usually called status quo powers. As a socialist state, North Korea was since its establishment a member of the general socialist camp, though keeping a distance from both China and the Soviet Union. Because of its smaller resources, it was never as important as its neighbours in pursuing socialist world revolution. North Korea focused most of its efforts on South Korea, but it also created from the 1960s onwards a network of relations with African countries, especially with the more anti-colonial and radical ones. These exchanges included both economic and military components, especially training in guerrilla tactics and selling arms to governments and liberation movements.60 Similarly, North Korea has long been active in the Middle East, especially in Syria.61 Thus, there is no doubt that North Korea has systematically acted in the anti-American camp, though in the past as a smaller actor. However, nowadays North Korea is the main representative of the classical socialist camp, because the Soviet Union is long gone, and China has become a global advocate of international harmony and market-driven free trade.62

One of the authors of this article was able to interview in Pyongyang in August 2018 professor of international politics Ho O Bom (허오범), who works at the Academy of Social Sciences, and ask him about the DPRK’s international position. He answered that the DPRK had become a “strategic state” (전략 국가). He further pointed out that the counter concept to this is a “central state” (중심부 국가), historically represented by empires such as the Roman Empire, various Islamic empires, Mongolian empires, and the United States. These concepts have obvious historical roots in the DPRK’s anti-colonial and anti-American stance. On the other hand, the concepts clearly add something new. They appeared, as usual with North Korean analytical concepts, in a speech by Kim Jong Un in 21 December 2017. Kim pointed out that the DPRK “rapidly emerged as a strategic state capable of posing a substantial nuclear threat to the U.S.”63 The nuclear and missile development of the DPRK thus imply a qualitative change in the strategic calculus in the games played by the great powers. A strategic state possesses remarkable national power, which is recognized by the rest of the world. National power for professor Ho meant especially ideological coherence, national unity, military might, and a strong economy. Ideology with national unity were the most important organizational resources. The main component of DPRK military power was its nuclear force. A strategic state is of course proudly independent. The slogan “For global independence” appeared in English, Chinese and Korean over the background of a globe during the Grand Mass Gymnastics and Artistic Performance “The Glorious Country”. The concept of the strategic state elevates the status of North Korea’s juche type independence from a regional to a global level.

A scene from the Grand Mass Gymnastics and Artistic Performance “The Glorious Country” in September 2018 in Pyongyang.Photo by Tomoomi Mori.

A scene from the Grand Mass Gymnastics and Artistic Performance “The Glorious Country” in September 2018 in Pyongyang. Photo by Tomoomi Mori. The text “세계의 자주화를 위하여 means “For global independence”.

Professor Ho further mentioned that the reason the peace process in East Asia was possible in 2018 was that North Korea had visibly increased its power, and in this sense corrected an existing imbalance in the international situation. This runs counter to the opinion outside of North Korea that its rapid nuclear armament had raised tensions in East Asia, but it fits rather well with our theory concerning North Korean insistence on the recognition of its great power status in the international system. He added that “past times have been quite hard for living, and the future might be difficult, but we will be able to overcome difficulties by relying on our own power and single-hearted unity (일심단결)”. He thus displayed strong confidence in the abilities of his country. He seemed to be somewhat pessimistic regarding the sincerity of the intentions of the United States, but he was also confident of the national determination of the DPRK to continue with the chosen policy, whatever it would take.

We interpret his arguments in the sense that even though Kim Jong Un frequently travelled to China in 2018 and 2019, and apparently has received Chinese acceptance of his current foreign policy, North Korean experts distinguish their conflict with the United States from the US-Chinese confrontation. North Korea continues in the same revisionist position it has upheld since the 1950s, but it is now the main actor in that locus. It is a strategic country, important in its own right, playing its own games with the United States and other countries, and it can have substantial influence on the outcome of the political processes concerning it.

Does North Korea Favour Bilateral Deals?

North Korean experiences of multilateral fora, especially the Six-Party Talks during 2003-2009, have not been positive. The tortuous history of the multilateral negotiations in Beijing between China, the United States, Russia, Japan and both Koreas consisting of near breakthroughs always ending in deepening hostility provided hard lessons. The talks were initiated by China, which also chaired the meetings in Beijing, worried by the possibility of a nuclear armed North Korea, even more worried about the possibility of a nuclear armed Japan resulting from North Korean belligerence, while the long term goal has always been the diminishing of US military presence near its borders.64 The main contestants were North Korea and the United States; North Korea initially demanding normalization of relations and a non-aggression pact, which the United States rejected, shifting the agenda towards dismantling North Korean nuclear and missile programmes.65 South Korea under the Roh Moo-hyun administration attempted to continue its engagement policy with North Korea, though rather badly out of sync with the George W. Bush administrations.66 With the arrival of the Lee Myung-Bak administration in 2008 and the Barrack Obama administration in 2009 there was better synchronizing of policy, but this did not include interest in a negotiated settlement. Many inter-Korea cooperative projects were ended, military tension was heightened, and attention shifted to increasing sanctions and waiting for the possible collapse of the North Korean regime.67 Russia and Japan were more in the sidelines; the former attempted to preserve some influence in East Asian affairs,68 while Japan tended to be mostly interested in solving the abduction issue on its own terms.69 Although all participating states had their own goals and tended to quarrel among themselves on several issues, they were united in the basic demand for halting and abolishing the North Korean nuclear programme, and in this sense they were 5+1 power talks. North Korea nevertheless pushed on, declaring itself a nuclear weapon state in 2005. It ended all negotiations in 2009, after the UN Security Council’s unanimous resolution 1718 condemning the attempted but failed launch of satellite Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2.

During 2018 North Korea’s stance has clearly favoured bilateral negotiations with other states. The supreme leader met one head of state at a time, while diplomats travelled to and from Pyongyang, negotiations being held with one state at a time. Its stance has been warmer towards South Korea, China and Russia, cooler towards the United States, and systematically hostile towards Japan. No state has been able to force it at any point; it has yielded only what it has deemed proper to do. North Korea has systematically prevented the formation of an international coalition against it, its leadership apparently judging that it is strong enough to behave in this way. Kim Jong Un in his 2019 New Year address announced the possibility of engaging in “multi-party negotiations”,70 but thus far there have been no signs that such an arrangement is materializing. If such negotiations were to take place, they probably would not be a rerun of the Six-Party Talks, but North Korea would participate in choosing the states, perhaps different groups for different purposes.

Does North Korea Control International Organizations?

Here we come to the limit of North Korean ability to fulfil the criteria of a great power. It does lead or hold a significant position in any major international organization. This does not mean that North Korea is necessarily isolated. As already mentioned, it has systematically pursued relations with a large number of countries. In 2017 Miyamoto Satoru calculated that it had diplomatic relations with 164 countries, and until early 2017 it had visa-free or visa-upon-arrival arrangements with 27 countries. After the assassination of Kim Jong Nam in Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February 2017, both Malaysia and Singapore ended these arrangements.71 Nevertheless, North Korea maintains relations with the rest of the world, though relatively thinly.

It can be found among the members of various organizations. Both Koreas joined the United Nations simultaneously in 1991, but North Korea has not acquired any noticeable influence there. It is not a member of the Security Council. Nevertheless, it belongs to several other organizations under the United Nations umbrella, such as the Universal Postal Union. If you know the name and the address, at least in principle you can send a letter to a North Korean. It has also joined the International Civil Aviation Organization, World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, International Maritime Organization, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. It is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, joining in 1975, twenty years after the Bandung Conference. By that time the movement had already grown large and established, and North Korea exercised no significant influence in it.72 It is absent from central global financial organizations, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Asian Development Bank.

The global organization in which North Korea holds a definite leadership position is the Juche Idea Study Groups, established since the 1970s in many countries, and still advertised in the corridor of the Juche Tower in Pyongyang. However, not all of the groups formed early are functioning nowadays. A few still exist in countries including Britain, Japan and Cameroon. In 2000 North Korea launched a new network of Korean Friendship Associations, claiming that they include members from 120 countries, but the home page of the organization displays information on only a few countries in North America, Europe and Latin America.73 International organizations are a weak point in North Koreas geometry of power.

Does North Korea Control International Law?

All law, including international law, is essentially political.74 International law is political in two ways: one of them involves bilateral and multilateral treaties between sovereign nations in classical Westphalian style; the second pertains to agreements by big power groups imposed on the rest of the world, where the principle of sovereignty is ignored. Because North Korea controls no international organizations, it has limited possibilities for controlling international law. It can make bilateral or multilateral treaties, but these of course do not extend beyond the contracting parties, and as argued earlier, North Korea has not been successful in multilateral settings. Nor is it a member of any big power concerts and does not create law through them. Its only possibility for control is to oppose such laws and in this way try to render void legal articles of this kind.

North Korean legal actions are usually discussed in light of its breaching of United Nations Security Council resolutions, which are big power concert decisions par excellence. The Security Council has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. It has the right to investigate any situation that might lead to international friction, determine the existence of threats, and make decisions to address them, while members of the United Nations have consented to agree to carry out those decisions. This system of a big power concert has made possible the constant stream of UN sanctions against North Korea from 1950 to the present. North Korea has constantly protested against the sanctions, upholding the principle of sovereign equality of all members, which is one of the stipulations of the UN Charter, Article 2. However, lacking clout within the organization, its variable geometry is here most openly displayed. It cannot change the sanctions; it has only been able to confront them, carry on with its nuclear, missile, and satellite development programmes, and try to evade economic sanctions by smuggling and operating through the internet.

Its history with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is similar. North Korea acceded to the treaty in 1985 but withdrew from it in 2003. This was a legally acceptable action. Article X of the NPT stipulates: “Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events […] have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.”75 The wording is very clear. It is left to the state itself to determine its supreme interests, as well as to evaluate the extraordinary events. It needs to notify all other parties to the NPT and state its interpretation to the UN Security Council, but the decisions themselves are wholly consonant with the principle of sovereignty. As Tim Beal notes, there are no international treaties against developing satellite technology, carrier rockets, or even military missiles.76 Even the development of nuclear technology is not only allowed but even encouraged by the NPT, because it can help in the development of civilian energy sources. There was thus nothing inherently illegal in the North Korean action; it just ran against a big power concert and global public opinion, acted accordingly, and dealt in its own way with the ruptures to its international image. North Korea does not control international law, but nor does it have any inhibitions against breaking it, if it runs counter to its interests. It clearly deals with international law like a great power.

How Does North Korea Perceive Itself?

North Korea systematically demands verbally, both domestically and internationally, the status of a great power. The national goal of “a strong and prosperous great power” (강성대국) is an old one, dating from the late 1990s, even being a regular ingredient in song lyrics,77 and North Korea systematically has proceeded towards that goal. The slogan appeared for the first time in a commentary on 22 August 1998 in Rodong Sinmun (로동신문), the main official newspaper in North Korea. This was an important year politically. In September during the tenth Supreme People’s Assembly the constitution of the DPRK was revised, making Kim Il Sung the eternal president of the state, while Kim Jong Il was made the Chairman of the National Defence Commission.78 This was also the birth of another important and better-known concept, namely the songun (military first) policy (선군정치). Both of these concepts were without definition at first, but they started to acquire more definite meanings during the subsequent months and years.

In 1 January 1999 Kim Jong Il talked to senior officials of the Central Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea about administrative policy with the title “Let’s illuminate this year as the year of great transformation in the construction of the strong and prosperous great power”.79 On the same day a joint editorial with the same title was published by Rodong Sinmun, the military newspaper Joson Inmingun (조선인민군) and the newspaper for youth organizations Chongnyon Jonwi (청년전위).80 Contents of the speech and the newspaper text are rather similar; the idea apparently was to inform both the executive and ordinary citizens of the new policy. This was the launch of the national goal of becoming a great power. It might sound strange, because this was still the period of the Arduous March (고난의 행군), the hunger years when North Korea was at the bottom of global poverty with a diminished industrial structure and an army facing food shortages, but this was a good reason to try to make comprehensive renovations.81 Only the ultimate goal was unexpectedly grandiose. This meant also the birth of other slogans, such as the “Socialist ideology great power”, which implied intensification for demands of national unity and respect for the leader. Songun policy implied abolishing the distinction between the military and civilian spheres of life, ensuring military education for the whole population. The main focus of the speech was, nevertheless, the economy, which was the immediate problem.82 The formal end of the Arduous March was publicly announced the following year in October 2000, when the economy and especially food production started to show signs of recovery, though the transformation was very slow.

Another important point in the address was foreign policy. It contained a good deal of criticism against the only global superpower, meaning the United States. North Korea had been exasperated by the refusal of the United States to “move toward full normalization of political and economic relations” as the 1994 Agreed Framework stipulated.83 Points of contention included its use of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to pry open North Korean military secrets; the US also had dragged its feet on the promised light water reactor power plants, and did not maintain the schedule for the promised deliveries of heavy fuel oil.84 In this light, the new national goal of becoming a ”Strong and prosperous great power” can be seen as the threshold of losing faith in the possibility of peace with the United States, and reverting accordingly to preparations for a possible military confrontation. In practice this meant most of all focusing on developing missile and nuclear technology, because nuclear weapons are relatively cheap, militarily efficient, and politically extremely compelling. Becoming a great power was the ultimate goal, while songun was the practical tool for achieving it.

A year later, in Kim Jong Il’s New Year Address in 2000, building the strong and prosperous great power was still the main theme, but the central focus in this address was no longer the economy, but rather technological development.85 Development of the North Korean nuclear weapon did not proceed very rapidly, partly because rapprochement with South Korea during the year of the Sunshine policy indicated a possible way out, but once that possibility was closed by the Lee Myung-bak administration, there were no alternatives. Especially during Kim Jong Un’s leadership North Korea went for all out development of the nuclear and missile branch of the military force, as is well known.

The ultimate goal of the strong and prosperous great power was not laid aside, although vocabulary was changed somewhat. This tendency was especially pronounced during 2017, which started by Kim Jong Un announcing in his New Year Speech that “our country achieved the status of a nuclear power, a military giant in the East, which no enemy, however formidable, would dare to provoke”, also stating that North Korea was getting ready for the test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of reaching the United States. In 2016 North Korea had conducted its first H-bomb test, tested various types of medium and long-range missiles, and launched successfully the earth observation satellite Kwangmyongsong-4. This had turned North Korea into a ”space great power” (우주강국), and opened up a new era in North Korea’s international existence, or in Kim Jong Un’s words, ”remarkably raised the strategic position of our country”. He also announced that no outside pressure and sanctions would stop North Korea from developing its military potential further.86

Asan Institute researchers Cha Doo-Hyun and Choe Gang point out that Kim’s speech spelled out a clear will to engage in active confrontation with any hostile outside power, not only to passively respond to outside actions, which had previously been the tone of North Korean pronouncements. The message was directed foremost of course to the United States, but importantly also to China, which had displayed displeasure with North Korean nuclear weapon development. The concept of “self power” (자강력 and 자강), which had made its first appearance in 2016, now appeared frequently in the text, implying a will to maintain North Korean autonomy towards China as well as toward the United States. This implied also that North Korea was ready to take the position of agenda setter in the international system. Because of its military and technological achievements, it was now qualified to deal with the rest of the world on its own terms, not following the agenda of any other state. Cha and Choe name this attitude “’Dominant Power’ self hypnosis” (강국 대한 자기 최면),87 but let’s recall that this is exactly the kind of great power behaviour analysed by Kjellén and Toje. We may never have witnessed another statistically small state behaving in this kind of direct confrontational great power style, but here we see it, and this phenomenon is worth noting both in terms of theoretical understanding, and in terms of practical international politics.

In North Korean media the tone adopted at the beginning of the year continued throughout 2017. The supreme leader himself in a speech in June called DPRK the “world’s most powerful state” (천하제일강국), though he presented it as a future goal, not the immediate present.88 The expression was taken up by the central party journal Rodong Sinmun, which repeated it, also calling the DPRK a ”world class military power” (세계적인 군사강국).89 During 2017 many poems hailed the DPRK as “the strongest state on earth” (천하제일강국), “nuclear strong state of Juche” (주체의 핵강국), “world class military power” (세계적인 군사강국), and claiming that “there is no state in the world that can match Korea” (조선을 당할자 세상에 없다).90 There may indeed be a measure of “self-hypnosis” in these propagandistic expressions. The North Korean utterances presented here are of course speech acts in a classical Austinian sense.91 They are meaningful illocutionary hortatives, meant to create an effect on their readers, though certainly they are most effective domestically. They should also be seen as a way of building a strong unified will, which is a clear power resource in North Korea’s type of juche politics. As Fyodor Tertitskiy points out, North Korean propaganda follows so scrupulously its own fixed rules that its messages tend to be sensible only inside the country.92 The expressions and manner of argumentation are so fixed, deeply reverential to the Kimist ideology, and not very subtle, causing for the most part wonder or repulsion outside of North Korea. Yet, if not the exact wording, at least the content and the tone are something that is noticed outside, when added to the undeniable possession of nuclear weapons.

In September 2017 Rodong Sinmun, after the detonation of North Korea’s last and largest hydrogen bomb test, announced victory over the United States: “The DPRK has won a shining victory in the standoff with the U.S. Now no one can disregard the immense national strength and potentiality of the DPRK and deny its strategic position as a responsible nuclear weapons state with great clout.”93

On 29 November 2017 North Korea test launched an intercontinental missile that flew about 53 minutes at the height of 4000 km on a lofted trajectory, falling in the Sea of Japan. With a lower trajectory it would have been able to reach Washington, D.C. At the same time it announced that it had completed its nuclear and missile development programme. After that it toned down its most aggressive announcements, and in his new year speech in 2018 Kim Jong Un called for détente between North and South Korea, offering to send a delegation to the South in connection with the Winter Olympics to discuss possible lessening of tensions.94 That was the beginning of the current thaw in relations between North and South Korea as well as one in which US-North Korea negotiations reopened. However, Kim did this as the leader of a “responsible nuclear dominant power” (책임있는 핵강국), which is one way of highlighting a great power status. North Korea had simply moved towards international agenda setting, which is what great powers are entitled to do in international society. It is from this position that the diplomatic games of 2018 were played, and 2019 appears to continue in the same vein.


According to several of the theoretical criteria analysed above, North Korea can be understood as a great power. It has decades old policies of guarding steadfastly its independence and preparation for military conflict. It openly breaks international law when it deems that necessary. It has also systematically developed its military resources along the lines of these strategies. It is a unified state, at least in the sense that no serious political opposition or major ethnic or religious divisions are known to exist. This is a significant power resource, and because of that the DPRK leadership can behave with confidence in any international setting. It has a functioning economy; it is not rich, but it is far removed from the hunger years of the 1990s. It possesses nuclear weapons and means for their delivery. They are a great game changer, not only in a military sense, but also in the sense that they elevate status. This feat is heightened by the fact that North Korea has been able to develop its technology relatively rapidly in spite of the existence of an array of United Nations sanctions and related unilateral measures, especially by the United States, South Korea, Japan and occasionally China, displaying determination as well as considerable administrative and technical skill. It has shown that it is able to defy the United States on a long-term basis, having consistently done so already for over 60 years. This is not a minor feat.

North Korea also has clear weaknesses. It has no control of any significant international organization, and it can control international law only in a negative sense, by defying it. It cannot be considered an indisputable great power, but a small great power is a suitable description for it. Furthermore, on the basis of what it is, and what it has, it is able to behave like a great power, in spite of its variable geometry.

This has serious implications on its future relationship with the United States. The pronouncements of the Trump administration vary depending on the person and the time, but the often-repeated basic demand of the United States is that North Korea must move towards complete and verified dismantling of its nuclear weapons capability before the lifting of sanctions can be contemplated. A possible peace treaty with North Korea is much farther on the horizon. On the other hand, ”denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” is what North Korea has been aiming at, and that expression is very different from “complete and verified denuclearization of North Korea.” The latter has an empirical meaning, but the former, which is used by both Koreas as well as China, rather than being a definite concept, is rather a commonplace, an essentially undefined element within the rhetorical topography of the debate.95 It is difficult to see that anything less than mitigating the tension with the United States and maintaining its acquired prestige would suffice for North Korea as a result of the ongoing diplomatic process. The practical measures would include in due time a treaty ending the Korean War, the establishment of US-DPRK diplomatic relations, and before long also carefully controlled international investment in the style that aided Singaporean, Chinese or Vietnamese development. These are all rather reasonable demands and might well induce North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons development facilities. North Korea appears to be strong enough to continue playing with all relevant countries on a bilateral basis and maintain its hold of the situation as it has for the past seven decades.

During 2018 the United States has attempted to play the same kind of cat and mouse games with the DPRK that it did during the Clinton and Bush administrations, trying to find out information of its military facilities – what the concept of reliable verification implies – while maintaining the sanctions regime, as Leon V. Sigal has shown.96 The trouble with this strategy is that the mouse has grown much bigger and appears prepared to continue with the game for a new round, if necessary. As no party seems to be in any special hurry, a new cycle could well last for decades. Will the headlines in, say, 2039 again herald sensational new diplomatic peace initiatives in the Korean Peninsula? Or will we see a fundamental change in the parameters of the political game during 2019?

Addendum: March 1, 2019

The text of the article was finalized in February 2019, about a week before the Hanoi summit of 27-28 February. The fact that President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un ended their meeting without an agreement does not appear to us as a big surprise. There is still a gap in the American perception of North Korea, especially on the point of steadfastly maintaining the full array of international sanctions, which for North Korea are not only an economic issue, but also an issue of prestige and an indication of the existing level of confidence, which they appear to deem to be too low still. However, this gap also seems to be closing little by little. Both leaders treated each other with cordial respect, and the comments from both sides after the summit allowed ample leeway for further negotiations. As Rüdiger Frank suggests, we should view the summit not as a failure, but as a step along the process whereby US-North Korean relations are developing from infancy to maturity ‘US-North Korea Relations: From Infancy to Maturity’, 38North. A sensible historical precedent for this meeting would probably be the 1986 summit between President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykyavik, Iceland. Also at that time the talks collapsed and the leaders parted without an agreement, but both parties then knew much better the essential points of each other’s positions and the array of domestic pressures they were facing, leading a year later to a positive breakthrough in their relations. This is also completely possible in the US-North Korean negotiations.


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Pekka Korhonen is Professor of World Politics at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland and Distinguished Visiting Professor at Kyoto University during 2019.

Tomoomi Mori is Assistant Professor at Otani University in Kyoto.


United Nations (Sep 19, 2017) Donald Trump (USA) Addresses General Debate, 72nd session

Stimmekoreas (Sep 16, 2017) Kim Jong Un answers to ‘dotard’ Trump’s first UN speech. Instead of “dotard”, a more exact translation might be “old maniac”.

Wikisource (2017) ‘The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT 1968)’.

Waltz, Kenneth (1981) ‘The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Better’, Adelphi Papers, Number 171, London: International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Lankov, Andrei (14 March 2017) ‘Nikki Haley is wrong: North Korea is not “irrational”’, NK News.

Morgenthau, Hans (1978) Politics among Nations. The Struggle for Power and Peace, New York: Alfred. A. Knopf, pp. 77-91.

Nye, Joseph (2004) Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, New York: Public Affairs.

Bukh, Alexander (2016) ’Russia’s Image and Soft Power Resources in Southeast Asia: Perceptions among Young Elites in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam’, in Contemporary Southeast Asia 38 (3) 445-475. DOI: 10.1355/cs38-3d 

Lasswell, Harold D. (1938) Propaganda Technique in the World War, New York: Peter Smith. See also Kuusisto, Riikka (1999) Western Definitions of War in the Gulf and Bosnia. The Rhetorical Frameworks of the United States, British and French Leaders in Action, Helsinki: The Finnish Society of Science and Letters, and Zur, Ofer (2004) The Love Of Hating: The Psychology Of Enmity.

10 In original German: “Nicht durch Reden oder Majoritätsbeschlüsse werden die großen Fragen der Zeit entschieden […] sondern durch Eisen und Blut.” Quoted from Büchmann, Georg (1903) Geflügelte Worte. Der Citatenschatz des Deutschen Volkes, Berlin: Verlag der Haude & Spenerschen Buchhandlung, 601-602.

11 von Inama-Sternegg, Karl Theodor (1869) Die Tendenz der Grossstaatenbildung in der Gegenwart. Eine politische Studie, Innsbruck: Verlag der Wagner’schen Universitäts-Buchhandlung. Google Scholar.

12 Ratzel, Friedrich (1899) [1882] Anthropogeographie. Erster Teil, Gründzüge der Anwendung der Erdkunde auf die Geschichte. Stuttgart: Verlag von J. Engelhorn. (1897) Politische Geographie, München und Leipzig: Verlag von R. Oldenbourg.

13 Kjellén, Rudolf (1911-13, fyra delar) Stormakterna. Konturer kring samtidens storpolitik, Stockholm: Hugo Gebers förlag.

14 Kjellén, Rudolf (1919) Valtio elinmuotona. Politiikan käsikirja, Hämeenlinna: Arvi A. Karisto, pp. 94-95.

15 Keohane, Robert O. (1969) ‘Lilliputians’ Dilemmas: Small States in International Politics’, in International Organization 23 (2), 291-310.

16 Väyrynen, Raimo (1988) Pienet valtiot kansainvälisissä suhteissa, Helsinki: Valtion painatuskeskus.

17 Toje, Asle (2011) ‘The European Union as a Small Power’, Journal of Common Market Studies 49 (1), 43-60. 

18 International Monetary Fund (2017) World Economic Outlook Database.

19 Eurostat (2017) EU population up to almost 512 million at 1 January 2017. Increase driven by migration.

20 European Union (2016) Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe. A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign And Security Policy.

21 European Council on Foreign Relations (2018) Can Europe Become a Nuclear Power?.

22 European Union (2016) Shared Vision, Common Action, op.cit.

23 Mattlin, Mikael (2012) ‘Dead on Arrival: Normative EU Policy towards China’, Asia Europe Journal 10, 181–198.

24 Asunmaa, Iiris (2018) A Strong Union Is One That Thinks Strategically. Analysis of the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy, pro gradu, Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä.

25 DPR Korea. 2009. 2008 Population Census, National Report. Pyongyang: Central Bureau of Statistics.

26 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Fertility Patterns 2015 – Data Booklet (ST/ESA/ SER.A/370), p. 20.

27 According to official figures by the South Korean Statistics Korea, North Korean population in 2017 was 25.014 million.

28 See the entry on Wikipedia.

29 Central Intelligence Agency (2019) The World Factbook, Country Comparison: GDP – per capita.

30 Kyodo News (12 October 2018) North Korea’s economy grows 3.7% in 2017: professor.

31 International Monetary Fund (2017) World Economic Outlook Database, Report for Selected Countries and Subjects.

32 A classical analysis of the structure of international news is Galtung, Johan and Mari Holmboe Ruge (1965) The Structure of Foreign News, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 64-91.

33 Palonen, Kari (1983) ‘Politics as a Dramatic Action Situation’, in Ilkka Heiskanen & Sakari Hänninen (eds) Exploring the Basis of Politics. Helsinki: The Finnish Political Science Association, 13-31.

34 Buzan, Barry (2004) From International to World Society? English School Theory and the Social Structure of Globalisation, West Nyack: Cambridge University Press.

35 Toje, Asle (2010) The European Union as a Small Power: After the Post-Cold War, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan p. 27.

36 Kjellén, Rudolf (1913) Stormakterna. Konturer kring samtidens storpolitik, IV del. Stockholm: Hugo Gebers förlag, p. 244. Original text: Stormakten är icke främst ett matematiskt utan ett dynamiskt […] begrepp. […] Stormakten är principiellt en enhetlig och stark, med rika maktmedel rustad vilja.

37 p. 296 in Keohane 1969, op. cit.

38 Katzenstein, Peter J. (1985) Small States in World Markets. Industrial Policy in Europe, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 39-79.

Katzenstein, Peter J. (2003) Small States and Small States Revisited’, New Political Economy, vol 8, no 1, pp. 9-30.

39 Toje 2010, pp. 28-30.

40 Toje 2011, op. cit. pp. 47-48.

41 Eurostat (March 2018) Government expenditure on defence.

42 Toje 2010, 13.

43 Mearsheimer, John J. (2001) The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co, Kindle Edition.

44 Richter, Edward (2018) ‘The Breakdown of International Law in the South China Sea’, in Berkeley Journal of International Law Blog, 23 February.

45 Franki, Julie (2017) ‘Seize the Sea: The Territorial Conflict Between the United States and China Over Military Operations in the South China Sea’, Emory International Law Review 31, Essay 1021.

46 Kim Il Sung (1955) On Eliminating Dogmatism and Formalism and Establishing Juche in Ideological work; later enlarged into a book in 1973 with the same title, Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House.

47 Frank, Rüdiger (2014) Nordkorea. Innenansichten eines totalen Staates, München: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Kindle Edition, loc. 1228.

48 Kim, Cheehyung Harrison (2014) ‘North Korea’s Vinalon City: Industrialism as Socialist Everyday Life’, positions 22 (4), pp. 809-836.

49 Kim Il Sung (1965) On Socialist Construction and the South Korean Revolution in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; later enlarged into a book in 1968 with the same title, Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House.

50 Armstrong, Charles K. (2013) Tyranny of the Weak. North Korea and the World 1950-1992. Columbia University Press, Kindle edition, passim.

51 Kim Jong Un, Let us brilliantly accomplish the revolutionary cause of Juche, holding Kim Jong Il in high esteem as the eternal general secretary of our party: Talk to senior officials of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, April 6 2012. For analysis of the speech, see 채희원 및 원충국, 김정은정군가 시대어1, 백과사전출판사, 2017, pp.23-26 and 呉星哲, 金日成―金正日の本質的特徴について, コリア研究 第8号, 2017, pp.85-89

52 Yonhap News (2016) ‘N. Korea ranks No. 1 for military spending relative to GDP: State Department report’, December 22.

53 平岩俊司(2010), 金日成と軍事路線―四大軍事路線再考―, 法学研究:法律・政治・社会, 83巻12号, pp.421-444 and 김태현(2017)북한의 공세적 군사전략: 지속과 변화, 국방정책연구 제33권 제1호(통권 제115호), pp.131-170.

54 Moon Kyungyong (2016) ‘State Strategy in the Kim Jong-un Era: The “Byongjin” Policy of Pursuing Economic and Nuclear Development’, Korea Observer 47 (1), pp. 1-33.

55 青木理(2006), 北朝鮮に潜入せよ, 講談社.

56 Hannah Fischer and Information Research Knowledge Services Group (2007) North Korean Provocative Actions, 1950 – 2007, Report for Congress.

57 Caprio, Mark (2010) ‘Plausible Denial? Reviewing the Evidence of DPRK Culpability for the Cheonan Warship Incident’, Asia Pacific Journal, Volume 8 | Issue 30 | Number 4.

58 Beal, Tim (2011) ‘Theatre of War and Prospects for Peace on the Korean Peninsula on the Anniversary of the Yeonpyeong Incident’, Asia Pacific Journal, Volume 9 | Issue 51 | Number 1.

59 YouTube. See also Korhonen, Pekka and Adam Cathcart (2017) ‘Tradition and Legitimation in North Korea: The Role of the Moranbong Band’, The Review of Korean Studies, 20 (2), pp. 7-32.

60 Owoye, Jide (1991) ‘The Metamorphosis of North Korea’s African Policy’, Asian Survey, 31 (7), pp. 630-645.

61 Bechtol, Bruce E. (2018) North Korean Military Proliferation in the Middle East and Africa: Enabling Violence and Instability, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky

62 Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China (16 October 2018) Xi reiterates China’s commitment to free trade, globalization.

63 조선중앙통신 (106년12월 22일) 김정은위원장 조선로동당 제5차 세포위원장대회에서 개회사.

Korean Central News Agency (22 Dec 2017) Kim Jong Un Makes Opening Address at 5th Conference of Cell Chairpersons of WPK.

64 Zhu Feng (2009) ‘Shifting Tides: China and North Korea’, in Ron Huisken (ed.) The Architecture of Security in the Asia-Pacific, Canberra: ANU Press, pp. 45-57.

65 Haggard, Stephan and Marcus Noland (2008) ‘Shuffling in from the Cold’, Asian Survey, vol. 48, no. 1, pp. 107-115

66 Bae Jong-Yun (2010) ‘South Korean Strategic Thinking toward North Korea: The Evolution of the Engagement Policy and Its Impact upon U.S.-ROK Relations’, Asian Survey, vol. 50, no. 2, pp. 335-355.

67 Moon, Chung-in (2011) ’Between Principle and Pragmatism. What Went Wrong with the Lee Myung-bak Government’s North Korea Policy?’, Journal of International and Area Studies, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 1-22.

68 Buszynski, Leszek (2009) ‘Russia and North Korea: Dilemmas and Interests’, Asian Survey, vol. 49, no. 5, pp. 809-830.

69 Ashizawa Kuniko (2006) ‘Tokyo’s Quandary, Beijing’s Moment in the Six-Party Talks: A Regional Multilateral Approach to Resolve the DPRK’s Nuclear Problem’, Pacific Affairs, vol. 79, no. 3, pp. 411-432.

70 KCNA (2019) ’김정은동지께서 하신 신년사/New Year Address of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un’, 1 January 2019.

71 Synodos (16 March 2017) 第三世界で地位を築く――北朝鮮外交の姿とは朝鮮半島研究 宮本悟氏インタビュー.

72 Krishnan, R.R. (1981) ‘North Korea and the Non-Aligned Movement’, International Studies 20 (1-2), pp. 299-313.

73 The organization’s website provides little information, but it provides links to possible chapters in the United States, Chile, Basque Country, Bolivia, Brasil, Ireland, Spain, and Japan. Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

74 Koskenniemi, Martti (2001) The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870-1960, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

75 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (1968).

76 Beal, Tim (2016) ‘The Korean Peninsula within the Framework of US Global Hegemony’, Asia Pacific Journal 14/22 (1).

77 통일뉴스(2001) 인기상승 북한 군인작사가 윤두근씨, 7 October.

78 The following prior research refers in detail to important political events in 1998 in North Korea. 2011_차문석, 북한의 ‘강성대국 건설’과 대남한 전략, 사회과학, 제43권 제1호(통권 제56호),pp.17-42

79 김정일, 올해를 강성대국건설의 위대한 전환의 해로 빛내이자 :조선로동당 중앙위원회 책임일군들과 한 담화, 김정일선집 14.

80 <로동신문>,<조선인민군> <청년전위> 공동사설, 1999년 1월 1일, 올해를 강성대국건설의 위대한 전환의 해로 빛내이자.

81 Frank, Rüdiger (2014) Nordkorea. Innenansichten eines totalen Staates, München: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Kindle Edition.

82 김철남, 경제강국의 강력한 토대 마련, 선군혁명위업사에 길이 빛날 불멸의 업적, 사회과학출판사, 2013년, p.122.

83 Agreed Framework Between the United States of America and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

84 Sigal, Leon V. (2018) ‘For North Korea, Verifying Requires Reconciling: The Lesson from A Troubled Past—Part I’ 

85 <로동신문> <조선인민군> <청년전위> 공동사설, 2000년 1월 1일, 당창건 55돐을 맞는 올해를 천리마대고조의 불길속에 자랑찬 승리의 해로 빛내이자, 조선통신 공식문겅・자료

86 Korean Central News Agency, 2 January 2017, ’Kim Jong Un Makes New Year Address’.

87 차두현 & 최강 (2017) 북한 2017년 김정은 육성 신년사 분석: 새로운 언어와 이미지의 시도, 그러나 계속되는 고민, 아산정책연구원, 9 Jan 2017.

88 Korean Central News Agency, 7 June 2017, ‘Kim Jong Un’s Speech at the Eighth KCU Congress’ / 소년단원들은 사회주의조국의 참된 아들딸,소년혁명가가 되자 –김정은원수님께서 조선소년단 제8차대회에서 하신 연설–

89 Korean Central News Agency, 31 October 2017, Endless Is Glory and Happiness of Korean People: Rodong Sinmun / 《로동신문》 위대한 어버이의 품속에 안겨사는 조선인민의 영광과 행복은 끝이 없다고 강조.

90 Korean Central News Agency, 21 September 2017, ‘New Poems Produced in DPRK’ / 조선에서 시대를 격찬하는 시작품들 창작.

91 Austin, John L. 1962. How to Do Things with Words: the William James Lectures Delivered at Harvard University in 1955. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

92 Tertitskiy, Fyodor (2017) ‘Eight basic traits of North Korean propaganda. Why is the North’s propaganda so effective inside the country?’, NK Pro, 12 April.

93 “공화국은 미국과의 대결에서 빛나는 승리를 거두었다고 하면서 다음과 같이 강조하였다.

이제는 그 누구도 우리 나라의 무진막강한 종합적국력과 잠재력을 무시할수 없게 되였다.거대한 영향력을 행사하는 책임적인 핵보유국으로서의 우리 공화국의 전략적지위를 부정할수 없게 되였다.” Korean Central News Agency, 14 September 2017, ‘ No One Can Check Advance of DPRK: Rodong Sinmun’ / 《로동신문》 공화국의 앞길을 가로막을자 이 세상에 없다고 강조.

94 Rodong Sinmun, 2 January 2018, ‘New Year Address’ / 신년사.

95 Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus (2009) Civilizing the Enemy. German Reconstruction and the Invention of the West, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, p. 28.

96 Sigal, Leon V. (2018) ‘For North Korea, Verifying Requires Reconciling: The Lesson from A Troubled Past—Part I’; Part II.

The passage of amendments to the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) by the Australian House of Representatives and the Senate this week was less a case of celebration than necessitous deliverance.  The mental wellbeing of asylum-seekers on Manus Island and Nauru, or lack thereof, has been documented extensively from Australian legal representatives to members of Médecins Sans Frontières.   

The Medevac Bill is scripted in clunky fashion typical of Australian drafting, but it does what other items of legislation have not: privilege, to some extent at least, medical opinion on the desperate situation of those kept in indefinite detention.  Australia’s own crude experiment of what might be termed “biopolitical” control has had predictably disastrous consequences on health and wellbeing. 

The legislation supplies the lawful basis for refugees and asylum seekers to be transferred to Australia for “medical or psychiatric assessment or treatment”.  “Aside from being a circuit breaker to current arrangements,” claim Nicholas Proctor and Mary Anne Kenny, “the bill is a new opportunity to establish agreed governance arrangements and a clinical pathway for recognising and responding to medical need without political interference.”

Previously, Australian governments have fought any transfer arrangements of refugees and asylum seekers from Canberra’s tropical gulag with rabid ferocity.  Be it men, women or children, any show of compassion has been given the cold sneer.

The assessment of each patient is to be conducted by two doctors, either in person or remotely, keeping in mind psychiatric and treatment needs. Crucial here is the consideration about whether those supposedly five star facilities in Nauru or Manus Island supply any adequate basis for treating psychiatric and medical disorders. 

It would be foolish to presume that the new provisions somehow alleviate the prospects of political interference.  The 72-hour window limit for the Minister for Home Affairs merely imposes a note of urgency; he otherwise retains power of approval or refusal over the recommendations regarding transferrals.  A firestop of sorts restraining the minister has been put in place, one involving an Independent Health Advice Panel, but this is hardly the end of the matter.  Traditional grounds for refusal are also available: a person having a “substantial criminal record” or facing an adverse security assessment might be refused leave to be treated in Australia.  

The Coalition was hoping to catch out the opposition on grounds of constitutionality.  (All about inappropriate expenditure, you see.)  That was swiftly remedied by another amendment by the Labor party deeming all members sitting on the medical panel pro bono officials.

Stung and out manoeuvred in parliament, the Morrison government turned savage; facing electoral defeat (the latest poll figures show that a farm slaughter awaits), the signal to abandon reason was there.  Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann, Attorney-General Christian Porter and a host of worthies from the government side have been drumming the same note of feral abandon: opposition politicians are weak on protecting Australia’s sacred borders; refugees should be tarred and feathered as criminals of various sorts.   

Labor, tweeted Morrison, “have learned nothing from their past failures and cannot be trusted to keep our borders and Australia strong.”  The Coalition’s border protection policy, he reiterated with confidence trickster’s gumption, “stopped the boats, stopped the deaths at sea, closed the detention centres, removed all children from detention and from Nauru.”   

Former Prime Minister and backbencher Tony Abbott has been doing his bit as spear thrower, arguing that,

“If you lose control of the border, you lose control of the country.” (Is this code for bowel and body?)

Porter’s reasoning is imaginatively skewed: the bill as passed permits individuals to be transferred to Australia who are either charged and not convicted; or convicted yet not sentenced. “At the very last moment, Labor put an amendment in that would give some discretion to the minister to stop people who are criminals, in effect, from coming to Australia.” Such a measure would fail, given that sentencing was “a very long tunnel”, and that ministerial discretion could not be exercised to keep the rotters out. 

Fancifully, Porter’s nasty bout of demonization ignores the effects the detention regime have had on the individuals in question.  Prisons are schools for crime; detention centres are sites for mental ruination.  In some cases, these have resulted in sexual predation and desperation, hardly a cause of justification, but perfectly understandable in Canberra’s desire to degrade a certain class of refugee. If you treat people like animals, expect certain results. 

A broader principle is also ignored: those either charged or convicted are not entitled to decent medical care.  They are, whatever their legal status, to suffer.  Yet again, Australia’s inherent penal mentality manifests.

Rounding the list of terrors involved, government representatives have been focusing on that permanently rich gift that keeps giving: the morally depraved and corrupt people smuggler, a phantom menace who has done wonders to keep members of parliament elected and secure.  Such a being, it would seem, is always there, awaiting to do the terrible thing and exploit an asylum seeker’s right to, well, seek asylum. 

People smugglers, claims Abbott, “will be saying to their potential customers ‘look what Labor has been able to do in opposition, think how better they’ll be for you when they’re in government.” 

In an effort to shore up its failings on the vote, the Morrison government has sought to use Christmas Island as a replacement option.  In Morrison’s resigned words,

“We have approved putting in place the re-opening of the Christmas Island detention facilities, both to deal with the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers.”  

Local officials on Christmas Island were none too amused; if the facilities were not adequate on Manus or Nauru, they are hardly going to reach par on Christmas Island.  But refugee politics in Australia, at least since the late 1990s, has not been about the sensible and the generous, but about the punitive and the preventative.


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Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research.  Email: [email protected]

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On December 26, 2018, following a cabinet meeting, the Japanese government confirmed what had been rumored for days: Japan would withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and resume commercial whaling in July 2019. The Abe cabinet justified the decision by arguing that the IWC had “refused to agree to take any tangible steps towards reaching a common position that would ensure the sustainable management of whale resources” during the past 30 years. Even so, the government stressed that Japan “remains committed to international cooperation for the proper management of marine living resources. […] Japan will continue to contribute to the science-based sustainable management of whale resources.”1

One surprising consequence of Japan’s IWC withdrawal was that it would also be ceasing its controversial Antarctic scientific whaling program that had been criticized by anti-whaling non-government organizations (NGOs). Instead, all future commercial whaling operations will be conducted inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This step may come as a surprise to many Western observers as political scientists have almost exclusively focused on Japan’s controversial whaling program to explain why Japan would not give up whaling.2

Less well known, however, is that a handful of Japanese coastal communities have continued coastal whaling during the past 30 years despite the IWC moratorium.3 To understand the rationale of Japan not only withdrawing from the IWC but also Antarctic whaling, I argue that we have to consider the development of these so-called “whaling towns.” Having conducted fieldwork in these communities since 2015, I had the opportunity to travel to three of these communities shortly after the IWC withdrawal announcement and speak with several stakeholders. In this paper, I therefore revisit the “whaling towns” and discuss how the resumption of commercial whaling has been received by the locals.

Due to the controversial nature of the topic, I withhold the names of my informants. Furthermore, I will not take a stance for or against whaling but rather let the voices of the involved stakeholders be heard. My research shows that despite having lobbied for three decades towards this goal, many locals were completely taken by surprise by the government’s decision. While supporting the IWC withdrawal in interviews with the Japanese media, privately, many stakeholders are worried that the industry has become too small to be revitalized.

Towards the IWC Moratorium

Traditional whaling in the Meiji period. Private collection of the author.

The history of Japanese coastal whaling extends back at least 400 years. During the early modern period, net-whaling became a middle-sized proto-industry in some fishing communities in western Japan, with the most successful whaling bases in northern Kyushu, southern Shikoku, and on the Kii peninsula around the town of Taiji. In the second half of the 19th century, the targeted whale stocks showed signs of exhaustion due to coastal over-fishing and the whaling activities of American and Britain whalers off the Japanese coast.4

Japanese whaling was eventually reformed after the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, when new hunting techniques and motorized vessels allowed the harvest of a larger range of whale species. Starting in the 1930s, Japanese whaling fleets joined their European counterparts in the Antarctic ocean, however, these activities ceased during the Second World War, which allowed whale stocks to recover temporally. After the war, a group of whaling nations founded the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1946 to assure conservation of the remaining whale stocks to allow resumption of whaling. Japan resumed its Antarctic whaling expeditions after the Second World War to secure whale meat for its starving population and eventually joined the IWC in 1951.

During the 1960s, the IWC failed to live up to its promise to assure the recovery of whale stocks and more whales than ever were killed. Environmental groups in the United States and other Western countries began to lobby for a complete ban on whaling, arguing that whale stocks would be exterminated if this did not happen. The US gave up its own whaling program in 1971 and at the United Nations conference on the human environment in Stockholm the following year, a 10-year whaling moratorium was ratified to the horror of the Japanese delegation.

In 1982, the IWC, which comprised mainly ex-whaling nations and new member nations that had never hunted whales before, followed suit and decided on a five-year commercial whaling moratorium (a zero-catch quota) starting in 1986. The moratorium was to be reviewed in 1990 when additional data regarding the status of the whale stocks would be available. Norway filed a formal objection and was therefore not bound by the moratorium and continued whaling. Japan also filed a formal objection against this decision, but withdrew it in 1985 due to pressure from the US and ended commercial whaling at the end of 1987.5

Initially, the Japanese delegation worked under the assumption that the moratorium would be lifted in 1990. In 1991, however, the IWC assembly turned down a proposal for a new management procedure and Iceland left the organization in protest. The Japanese government also considered resigning from the IWC, but fearing for its international reputation, hesitated to go this far. At the same time, Japan wanted to preserve its remaining whaling industry so that it could restart commercial whaling as soon as the moratorium was lifted.

Before the moratorium, the Japanese whaling industry had consisted of three interwoven industries. The first was pelagic whaling in the Antarctic ocean, which was conducted with a whaling fleet consisting of several catcher boats and a factory ship to flense the whales onboard. The second was large-type coastal whaling (LTCW), which hunted larger cetaceans with whaling vessels larger than 50 tons. Finally, small-type coastal whaling (STCW) specialized in hunting smaller whales near the Japanese coast.

In 1987, Japan made use of Article VIII of the International Whaling Convention, which allows protected whale species to be hunted for scientific purposes and transformed its former pelagic fleet into a scientific whaling operation. A newly founded company called Kyōdō Senpaku conducted research expeditions in the name of the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), a semi-private institution connected to the Fishery Agency.

Kyōdō Senpaku employs 200 people and owns three catcher boats and one factory ship. It was contracted for two scientific research projects: one in the Antarctic Ocean (JARPA) and a smaller one in the North Pacific (JARPN).6 The official goal of these scientific missions was to assess the status of the whale stock to provide data that would lead to the moratorium being revoked. In accordance with the rules of the IWC, the meat of the captured whales was frozen and sold in Japan. Nevertheless, some members of the IWC and anti-whaling NGOs claimed that because the whale meat was sold, these programs were in fact commercial whaling disguised under a different name.7

While pelagic whaling was successfully transformed into a scientific whaling program, LTCW was dismantled in 1987 due to overhunting and poor demand for whale products, and the large fishing companies involved in this type of whaling were financially compensated by the Japanese government. STCW, however, is traditionally operated by residents of coastal communities who hunt whales for local consumption. Before the moratorium, they hunted around 300 common minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) each year, as well as a small number of Baird’s beaked whales (Berardius bairdii) and short-finned pilot whales (Globiocephala macrorhynchus). None of these species were considered biologically endangered.

As the IWC had been founded to manage the whale stock of large cetaceans, the small-sized Baird’s beaked whales and pilot whales were both outside of the IWC’s self-declared jurisdiction and therefore not covered by the moratorium. The hunt of these species is at the discretion of national governments. Minke whales, however, are a species of baleen whales and are protected by the moratorium. For STCW operators, minke whales have always been their main target as the raw meat was especially valued. After the moratorium, they continued to hunt a small number of the non-protected whale species and have since lobbied the IWC to legally resume minke whaling.

Their first attempt was at the 38th annual IWC meeting in 1986, when the Japanese delegation argued that STCW resembled aboriginal subsistence whaling, which is exempt from the moratorium. Prior to the 1988 IWC meeting, an international group of social scientists led by the anthropologist Milton Freeman conducted fieldwork in these communities to underscore the Japanese claim. In the following years, the social scientists presented their work at the IWC meetings and argued that the IWC moratorium caused social and economic hardship in these “whaling towns.”

In their final report (henceforth referred to as the “Freeman report”), they concluded that “STCW shares certain characteristics with some forms of commercial whaling […] but also possesses several attributes in common with aboriginal subsistence whaling […].”8 Therefore, STCW should be considered a distinct category of whaling and like aboriginal whaling, should not fall under the IWC moratorium. Based on this argument, the Japanese delegation repeatedly asked the IWC plenary session for an emergency quota of minke whales to reduce the STCW communities’ hardship, but they were consistently denied.8

Revisiting the “Whaling Towns”

Coastal communities in Japan where coastal whaling is currently conducted.

One legacy of the discussions regarding the STCW communities at the IWC was the popularization of the term “whaling town.” The Freeman report identified four STCW communities that possessed a unique “whaling culture,” defined as “the shared knowledge of whaling transmitted across generations.”10 The four communities in question were Taiji in Wakayama, Wadaura in Chiba, Ayukawa in Miyagi, and Abashiri in Hokkaido. In the Freeman report, the STCW communities were indiscriminately called “whaling towns” and “whaling communities,” translated from the Japanese “kujira no machi”.

Three of these communities still make active use of the term “whaling town” to attract tourists and to generate symbolic capital in Japanese politics. As the towns no longer have enough whalers to conduct coastal whaling independently, close ties between the STCW operators have formed and persisted. Currently, around 40 sailors and land crew at the whaling stations are working as coastal whalers. Considering the small size of the industry and the overall negligible demand in whale meat, one is left to wonder why the Japanese government would fight the issue so vigorously given the cost in international reputation.

In order to understand the decision of the Japanese government to not only withdraw from the IWC but also give up Antarctic whaling in exchange for coastal commercial whaling, the author revisited these whale towns 30 years after the Freeman report. How have these communities developed under the IWC moratorium and how have the locals reacted towards the news of the resumption of commercial whaling in the summer of 2019?

Taiji: The Legacy of the Cove

The Taiji Whale Museum (photo by the author).

To say that Japanese whaling has been controversial during the past three decades would be an understatement, but how have international and domestic anti-whaling movements played into the recent decision of the Japanese government to withdraw from the IWC? To answer this question, let us start with Taiji, the only whaling community widely known outside of Japan. Overlooking the picturesque Kii peninsula coastline, Taiji is perfectly located to watch migrating whales swimming along the Japanese coast. Its whaling history reaches as far back as 1606, when the first whaling group was established to hunt right whales (Eubalaena japonica).

In 1675, whalers from Taiji developed a new whaling technique that allowed them to trap whales between the coast and large open sea nets and capture them effectively. This technique was so successful that it spread to most whaling bases in western Japan. At the beginning of the 19th century, over 1,000 whalers were working simultaneously in Taiji. Overhunting and a tragic accident in 1878, when over 100 whalers were lost during a storm, brought an end of the large-scale net whaling activities, however.

Afterwards, Taiji whalers conducted mainly small-scale pilot whale hunting, which they continued throughout the 20th century. After 1906, many Taiji whalers went to the new whaling bases in northern Japan or worked on the pelagic whaling fleet in the Antarctic Ocean. In 1988, only two STCW whaling boats out of 33 remained (one of them was stationed in Ayukawa). In 2018, one boat and a crew of six whalers were still operating.

Since the 1960s, the town has tried to attract tourists with its whaling culture and has opened a whaling museum and many other associated attractions. In addition to pilot whaling, Taiji has also conducted dolphin hunt drives since 1969. Pilot whaling and dolphin drives are not officially regarded as STCW and are therefore under the jurisdiction of Wakayama Prefecture rather than the Japanese government. Since the early 1990s, Western environmental NGOs have heavily criticized the Japanese scientific whaling expeditions in the Antarctic and Japanese delegates at the IWC have been physically attacked. Similarly, the anti-whaling organization Sea Shepherd started to obstruct whaling operations in the Antarctic Ocean. Between 2008 and 2015, the American “Animal Planet” TV channel even produced a documentary series called “whale wars” that was filmed from the perspective of Sea Shepherd.11

For a long time, the Japanese coastal whalers were not directly involved in this conflict. This changed in 2009 when the American documentary “The Cove” featured the Taiji dolphin hunt drive in an extremely critical manner.12 After the release of the movie, dozens of Western activists traveled each year to Taiji to demand the dolphin hunts be stopped and also criticized the whaling culture of Taiji as a whole. The movie brought the controversy in the faraway Antarctic Ocean and IWC meetings directly to Japan’s mainland and put the formerly unknown “whaling towns” at the center of the media’s attention. Ishii Atsushi has argued in 2011 that many Japanese citizens were not “pro-whaling” but rather “anti-anti-whaling” because of the Western criticism that was perceived by many Japanese as unfair.13

Local politicians like long term mayor Sangen Kazutaka (first elected in 2004) have successfully capitalized on this sentiment and made Taiji a symbol against foreign pressure. Mayor Sangen has, for example, prevented the fusion of Taiji with neighboring towns by arguing that this is the only way its unique whaling culture can be protected. This has made Taiji the smallest municipality in Wakayama Prefecture. His position has also allowed him to establish contacts with the highest ranks of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan and even receive an audience with the Emperor.

For many of the inhabitants of Taiji, however, the price of becoming a national symbol has been high. During my fieldwork in Taiji in 2015, locals remarked that they were tired of constantly being on guard and that shopkeepers were no longer allowed to give interviews to foreigners. One resident feared that one day a fanatic from one of the opposing factions might resort to violence and endanger the well-being of his children. During my stay, I was constantly with a Japanese guide, but one evening I walked from the Taiji Whale Museum to my hotel alone, crossing the larger of the two coves featured in the documentary. A “concerned citizen” must have seen me as soon after this, the police arrived at my hotel looking for “a suspicious foreigner.” This demonstrated how tense the atmosphere in Taiji was. In the last two years, dolphin hunting has almost completely stopped and the protests have also mostly disappeared.

After ten stressful years, Taiji was finally becoming quiet again, but then on December 26, 2018, the Japanese government officially announced that Japan would be withdrawing from the IWC. Shortly after the announcement, the ruling LDP organized a get-together for the involved congressmen in the LDP headquarter cafeteria and served deep-fried whale meat. Among the congressmen was Taiji’s mayor, Sangen. At a press conference, the mayor personally thanked LDP Secretary General Nikai Toshihiro for his support: “I’m grateful from the depth of my heart. To protect the fishermen, secretary Nikai hasn’t deviated one bit from his path. For us, he is like a God.”14

It is well-known that Secretary Nikai, who represents Wakayama Prefecture’s third district in the Lower House of the Japanese parliament, was not only a close friend of mayor Sangen but had also made it his lifework to resume commercial whaling.15 Nikai had, for example, been the driving force in making whale meat a regular menu item in the LDP cafeteria after Japan lost its whaling case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2014.16

The reaction of the people of Taiji to the resumption of commercial whaling has been less enthusiastic, however. While many residents welcome the policy change, some worry about the ability of Taiji to resume large-scale whaling as only six whalers remain in the town. A former employee of the Taiji Whale Museum remarked: “I don’t think that commercial whaling will promote regional development. Can we really maintain this industry as long as there is no demand?”17 Also, after ten years of protests in the town, many locals are exhausted and do not wish to reignite the debate.18

Wadaura: Into a New Era of Commercial Whaling

Blue whale skeleton in Wadaura (photo by the author).

Taiji highlights how regional politics and culture have played a crucial role in resuming commercial whaling, but why did the government end whaling operations in the Antarctic Ocean and what does this change mean for current coastal whaling operations? To find the answers to these questions, let us travel to the Kanto region and the “whaling town” of Wadaura.

Since the 1650s, whalers have hunted Baird’s beaked whales in the southern part of the Chiba peninsula, which encircles the eastern half of Edo/Tokyo Bay. Although the main export commodity to Edo was whale oil (first used for illumination and then later also as an insecticide), whale meat was not a popular export. Instead, the meat was eaten locally and became part of the local cuisine.

In the 20th century, the whaling base moved several times, eventually moving out of the now busy Tokyo Bay to Wadaura on the Pacific side of the peninsula. Despite its geographical proximity to the capital, it takes over three hours using local trains or buses to reach the community from downtown Tokyo. Its secluded position has so far prevented the town from being swallowed by the ever-expanding Tokyo Moloch, but the town struggles with the same problems as many other Japanese peripheral regions: depopulation, deindustrialization, and outdated infrastructure.

In 2006, Wadaura merged with six other neighboring towns to form Minami Bōsō city. To preserve the community’s distinct identity, locals have recently rediscovered and reinvented their “whaling town” brand. When reaching Wadaura by train, visitors are first greeted by the skeleton of a blue whale, even though blue whales have never been hunted in the region. Almost all restaurants advertise whale meat and the most eye-catching is “michi no eki wao,” which not only serves seven different whale dishes but also sells a large variety of whale-related products.19

Tourists are still scarce in Wadaura, however. A few dedicated whale fans occasionally drop by during the summer months to witness a now rare sight in Japan: the flensing of a whale. The small whaling station at the harbor of Wadaura belongs to Gaibō Hogei, the only remaining whaling company in the town. Gaibō Hogei owns a second station in Ayukawa and two whaling ships and has a crew of around 20 people. Since the moratorium came into effect in 1988, the company has ceased minke whaling and focused instead on the traditional Baird’s beaked whales, killing around 26 a year in Wadaura. The second crew comes down from Ayukawa to help with the hunt and vice versa. Even though prices for whale meat have increased a little since the moratorium, 26 whales are not enough for the whalers to turn a significant profit.

Until 1999, the ICR contracted the whaling company Kyōdō Senpaku not only for the Antarctic whaling expeditions but also for the hunting of 100 minke whales in the North Pacific scientific whaling program (JARPN). When the ICR revised the North Pacific program in 2002 under JARPNII, they expanded the contract with Kyōdō Senpaku to an additional 100 sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis), 50 Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera brydei), and 10 sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus). They also added another 100 minke whales to the hunt near the Japanese coast and hired the crews and ships of the four “whaling towns’” STCW companies.

As the STCW operators possessed no factory ships on which the whales could be processed on the open sea, the captured whales were brought to the land whaling stations in Ayukawa and Kushiro for flensing. The involvement of the STCW whalers in the scientific whaling program provided the struggling industry with more work for the sailing and flensing teams and also allowed them to hunt 100 minke whales again each season, providing the whaling communities with fresh minke meat instead of frozen. The expansion of JARPNII was a direct consequence of the IWC’s refusal to allow an emergency quota of minke whales for the STCW communities. The scientific coastal whaling program kept the STCW above water for the next few years, but it was not universally popular among the whalers.

In an interview in January 2019, the CEO of Gaibō Hogei explained to me that for him, the transition from scientific whaling to commercial whaling was the most important aspect of the recent government decision. He stressed that scientific research was important and that he was more than willing to help the research, but that at heart, he was the owner of a company and wanted first and foremost to hunt whales and sell fresh whale meat. Scientific whaling has never been more than a temporary solution to keep the STCW companies alive.

The hunting plans of the ICR have not always matched the interests of the coastal whaling crews. In 2014, the Japanese government lost a lawsuit against Australia when the ICJ ruled that the Japanese whaling expedition in the Antarctic ocean did not fully fulfill the requirements of “scientific whaling” as defined by the IWC.20 In response, the Japanese government postponed the Antarctic expedition for 2014, only to resume it one year later with a revised scientific plan that took the criticism by the ICJ into consideration.

Another consequence was that the ICR also revised JARPNII even though no lawsuit had been made against this program. From 2017 onwards, the new plan (NEWREP-NP) reduced the North Pacific whaling conducted by Kyōdō Senpaku to 43 minke whales and 134 sei whales per season. Changes were also made to the scientific coastal whaling conducted by the STCW operators. Although the number of minke whales was lowered to eighty, additional whaling stations were built in Abashiri and Hachinohe. The duration of the hunting season for scientific whaling was also extended, which interfered with the regular STCW, for example, Gaibō Hogei’s Baird’s beaked whale hunting. Therefore, the return to commercial whaling would allow Gaibō Hogei once more to have its own hunting schedule, without being dependent on the ICR’s scientific whaling program. The CEO of Gaibō Hogei expects that the government will keep doing scientific research on coastal whaling vessels to guarantee a sustainable use of the whale stocks, but now the scientists will be guests on his boats and working according to his schedule.

Despite having plans to expand to minke whales, Gaibō Hogei is currently not hiring new people as the CEO expects that the government will not increase the whale catch. Small quotas for sei whales and Bryde’s whale might be set, however. He does not expect STCW to expand significantly after the resumption of commercial whaling, but it remains possible that new players will enter the game. Kyōdō Senpaku, having lost their contracts with the ICR and no longer being able to hunt in the Antarctic ocean might restart LTCW inside the Japanese EEZ with their remaining factory ship. Also, new places on the Sea of Japan coast might enter the whaling business, giving the existing whaling companies additional competition.

I asked the whaler, why it took the Japanese government 30 years to withdraw from the IWC and restart commercial whaling. He remarked that this option has always been on the table but Japan has historically been very conscious of its public image and strongly committed to international rules. In the past two years, however, the US and some European countries have shown an increased willingness to leave international organizations when they did not operate in their countries’ interests. In this respect, Japan was just following the global trend.

I received a similar answer when I interviewed one of the scientists working with the ICR. According to him, the end of the controversial Antarctic whaling program was a way to minimize the damage to Japan’s reputation when withdrawing from the IWC by giving the anti-whaling nations what they wanted most without giving up whaling completely. From a sustainability standpoint, he explained that this is somewhat regrettable as the minke whale stocks in the Antarctic Ocean are probably more stable than those in the North Pacific. The scientist was also aware that many Western observers will now look very closely at the new coastal commercial whaling operations, therefore, it is extremely important that the scientific research continues to guarantee a sustainable use of whale stocks: “The whole world is looking at us. We cannot screw this up.”

Ayukawa: The Whales and the Tsunami

Ayukawa after the Tsunami (photo by the author).

My interview with Gaibō Hogei showed that although the resumption of commercial whaling had been anticipated by whalers for over 30 years, it has raised many questions about the future of coastal whaling. To find out what the challenges are, I traveled to the two remaining “whaling towns” in December 2018 and January 2019 and spoke with local folklorists, ex-whalers, whale meat vendors, and guesthouse owners. In the third “whaling town” of Ayukawa, people were especially concerned about the future of coastal whaling as they linked the existence of their town with this small industry. To understand how this happened, we must rewind the clock eight years.

On March 11, 2011, Ayukawa vanished. Situated near the peak of the secluded Oshika peninsula in Miyagi Prefecture, Ayukawa was hit by the 14-meter-high tsunami that would devastate a large part of northern Japan and cause the Fukushima accident. Almost 70% of the houses were washed away and every structure in the former town center was annihilated. Thanks to the experience of the locals with tsunamis, the town of 1,400 inhabitants only had to mourn 23 victims. With the loss of infrastructure, however, most inhabitants had to resettle in temporary housing and many eventually moved away.

Like Taiji and Wadaura, Ayukawa had identified as a “whaling town,” but in only half an hour, the town lost its whaling ships, the whaling station, and even the local whale museum. Eight years later, most of the town’s houses have still not been reconstructed. The groundwork for a new harbor center with a new whale museum has barely been started. Nevertheless, only one year after the tsunami, the whaling station of the company Ayukawa Hogei had been rebuilt and scientific and coastal whaling resumed. A year later, the surviving inhabitants resurrected the local whaling festival and have held it every year. Locals have begun to invent new whale meat recipes and to sell the meat locally and via the internet. The message is clear: “Ayukawa, as a whaling town, can only be rebuilt and we will live together with the whales.”21 I have argued elsewhere that despite its marginal economic status, many inhabitants of Ayukawa have inextricably linked the continued existence and rebuilding of the town with the coastal whaling operation.22

The whaling history of Ayukawa began over 100 years ago when the first industrial whaling station was built in 1906. Afterwards, the town became the single most important whaling base in all of Japan and its population grew to 3,700 in the 1950s. The whaling industry began to decline due to a lack of demand for whale products and overhunting, however, and by 1988, the town’s population had shrunk to 2,200. In 2008, two former whaling companies merged with the new company Ayukawa Hogei, which together with Gaibō Hogei could hunt up to 26 Baird’s beaked whales in coastal waters. Under JARPNII, Ayukawa became a new whaling ground for scientific coastal whaling and up to 60 minke whales were flensed each year at the whaling station of Ayukawa Hogei, accounting for about 40% of the company’s income.

After the destruction of the whaling station in 2011, the spring expedition was moved from Ayukawa to Kushiro. Ayukawa Hogei hoped to receive emergency money from the government to rebuild its whaling station as quickly as possible, so they would not lose access to the scientific coastal whaling operation. However, journalists discovered that the 2.28 billion yen from Tōhoku Reconstruction Funds reserved for whaling was not intended to help the STCW whalers in Ayukawa, but rather to pay for protective measures against anti-whaling groups in the Antarctic Ocean. One member of the House of Representatives even suggested that the true purpose of the money was to pay the massive debt that the ICR had accumulated over the years due to its Antarctic whaling expeditions.23

Having lost precious time because of this political scandal, Ayukawa Hogei decided to rebuild the whaling station with its own money and in 2012, the scientific coastal whaling operation was once again conducted in Ayukawa. Since 2013, however, the whalers have struggled to find enough minke whales in the sea off Ayukawa to fulfill the government set quota. To make matters worse, most of the captured minke whales turned out to be sexually immature, indicating that the hunt was not sustainable. This was one reason why the ICR decided to open two new whaling grounds in Hachinohe and Abashiri in 2017 when introducing the new scientific whaling program NEWREP-NP. This change meant that fewer minke whales were harvested and flensed in Ayukawa and that like Gaibō Hogei in Wadaura, the new scientific coastal whaling schedule in Hachinohe interfered with Baird’s beaked whale hunting in Ayukawa.

This was the situation when the news of the IWC withdrawal reached Ayukawa. The locals I spoke with were overwhelmingly skeptical about the future of whaling and the community. For eight years, the community had struggled to regain its footing after the tsunami and keep the small whaling industry alive. Many locals had helped to organize the yearly whale festival to attract tourists, participated in planning the new harbor area, and founded start-ups selling fresh whale meat locally and online. All this work was now potentially threatened. The locals especially feared that because Ayukawa is situated in a peripheral region that is hard to reach and had recently lost most of its infrastructure and working population due to the tsunami, it would be too inconvenient a place to rebuild viable commercial whaling.

In the past, its remote location had not mattered as the sea around Ayukawa had been full of whales, but recent scientific coastal whaling expeditions have shown that this is no longer the case. Also, the current whaling station can only process whales up to eight meters long and is therefore too small should commercial whaling allow the hunt of larger whales. For the locals, it therefore seems likely that commercial whaling will move to new ports nearer to big cities. This will also mean that fresh whale meat will become more widely available and that the few remaining whale meat enthusiasts will have one reason less to travel to the faraway Ayukawa to purchase fresh whale meat. While the locals had hoped for 30 years that commercial whaling would be resumed, now that it is about to happen, many have realized that Ayukawa does no longer provide the conditions necessary for a successful commercial whaling industry.

Abashiri: From Whalers to Whale Watchers

Fried whale meat dish in Kushiro (photo by the author). 

Our visit to the last “whaling town” brings us to the icy coast of the Okhotsk Sea in northeastern Hokkaido. In the summer, several whale species travel thousands of miles along the Japanese Pacific coast to reach these waters and feed on plankton and small fish. Long before the first Japanese or even Ainu reached this northern region, the indigenous Okhotsk people hunted whales here. Visitors to Abashiri, a fishing city of around 35,000 inhabitants, come mostly to sightsee at the prison museum, which preserves the original buildings of Japan’s most infamous prison from the Meiji period, or watch the drift ice. Unlike the other whaling communities, walking through the city streets gives little indication that this city has a deeper connection to whales: there are no restaurants praising whale meat and no manholes with whale motifs. Only when reaching the harbor do you find whale posters, but these whales are not for eating. Instead, these posters are for the newest tourist attraction: whale watching.

Starting in 1988, whale watching has become an important tourist industry in over 30 coastal communities in Japan. In 2008, the number of whale watchers rose to 190,000 and 104 operators generated revenue of almost US$23 million.24 Interestingly, of the four “whaling towns,” only Abashiri has so far engaged in whale watching. Like Ayukawa, Abashiri’s industrial whaling history began in the 20th century. After the Second World War, Abashiri became an important whaling base for providing whale meat to the starving Japanese population and afterwards, the town’s whalers carried out STCW in the coastal waters.

The IWC moratorium in 1988 caused a schism among the remaining whalers, with most giving up the profession and friendships breaking down. The whalers who were put out of business in 1988 either retired or switched to fishing or dolphin hunting. Around ten years ago, one of these ex-whalers purchased a new ship to participate in whale watching, which was becoming popular in Abashiri around this time. With his knowledge of whales and especially his ability to spot the animals in the water, he quickly became a successful whale watcher.

Meanwhile, two small whaling companies remained and received permission from the government to hunt one Baird’s beaked whale each per year (later this was doubled to a total of four whales per year). Without a crew or even whaling vessels, these two whaling companies were dependent on the whalers from Taiji and Ayukawa and the captured whales were brought onto land using the companies’ winches and a pier in the harbor. The whales were flensed side-by-side under the open sky as the former whaling station no longer existed. Both companies kept operating primarily to preserve the local whaling tradition and one recently purchased a small whaling vessel. Without a full crew, however, it is still dependent on whalers from other towns.

The situation in Abashiri changed in 2017 when the new scientific whaling program NEWREP-NP expanded its whaling operations to Abashiri. The ICR built a new whaling station and in 2017, 47 minke whales were brought onto land and flensed in Abashiri with the help of whalers from other whaling communities. Not many people in Abashiri still identify with the whaling industry, however, and the news of the IWC withdrawal has been received without great emotion. One ex-whaler I interviewed remarked that he does not see how whaling can be resumed in Abashiri without equipment, boats, or even young people willing to do the job. Even the new whaling station from the ICR is of little help as it is based on the other side of the town and has no direct access to the sea. Instead, the whales must be moved onto land at the pier where Baird’s beaked whales are also flensed and then transported on trucks through the city. This can be done with the relatively small minke whales, but it is not practical with larger whale species.

Furthermore, thanks to the new whale-watching industry, the locals have a relatively good idea of the current whale stock situation and fear that species like fin whales will not last long if hunted again for commercial whaling.25 Of the four whaling communities, Abashiri certainly has the weakest connection to whaling. The social scientists involved in the Freeman report did not even visit Abashiri to conduct fieldwork, but included the town nevertheless. One inhabitant explained: “We were only called a “whaling town” because we had a whaling station at that time [in 1988]. But we haven’t really done anything related to whale tourism. There is no longer a connection between whales and the inhabitants of Abashiri, the only thing we have is the [whale watching] cruiser.” This view was confirmed by another local who added: “There is not really a relationship between the lives of humans and the whales. Sometimes we had eaten whale sashimi, but this has completely disappeared in the last ten years.”

Does this mean that the “whaling culture” in Hokkaido has been extinguished? After visiting Abashiri, I took the train south to the port city of Kushiro in southeastern Hokkaido. The city is mentioned in the Freeman report, but the social scientists did not label it a “whaling town” as there were no active whalers operating and living in the city in 1988. Interestingly, however, Kushiro is described as a “new whaling town” on the town’s website.26 Indeed, in downtown Kushiro, there are countless restaurants advertising fresh whale meat outside their stores.

Kushiro has a very brief whaling history, but in April 2000, Kyōdō Senpaku started to visit the port to deliver frozen whale meat. This event was accompanied by many pro-whaling events and eventually led to the creation of a “whaling festival” that is now held every year.27 Also, after 2002, Kushiro became one of the two places where the STCW companies flensed the minke whales caught for the ICR. In Kushiro, I had the opportunity to speak with the owner of a local izakaya, who not only sold whale meat dishes in his restaurant but was one of the founding members of the “Kushiro Whale Council” (kushiro kujira kyōgikai).28 This organization not only organizes the whaling festival and promotes the consumption of whale meat, but also hosted the “Summit of Japanese Traditional Whaling Communities” (zenkoku kujira fo-ramu) in 2009.

The owner of the izakaya was very enthusiastic about Japan’s withdrawal from the IWC and expects that in the future, his restaurant will be able to offer many more whale species to customers. Even without active whalers, it is no question for him that Kushiro is a real “whaling town.” According to him, the biggest challenge is to convince older people that whale meat nowadays tastes much better than in the old days as only the best parts of the meat are sold and prepared at the restaurant. In recent years, more restaurants have begun to sell whale meat, experimenting with new recipes and only using high-quality parts. Whale meat may still not be widely eaten, but because of its rarity and controversial nature, it has become a delicacy for food enthusiasts. This development has been promoted by the “Kushiro Whale Council” and similar associations have formed in other coastal cities during the past 20 years.

Like Kushiro, coastal communities that had given up whaling long before the IWC moratorium, such as Hakodate, Shimonoseki, Nagato, Nagasaki, and Ikitsukishima have since branded themselves as “new whaling towns.” When visiting these towns during my fieldwork, I discovered that because there are no active whalers left in these communities, they have an especially strong nostalgic view of the coastal whaling industry, without seeing the everyday problems STCW operators face. Indeed, I believe that some of them may be likely candidates for establishing their own commercial whaling companies after the resumption of commercial whaling.


Having revisited the four whaling communities, what are our conclusions? We have seen that coastal whaling has survived in these communities for 30 years, mainly because of the close cooperation between the villages based on their shared identity as “whaling towns” and because of government support in the form of scientific coastal whaling programs. While many locals in the whaling communities have long hoped that commercial whaling would someday resume, faced with the reality of the decision, their first response has been underwhelming. With only old equipment available, no capital, and only 40 whalers still active, many of whom are already past retirement age, it remains to be seen how successful the industry can be without further government support.

The return to commercial whaling will allow coastal whaling operators greater freedom, but a great expansion of the industry seems unlikely as the catch quotas set by the government will probably not change drastically. The decision to withdraw from the IWC was mainly an opportunistic call by the Japanese government at a moment when the climate in many Western nation-states was against upholding international agreements. It also had the added benefit of getting rid of Antarctic whaling, which not only swallowed massive public subsidies, as the Tōhoku Reconstruction Funds scandal had shown, but also incurred much Western criticism.

While STCW is smaller, its symbolic value is much higher as people in Japan are more emotionally attached to these communities than whaling operations in the far away Antarctic Ocean. Nevertheless, the Japanese government is still quite conscious of its public image and will set strict quotas to bolster its claim that sustainable whaling is possible. New whaling stations being built in new places is still likely, however.

It remains unclear whether the new commercial whaling industry will increase the demand for whale meat and other whale products. In the past 30 years, the pro-whaling associations have gone to great lengths to increase the marketability of whale meat, pushing the concept of “whaling towns” even outside the original four communities. Meanwhile, three of these four communities have cultivated their whaling image. Although the promotion of whale meat as a local specialty has been partly successful, acceptance of the product across Japan is yet to occur.


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Fynn Holm is a teaching and research assistant in Social Sciences of Japan at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. He is currently finishing his PhD titled “Hunting with the Gods of the Sea: Anti-Whaling Movements in Northeast Japan, 1600-1912.” He can be reached at [email protected]


1See Statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary, Dec 26, 2018. 

2For examples, see Midori Kagawa-Fox, “Japan’s Whaling Triangle – The Power Behind the Whaling Policy,” Japanese Studies 29, no. 3 (2009): 401–14; Atsushi Ishii and Ayako Okubo, “An Alternative Explanation of Japan’s Whaling Diplomacy in the Post-Moratorium Era,” Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy 10, no. 1 (2007): 55–87; Keiko Hirata, “Beached Whales: Examining Japan’s Rejection of an International Norm,” Social Science Japan Journal 7, no. 2 (2004): 177–97; Mike Danaher, “Why Japan Will Not Give up Whaling,” Pacifica Review: Peace, Security & Global Change 14, no. 2 (2002): 105–20.

3David McNeill and Tomohiko Taniguchi, “A Solution to the Whaling Issue? Former MOFA Spokesman Speaks Out,” The Asia-Pacific Journal 7, no. 9 (2009).

4Jakobina K. Arch, Bringing Whales Ashore: Oceans and the Environment of Early Modern Japan (Washington: University of Washington Press, 2018).

5Amy L. Catalinac and Gerald Chan, “Japan, the West, and the Whaling Issue: Understanding the Japanese Side,” Japan Forum 17, no. 1 (2005): 133–63; Michael Strausz, “Executives, Legislatures, and Whales: The Birth of Japan’s Scientific Whaling Regime,” International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 14, no. 3 (2014): 455–78.

6For more information on the several scientific whaling programs, visit the website of the ICR.

7Robert L. Friedheim, “Moderation in the Pursuit of Justice: Explaining Japan’s Failure in the International Whaling Negotiations,” Ocean Development & International Law 27, no. 4 (1996): 349–78.

8Tomoya Akimichi et al., Small-Type Coastal Whaling in Japan: Report of an International Workshop, ed. Milton M. R. Freeman (Boreal Institute for Northern Studies, University of Alberta, 1988), 83.

9Masami Iwasaki-Goodman, “An Analysis of Social and Cultural Change in Ayukawa-Hama (Ayukawa Shore Community)” (PhD thesis, University of Alberta, Department of Anthropology, 1994), 56–61.

10Akimichi et al., Small-Type Coastal Whaling in Japan, 75.

11Charlie Foley, “Whale Wars” (Animal Planet, 2008-2015).

12Louie Psihoyos, The Cove, Documentary (Lionsgate, 2009).

13Atsushi Ishii, Kaitai shinsho “hogei ronsō” (Tokyo: Shinhyōron, 2011).

14See Fnn Prime, Dec 26, 2018.

15See Buzzap!, Dec 30, 2018.

16See Sankei News, Dec 20, 2014.

17See Mainichi Digital, Dec 20, 2018.

18See for example Yahoo News, Dec 26, 2018; Livedoor News, Dec 26, 2018.

19For more information, see the website of michi no eki wao.

20Jeffrey J. Smith, “Evolving to Conservation?: The International Court’s Decision in the Australia/Japan Whaling Case,” Ocean Development & International Law 45, no. 4 (2014): 301–27.

21Mikio Ōshima and Seiji Ōsumi, “Ayukawa No Fukkō Ha Kujira Kara,” Ishinomakigaku, no. 3 (2017): 30.

22Fynn Holm, “The Whales and the Tsunami: The reconstruction and reinvention of the “whale town” Ayukawa,” in Land, Natur, Nation. Japans Regionen zwischen Idylle, Verfall und Revitalisierung, ed. Ludgera Lewerich; Theresa Sieland and Timo Thelen (Düsseldorf: Düsseldorf University Press, 2019), in print.

23See The House of Representatives, Japan, Oct 23, 2012; Philip Brasor, “Scrutiny of Tohoku Reconstruction Funds Needed,” The Japan Times Online, Sep 23, 2012.

24Paul A. Cunningham, Edward H. Huijbens, and Stephen L. Wearing, “From Whaling to Whale Watching: Examining Sustainability and Cultural Rhetoric,” Journal of Sustainable Tourism 20, no. 1 (2012): 143–61.

25For a report on the whale sightings by the whale watchers, see Yoshikazu Uni et al., “Sighting Records of Cetaceans and Sea Birds in the Southern Okhotsk Sea, off Abashiri, Hokkaido,” Bulletin of the Shiretoko Museum, no. 36 (2014): 29–40.

26See the website of the city of Kushiro.

27Jun Morikawa, Whaling in Japan : Power, Politics and Diplomacy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 69.

28See the website of kushiro kujira kyōgikai.

Death by Video: Morrison Combats Refugees by Film

March 2nd, 2019 by Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Caught in the backwater of the world’s existence, Australia struggles for relevance in various ways.  It might show itself a leader in creating a sovereign fund (too late for that now); it might demonstrate, in various ways, a singular approach to solar energy (impossible, we are told, on that score).  Lacking a decent number of terrorist attacks, it feels left out, stranded in a provincialism that ignores the decent, maiming bombing that might signal a boost in security funding.  Lacking the millions of refugees Jordan and Turkey host, it feels cast aside, preferring to persecute the few that it has.  Being a US satellite sometimes stings, if only to remind the policy makers here that a good education and service for Australia leads to a pledge to a foreign Queen and, yes, functionaries in Washington.

But there is always room to impress.  Australia, land girt by sea, and terrified by what will approach via it.  A fixation, one that should fill the psychiatric manuals, has captivated Australian politicians since it became unfashionable to avoid paperwork and get on a boat to head Down Under.  In the late 1990s, the regulatory framework to punish and condemn those without documentation was established. The document became sovereign: lacking it landed you, not only in a spot of bother, but a spot of derision.  The Migration Act scolded; the Australian immigration minister dispensed with.  Australians like their queues; why did you, amidst falling bombs, murderous thugs and the odd exploitative pimp, show consideration and wait in line till we called you?

A certain literature – and to that, a good deal of ghastly celluloid – has been produced on the subject.  All are, in essence, in violation of the United Nations Refugee Convention.  No mention on the right to asylum is ever made; nor to the right not to be prejudiced against as an asylum seeker in terms of means of arrival.  And that’s merely the start.  In gazing at these amateurish compilations of self-entitled guff, one is left with the conclusion that no one involved in this process has ever consulted a human rights manual, let alone familiarised themselves with the hideous post-Second World War period.  There was a time when the term Displaced Person was not entirely revolting.

Such cinematic barrel scraping features warnings about arriving in Australia.  It targets individuals at various stages of their travel.  Farid Rasuli, as a 17-year-old refugee, managed to catch a video on YouTube, with production credits due to the Australian Border Force, a few years ago.  Moving through Indonesia and hoping to conduct a search for videos in his language, Rasuli found a dull, austere Australian major general popping up.  It starts like this: “This video is produced in English by the Australian Government to ensure transparency of translated anti-people smuggling communication material being delivered to audiences offshore.”  Such breathtaking, granular authenticity!

The video proceeds in unequivocal manner.  In bold type, it claims that, “You will be turned back.”  The particular production, dull vintage 2016, insists that the arrangement with the United States to settle refugees that would, otherwise, find themselves in Australia’s holiday gulag, is a “one-off.”  Potential arrivals are told that there will not be able to avail themselves of such an option, should they wish to leap on the off chance.  What is not explained is that the US administration at the time offers no guarantees that such a measure would even work. (A certain President Donald Trump was going to get the wobbles on that one.)

In 2014, Angus Campbell, the commander of the unfortunately named Operation Sovereign Borders, Australia’s own secret mission of oppression, was co-opted in making another video.  It featured, in rather ugly fashion, the bold capitalised words “NO WAY” followed by the imperative shout, “You will not make Australia Home.”  Above the message: an Australia with a line through it; a deleted, forbidden Australia.  The duration of this ghastly pap is a mere minute.  “The message is simple, if you come to Australia illegally by boat, there is no way you will ever make Australia home.”

The message is designed as a punch against both the smuggler and the cargo. “It is the policy and practice of the Australian government to intercept any vessel that is seeking to illegally enter Australia and safely remove it beyond our waters.”  (The wording is important: whose safety are we really referring to?)

The Australian propaganda units have been busy – far busier than many of the citizens care to reflect upon.  Money best reserved for Australia’s declining education system has found a home in other projects.  In addition to film, the form of the graphic novel has been deployed.  Going for 18-pages, one had a specific audience: Afghan asylum seekers.  The message: should you dare make the journey to Australia, Nauru’s infamous hospitality awaits.  The production positively reeks of persecution.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the hardened advertising man of the government, has retreated into something he knows best: the shallow, bucket swilling call of the advert.  This is interesting in a way: the same man condemned his opponents for doing something similar when they got on the anti-refugee video show.  When Labor, then in government, introduced material to justify its “PNG solution” in July 2013, Morrison claimed that the party was “ramraiding the taxpayer’s ATM”.  The then coalition opposition snortingly dismissed the effort by Labor as “propaganda”.

Shortened memories prevail.  A two-minute video message is now ambling its way through 10 countries, though it will have to be translated, however accurately, on its crooked journey.  “Make no mistake, if you attempt to come to Australia illegally by boat, you will not succeed.”  Spare your pennies, insists Morrison.  “So do not waste your money or risk your life, or anyone else’s life, for nothing.”  Such is the awareness of a person who has never had to consider the throbbing, genuine feeling human rights conjures up in the breast of the oppressed.

Morrison is selling the measure as a necessity, a band aid to what the opposition parties have done to his cherished border protection policy.  “Our government will be doing everything within our power – despite what the Labor Party have done to undermine our border protection regime – to ensure these boats don’t come.”  Videos, and up at them.


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Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research and Asia-Pacific Research.  Email: [email protected]

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It is over seventy years since the issue of systematized sexual abuse in the Asia-Pacific War came to light in interrogations leading up to the post-Second World War Military Tribunals. There was also widespread vernacular knowledge of the system in the early postwar period in Japan and its former occupied territories. The movement for redress for the survivors of this system gained momentum in East and Southeast Asia in the 1970s. By the 1990s this had become a global movement, making connections with other international movements and political campaigns on the issue of militarized sexual violence. These movements have culminated in advances in international law, where militarized sexual violence has been addressed in ad hoc Military Tribunals on the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and is explicitly addressed in the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court.1 Cultural politics and the politics of commemoration have also been an important element of the movements for redress. Here, we survey some of the physical sites of commemoration of this issue. We survey sites in Australia, South Korea, Japan, the US, China, and Taiwan. The elderly women, who have been demonstrating and campaigning for decades are respectfully referred to as the ‘Grandmothers’. We argue that these sites commemorate not only suffering, but also the activism of the survivors and their supporters. These twin themes can be introduced through a discussion of the Australian War Memorial’s depiction of Dutch-Australian survivor Jan Ruff O-Herne.

The Australian War Memorial

The Australian War Memorial was established at the end of the First World War as a ‘shrine, a world-class museum, and an extensive archive’.2 Its mission is to ‘assist Australians to remember, interpret and understand the Australian experience of war and its enduring impact on Australian society’.3 The holdings include ‘relics, official and private records, art, photographs, film, and sound’. The physical archive is augmented by an extensive on-line archive of digitized materials.4 From the end of the First World War to the present, the Memorial has been the official repository for the documentation of Australia’s involvement in military conflicts and peacekeeping operations. It has employed historians, archivists, journalists, film-makers, photographers, and artists.

The Australian War Memorial is devoted to documenting the Australian experience of war. As has been argued elsewhere, the presence or absence of individuals in this archive reflects hierarchies of nationality, ethnicity, racialized positioning, gender, class, and status as soldier or civilian, enemy or ally. The closer an individual is to the military institution, the higher their rank, and the more closely they are connected with Australia, the more likely they are to be mentioned.5

As far as we know, the museum section of the Australian War Memorial has only one permanent exhibit which focuses on the association of military institutions with brothels, prostitution, and sexual violence, an exhibit which we will discuss below.6 Nevertheless, a temporary exhibition in 2016 included Australian art which depicted relations between Australian women and US soldiers stationed in Australia.7

In the archives, though, there are trails which can be followed, particularly now that so many records have been digitized.8 We can find interrogation reports which mention incidents of sexual violence and the enslavement of women by Japanese troops in South East Asia.9

One on-line exhibition of the Australian War Memorial includes discussion of the experiences of Jan Ruff O’Herne, who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the Japanese military in the occupied Netherlands East Indies in 1944.

Jan O’Herne was born in 1923 at [Bandung], in central Java. After the Japanese invasion of the [Netherlands East Indies], she, her mother, and her two sisters were interned, along with thousands of other Dutch women and children, in a disused and condemned army barracks at Ambarawa.

In February 1944 a truck arrived at the camp, and all the girls 17 years and above were made to line-up in the compound. The ten most attractive, including Jan O’Herne, were selected by Japanese officers and told to pack a bag quickly. Seven of the girls (including O’Herne) were taken to an old Dutch colonial house at [Semarang], some 47 kilometres from their camp. This house, which became known to the Japanese as ‘The House of the Seven Seas’, was used as a military brothel, and its inmates were to become ‘comfort women’.

On their first morning at the house, photographs of the girls were taken, and displayed on the front verandah which served as a reception area. Visiting Japanese personnel would then select from these photographs. Over the following four months, the girls, all virgins, were repeatedly raped and beaten, day and night. Those who became pregnant were forced to have miscarriages.

After four harrowing months, the girls were moved to a camp at Bogor, in West Java, where they were reunited with their families. This camp was exclusively for women who had been put into military brothels, and the Japanese warned the inmates that if anyone told what had happened to them, they and their family members would be killed. Several months later the O’Hernes were transferred to a camp at Batavia, which was liberated on 15 August 1945.

In 1946, O’Herne married British soldier Tom Ruff, whose unit had protected the camp from Indonesian freedom fighters after its liberation. The two emigrated to Australia from Britain in 1960.10

The on-line narrative of Ruff O’Herne’s experiences is supplemented by three items of material culture. The first is a photograph of O’Herne at age nineteen, just before the Japanese invasion. This photograph has become iconic, and graces the cover of her autobiography, Fifty Years of Silence.11

Figure 4.1: Jan Ruff O’Herne’s memoir, Fifty Years of Silence, on display in the Australian War Memorial Bookshop, July 2016; photograph by Vera Mackie.

The second is a handkerchief embroidered with the autographs of the interned Dutch women who were enslaved in the ‘House of the Seven Seas’ with Ruff O’Herne.12 The third is an apron embroidered with the names of the women interned at Kamp 1A Ambarawa Internment Camp.13 Ruff O’Herne’s handkerchief is currently displayed in the Australian War Memorial, alongside other material artefacts from internment camps and prisoner of war camps of the Second World War.

The caption to the display acknowledges not only her wartime sufferings but also her post-Second World War activism.

Handkerchief of a ‘comfort woman’

…She survived the brutal assaults but, traumatised, could not speak about her experiences. She married, had children, and with her family migrated to Australia, always living with the memory of her terrible ordeal. In 1992, in Tokyo, with other former ‘comfort women’, O’Herne courageously spoke out about Japanese wartime atrocities. In her book, Fifty Years of Silence, she describes how the Japanese military used tens of thousands of women, mainly from Korea and Japan’s Asian territories, as sex slaves.14

In the caption to the Australian War Memorial display, Ruff O’Herne’s handkerchief is described as the ‘handkerchief of a “comfort woman”’. The quotation marks around ‘comfort woman’ suggest that the War Memorial’s curators were aware of problems with this terminology, but chose to use the most commonly understood term for the enforced military prostitution/military sexual slavery system perpetrated by the Japanese military in the Asia-Pacific War. In the text below the caption, however, the term ‘sex slave’ is used.

Ruff O’Herne has commented on the term ‘comfort woman’.

The euphemism ‘comfort women’ is an insult, and I felt it was a pity that the media were also continually using these words. We were never ‘comfort women’. Comfort means something warm and soft, safe and friendly. It means tenderness. We were war-rape victims, enslaved and conscripted by the Japanese imperial forces.15

Ruff O’Herne is not only a survivor of this oppressive system, but has also been a vocal activist since the 1990s, participating in a transnational movement for redress.

Towards a transnational movement for redress

While commentators often refer to decades of ‘silence’, there was in fact widespread knowledge of this systematic military abuse in Japan and in the territories occupied by Japan during wartime. The encounters in the military brothels lived on in the memories of the military personnel and the enslaved women, not to mention all of the officers, doctors, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs, and pimps who managed the system. There are various casual references to the women in English-language texts of the early postwar years, often using the phrase ‘comfort girl’.16 Early postwar memoirs and literary works in Japanese mention the system and several Japanese-language books on the issue appeared in the 1970s.17 The issue was also discussed in feminist circles in Japan in the 1970s.18

Until the 1990s very few individual survivors had testified publicly. A Japanese woman, Mihara Yoshie (1921–1993), published an autobiography under the pseudonym ‘Shirota Suzuko’ in 1971 and she was interviewed on a radio program in Japan in 1986. In 1979, film-maker Yamatani Tetsuo made a documentary and published a book about a Korean survivor, Pae Pong-gi (1915–1991), who lived out the post-Second World War years in Okinawa. Yamatani’s book was entitled Okinawa no Harumoni (Halmoni [Grandmother] in Okinawa).19

On 14 August 1991, a Korean survivor, Kim Hak Sun (1924–1997), held a press conference to tell of her wartime experiences. This was the day before the anniversary of the end of the Asia-Pacific War on 15 August. She was soon joined by survivors from South Korea and other places. Dutch-Australian Jan Ruff O’Herne came forward in 1992 and published her abovementioned autobiography in 1994. Maria Rosa Henson (1927–1997) from the Philippines also came forward in 1992 and published her autobiography in 1996. In 1992, Taiwanese survivor, Liu Huang A-tao told her story.20 These were the beginnings of a transnational movement for redress which built on existing feminist networks in the region.21

In January 1992, then Japanese Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi (1919–2007) made an official visit to South Korea. On Wednesday 8 January1992, Kim Hak Sun, other survivors, and their supporters gathered in front of the Japanese Embassy in downtown Seoul. They demanded that the Japanese government make an official apology and provide compensation, chanting ‘Apologize!’ ‘Punish!’ ‘Compensate!’. There has been a Wednesday demonstration almost every week for over twenty five years. Survivors and their supporters hold placards in Japanese, Korean, or English. The elderly survivors sit on portable stools, facing the Japanese Embassy, surrounded by their younger supporters. They are often joined by international supporters visiting Seoul.22 Demonstrations have been carried out in other places, too, such as outside the Japanese Embassy in Manila. Taiwanese survivors and their supporters have demonstrated outside the Japanese representative office, the ‘Interchange Association’ in Taipei.23

Through their embodied presence in public space, the survivors assert their citizenship in the modern South Korean nation-state. Their first assertion of citizenship was in coming out publicly to tell their stories of wartime abuse, and to charge both the South Korean government and the Japanese government to do something about their situation. Their press conferences and testimonies brought their stories into public discourse. In their weekly attendance at the Wednesday demonstrations they make their demands visible in a public space on a Seoul street. Their placards in Korean, Japanese, and English show that they are addressing multiple audiences: the South Korean government and the South Korean public, the Japanese government and the Japanese public, and an international community which often communicates in the English language.

Activists have supported the survivors in various ways: recording, publishing, and translating collections of testimonies, supporting law suits, holding a people’s tribunal, fundraising, and volunteering to look after the everyday needs of the survivors. As recently as August 2017, 90-year old survivor Gil Won-Ok released an album of songs for fundraising purposes.24

The House of Sharing

From 1992, a group of elderly survivors shared a rented house in Seoul, known as the ‘House of Sharing’ (the Korean name ‘Nanum-ui Jip’ literally means ‘our house’). The House of Sharing moved to the outer suburbs of Seoul in 1995. Every Wednesday the survivors travel into downtown Seoul to take part in the weekly demonstration.25

The suburban complex combines a residence, a Buddhist temple, a museum, a gallery, and a memorial.26The museum, established in 1998, has several rooms, described as the ‘Experience Room’, the ‘Indictment Room’, the ‘Cherish Room’, the ‘Record Room’, and the ‘Testimonial Room’. There is also a replica of a room from a wartime military brothel. Some of the possessions of Pae Pong-gi, the subject of Yamatani Tetsuo’s abovementioned documentary film and book, are displayed in a glass case. One wall has a series of terracotta tiles with the women’s handprints embedded in them. In the garden, there are tombstones and statues commemorating former residents who have passed away.

The House of Sharing website provides a history of the so-called ‘comfort women’ system, profiles of the survivors who share the House, information about the House, a collection of historical photographs, and a gallery of the women’s paintings.27 The paintings were completed by the survivors as a form of therapy and a form of testimony.28 Several of the paintings depict their younger selves, innocent young women wearing Korean ethnic dress (chima jeogori). Flowers often appear in the paintings, denoting nature and innocence. The House of Sharing was perhaps the first museum devoted to documenting the issue of militarized sexual violence. Several more have opened in recent years, as we shall see below.

The Women’s Tribunal

Once Kim Hak Sun and others came out with their stories of militarized sexual violence in the early 1990s, a transnational movement for redress developed.29 In each country historians and activists worked on documenting the women’s wartime experiences. These testimonies were collected, published, and translated into several languages. This collaboration between women in Japan, China, North and South Korea, and other countries culminated in the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery, held in Tokyo on 8–12 December 2000. This people’s tribunal had no legal force, although it followed international legal protocols. The judges had experience in the International Military Tribunals; professional lawyers prosecuted the case, and amici curiae (‘friends of the court’) presented defences on behalf of the Japanese government, which did not send any representatives to the hearing.30Sixty four survivors attended – from South Korea, North Korea, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, the Philippines, the Netherlands, Indonesia, East Timor, and Japan. Twenty survivors testified – some by video. Expert witnesses and former military personnel also testified.31 The Tribunal indicted the Emperor of Japan, ten high military officials, and the Japanese government for crimes against humanity.

The Women’s Tribunal drew on the documents of the International Military Tribunal of the Far East (the Tokyo Tribunal, 1946–1948) and other research carried out by historians, lawyers, and activists in several countries. The judgment, handed down one year later in December 2001, found that the Japanese Emperor, the Japanese government, and the other accused individuals were liable for criminal responsibility for crimes against humanity committed through the system of sexual slavery.32

Nicola Henry has argued that ‘the structure and practice of law is not only a site of memory preservation but also a medium for contested memory’.33 The Women’s Tribunal provided a forum for survivors to present their testimonies and contribute to a reworking of the historical memory which had been encoded in the original Tokyo Tribunal. In many ways the Women’s Tribunal could be seen as a massive transnational historical research project, with the aim of achieving historical justice for the survivors.34

When the Tribunal judgment was handed down one year later in December 2001, a small group of women of several nationalities staged a demonstration outside the hall in Tokyo where the judgment was announced. They were dressed in black clothes and covered their heads and faces with black veils, standing in silent vigil. No signs or placards announced the purpose of their vigil. Their demonstration adopted the format of an international group called ‘Women in Black’. The first such demonstrations were carried out by Israeli, Palestinian, and American women in 1988. Since then, such demonstrations have been carried out around the world, including protests against the war in the former Yugoslavia and vigils associated with the terrorist attacks in the USA in September 2001 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. By staging a vigil as ‘women in black’ these women were performing a visual affirmation of their links with women’s groups around the world and staking a claim to their use of public space.35

The ‘Women in Black’ vigil and the Wednesday demonstrations also have resonances with the demonstrations of the mothers and grandmothers of the ‘disappeared’ in Argentina. In April 1977, women in Buenos Aires occupied a central city square to draw attention to their sons and daughters who had been ‘disappeared’ by the military regime. This developed into a regular ritual of pacing around the Píramido de Mayo monument in the Plaza de Mayo square, carrying photographs of their ‘disappeared’ children and grandchildren (desaparecidos). It is estimated that the number of disappeared was around 30,000; the majority were young, between sixteen and thirty-five; around 30 per cent were women and around 3 per cent were pregnant. Two of the protesting mothers themselves were ‘disappeared’ after the protests started. After the democratization of Argentina in 1983, details of the systematic kidnapping, torture, and execution were revealed. Over thirty years later, the women still carry out their procession every Thursday at 3:00 p.m.36 As with the Wednesday demonstrations in Seoul, supporters come from around the world to witness their activism.

The Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace in Tokyo

One of the leaders of the movement in Japan for redress for survivors of militarized sexual abuse was journalist Matsui Yayori (1934–2002), longtime editorial staff member of the Asahi newspaper and a champion of the Women’s Tribunal. After Matsui’s death in 2002, her supporters worked to establish the Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace (WAM), which opened in 2005. WAM is in the Waseda Hōshien complex in Tokyo, which houses several Christian civil society organizations. The Museum and the Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Centre build on the work of Matsui and the Asian Women’s Association which she co-founded.37

WAM has mounted a series of temporary exhibitions which have focused on the ‘Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal’, ‘The Tenth Anniversary of the Tribunal’, ‘Matsui Yayori’s Life and Work’, ‘The Comfort Women Issue A to Z’, ‘Korean Survivors in Japan’, ‘Testimonies from Former Soldiers’, ‘The Sexual Service Industry and Sexual Violence in Okinawa’, an exhibit directed at high school students, and reports on the issue from East Timor, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines.38 Until mid-2016, the exhibition was ‘Under the Glorious Guise of “Asian Liberation”: Indonesia and Sexual Violence under Japanese Military Occupation’. This partly drew on Comfort Women/Troost Meisjes, a collaboration between Dutch photographer Jan Banning and anthropologist Hilde Janssen, who travelled around Indonesia interviewing elderly survivors and photographing them.39 Banning’s photographs also featured in the Japanese photojournalism magazine, Days Japan in 2014.40 From mid-2016 to mid-2017 the exhibition was ‘Battlefield from Hell: Japanese Comfort Stations in Burma’.41 From mid-2017, the exhibition focused on ‘The Silence of the Japanese “Comfort Women”: Sexuality Managed by the State’.42

In each of the different museums in Seoul and Tokyo (and others to be discussed below), the implied viewer is different. In WAM in Tokyo, a group of activists are encouraging a largely Japanese audience to reflect on the contested history of their own country in wartime. The main language of the museum displays is Japanese, but with some English captions. The history of the Asia-Pacific War has been hotly contested in ‘history wars’ among historians within Japan, and there is also intense debate between historians in Japan, other parts of East Asia, North America, and Australia.43

One Thousand Wednesdays

To mark the 1,000th Wednesday demonstration on 14 December 2011 a commemorative statue was erected on the site of the demonstrations. Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung’s statue depicts a young woman seated on a chair, facing the Embassy, with an empty chair beside her. The plaque has inscriptions in Korean, Japanese, and English. The English inscription reads:

December 14, 2011 marks the 1000th Wednesday demonstration for the solution of Japanese military sexual slavery issue after its first rally on January 8, 1992 in front of the Japanese Embassy. This peace monument stands to commemorate the spirit and the deep history of the Wednesday demonstration.

Figure 4.2: The Peace Memorial, Seoul, February 2013; photograph by Vera Mackie.

The figure depicted in the bronze statue wears Korean ethnic dress (chima jeogori); her hair is bobbed, suggesting that she is a young unmarried woman; and her fists are clenched on her lap. Her bare feet suggest vulnerability, or someone fleeing from danger. She stares steadfastly ahead, unsmiling. A small bird is perched on one shoulder. Behind her, at pavement level, is a mosaic, depicting the shadow of an old woman. The statue and its ‘shadow’ suggest the different stages of life of the survivor – the young woman before her ordeal, and the old woman who refuses to forget. The mosaic also includes a butterfly. The bird is an icon of peace and of escape, while the butterfly has spiritual connotations.44

The empty seat suggests those who are missing, but also provides a site for performative participation in the installation – demonstrators or visitors can have their photographs taken seated beside the statue of the young woman. Statues are often monumental, larger than life-size, standing on a tall pedestal, looking down on passers-by.45 The Seoul statue is at street level and is life-sized. Because the figure is seated, she seems approachable. There is, however, another reason why she is sitting. The fragile elderly women who have been demonstrating in front of the Japanese Embassy every week for over twenty five years generally sit there on portable stools rather than standing.

The statue does more than commemorate the suffering of the thousands and thousands of women who suffered from militarized sexual violence. It also commemorates the determination of those demonstrators and supporters who keep the issue alive. Placed at the very site where these demonstrations have now occurred for over twenty five years, the statue is a form of petition to the Japanese government and its diplomatic representatives. At times other than Wednesday lunchtimes, it is an avatar for the elderly demonstrators.

At one of the demontrations in February 2013, it had been snowing in the few days before the Wednesday demonstration and there was still some snow on the ground. Supporters had dressed the statue in a warm winter coat, woollen hat with ear muffs, a scarf, a long red, embroidered winter skirt, and socks. On the seat next to the statue were cute stuffed toys; behind her was a row of colourful potted plants. By dressing the statue in protection against the cold, the supporters symbolically expressed their concern for the halmoni (‘grandmothers’) who have survived and their care for the spirits of the countless women who did not survive.

By the time the demonstration started on this day, two busloads of police were in the street, the number of police roughly matching the number of demonstrators. The demonstrators were a mixture of young and old, male and female. Journalists, photographers, and media representatives joined the crowd. Behind the site of the Wednesday demonstration, there was a series of panels, commenting on other contentious issues such as the Dokdo/Takeshima islands which are under dispute between Japan and South Korea. The statue has been replicated in the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum.

The War and Women’s Human Rights Museum in Seoul

The War and Women’s Human Rights Museum was opened in May 2012, designed by Wise Architecture, and founded and maintained by the Korean Council for Women Drafted into Military Sexual Slavery.46 It is hidden away in a cul-de-sac in a residential neighborhood west of the city centre, surrounded by houses, schools, churches, and shops. Its location is much more accessible than the House of Sharing in the outer suburbs of Seoul. The War and Women’s Human Rights Museum is in a house which has been renovated and extended, and is therefore in proportion to the surrounding streetscape. The building is clad in charcoal-coloured bricks. Signs in Korean and English, decorated with a butterfly logo, indicate that this is The War and Women’s Human Rights Museum.47

Figure 4.3: The War and Women’s Human Rights Museum, February 2013; photograph by Vera Mackie.

Visitors enter from a small door at street level. After purchasing tickets and picking up an audio guide, the tour starts downstairs. A small dark room recreates the feeling of the prison-like conditions the women were subjected to in the wartime brothels. Testimonies are replayed and visuals are projected onto the walls of the room. Visitors then walk upstairs. The walls of the staircase are lined with photographs and messages from the survivors. There is a balcony with an outside wall made of the same charcoal bricks as the external walls of the museum. The names and photographs of women who have passed away are affixed to the bricks. The spaces in the lattice make it possible to place a candle or a flower. The open lattice of the brickwork allows visitors to look out at the surrounding residential area, reconnecting the museum with the city.48

Figure 4.4: The War and Women’s Human Rights Museum Balcony, February 2013; photograph by Vera Mackie.

In the exhibition space wall panels explain the history of the enforced military prostitution/military sexual slavery system. Here, there is a replica of the bronze statue that sits across from the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul. The statue itself is identical to the one in central Seoul, but without the plaque or the mosaic of the older woman’s shadow. This statue, too, has an empty seat beside it. It faces a video screen running footage of the Wednesday demonstrations, a virtual suggestion of the location and context of the original statue. Rather than a plaque, the museum as a whole provides historical context on the wartime enforced military prostitution/military sexual slavery system, the campaigns for redress, and the Wednesday demonstrations.

Figure 4.5: The Peace Monument in the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum, February 2013; photograph by Vera Mackie.

Because the Peace Monument is cast in bronze, it can be reproduced. The War and Women’s Human Rights Museum sells replicas of various sizes, and various communities have made plans to install replicas.49

Figure 4.6: Small Replica of the Peace Statue, December 2016; photograph by Vera Mackie.

Glendale, California

Another replica of the peace monument has been installed in Glendale, California.50 The statue, chair, and platform are identical to the original. Its plaque bears the caption, ‘I was a sex slave of the Japanese military’, and provides an explanation of the meanings of the shadow of the old woman, the bird, and the butterfly.

Peace Monument

In memory of more than 200,000 Asian and Dutch women who were removed from their homes to Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, East Timor and Indonesia to be coerced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan between 1932 and 1945.

And in celebration of ‘Comfort Women Day’ by the City of Glendale on July 30, 2012, and of passing the House Resolution 121 by the United States Congress on July 30, 2007, urging the Japanese government to accept historical responsibility for these crimes.

It is our sincere hope that these unconscionable violations of human rights shall never recur.

July 30, 2013

While the plaque of the original Seoul statue has text in Japanese, Korean, and English, the Glendale plaque is in English only. The original statue commemorates the activism of those who participate in the Wednesday demonstration, while the Glendale statue commemorates the ‘more than 200,000 Asian and Dutch women who were removed from their homes to Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, East Timor and Indonesia to be coerced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan between 1932 and 1945’. The Dutch women are identified by nationality, while ‘Asian’ seems to refer to an ethnic category which transcends any one national identification. Nevertheless, this is an acknowledgement that it was not only Korean women who were abused under this system. Indeed, because of the shifting geopolitics in the region after the end of the Second World War and successive waves of decolonization, identifying the nationality of any individual can be complicated, depending on whether one is referring to colonial regimes before and after 1945, the period of Japanese occupation, or the postcolonial nation-states.51

The plaque refers to the local situation in Glendale, where Asian American and Asian diasporic communities led the campaign for an acknowledgment of the issue, leading to the announcement of ‘Comfort Women Day’ by the City of Glendale on 30 July 2012. The plaque also acknowledges House Resolution 121 of the United States Congress on 30 July 2007, which called on the Japanese government to apologize and provide compensation.52 There was a similar campaign in Australia, with a few local councils passing resolutions, but none at the state or national government level.53 In each of these places, diasporic communities played an important role.

Figure 4.7: The Peace Memorial, Glendale, May 2014; photograph by Vera Mackie.

The Glendale statue is in a park in front of the local community centre and public library, facing a busy main road. On a sunny spring day in May 2014, the features of the statue were cast into relief by the bright sunlight. As in Seoul, supporters had offered colourful potted plants, but there was no need for the affective touches of scarves and warm clothing seen on the Seoul statue on a cold winter’s day.

In Glendale, the addressee of the statue’s petition is less clear than in Seoul. She is no longer clearly addressing the Japanese government through her accusatory gaze at the Japanese Embassy. She is perhaps addressing the local Glendale community, the wider US public, or an international Anglophone community.

The Glendale statue has stimulated controversy, with Japanese historical denialists putting pressure on the local government for the removal of the statue. The US District Court decided that the statue could stay.54A similar controversy has been seen in Strathfield, in the Western suburbs of Sydney. Members of the Korean-Australian community were initially successful in convincing Strathfield Council to approve a memorial. After pressure from conservative denialists from Japan, however, Strathfield decided not to go ahead.55 Currently a replica of the Seoul statue is housed in a community centre in a church in Ashfield, an inner Western suburb of Sydney.56 In Germany, there was a controversy when the city of Freiburg planned to erect a statue, a gift from Suwon, their sister city in South Korea. After pressure from Matsuyama, their sister city in Japan, they decided not to proceed.57 Eventually the town of Wiesunt hosted a replica, the first one in Europe.58 These controversies demonstrate that it is not only the survivors and their supporters who have forged transnational links. The conservative denialists also operate across national borders. Historians who write about issues related to the Asia-Pacific War in East Asia regularly receive unsolicited denialist propaganda in the mail and on e-mail.

Other Asian American communities have installed commemorative plaques, often outside local community centres, and others are planned. The memorial plaque in Eisenhower Park, Long Island reproduces a well-known photograph of some survivors found at the end of the Second World War in China.59

Figure 4.8: Memorial plaque in the Veterans Memorial in Eisenhower Park, Long Island, New York, May 2017, photograph by Katharine McGregor, reproduced with permission.

Replicas of the Seoul Peace Monument have been installed in other North American cities. There is a commemorative plaque in Manila and one memorial in Chiba, outside Tokyo.60 In August 2017 it was reported that there were dozens of such statues in South Korea, the US, Canada, Australia, and China. Five Seoul city buses carried similar statues in commemoration of the anniversary of the end of the Second World War in August 2017. The seated posture of the statue made it easy to install it on a bus seat, sitting in silent vigil alongside the commuters. August 15 is the date when Japan surrendered to the Allies, but Korea commemorates this date as the liberation of the country from colonization by the Japanese.61 In 2012 at an Asian Solidarity Conference in Taipei it was suggested that the day before this – 14 August – should be named ‘International Memorial Day for Comfort Women’. This is also the anniversary of Kim Hak Sun’s press conference in 1991 which had been one impetus for the movement for redress.62 Since 2012, civil society organisations have marked the day.

The Geopolitics of Commemoration

Another iteration of the Peace Memorial in Seoul is in a park some remove from the city centre. In this version, the statue of a young woman in Korean ethnic dress is joined by the statue of a young woman in Chinese ethnic dress, sculpted by a Chinese artist, Pan Yiqun, and supported by a Chinese American film-maker, Leo Shi Young.63 There is another chair set aside for future visitors and the potential for future statues to be added. This perhaps suggests that the original statue was being read as referring specifically to the Korean women, rather than a more universal figure of a young woman. This instability is apparent in the different descriptions attached to the statues in different locations, as noted above.

The juxtaposition of the Chinese and Korean statues can perhaps be read as a demonstration of transnational solidarity at the level of civil society, staged at a strategic moment just before Prime Minister Abe Shinzō’s official visit with South Korean President Park Geun-hye in October 2015. It could also be argued, however, that the two statues were ‘re-nationalised’ as Korean and Chinese, united in opposition to Japan.64 While civil society forged links between Korean and Chinese activists and artists, there was a different dynamic at the official level.

In December 2015, two months after Abe’s meeting with Park, the South Korean and Japanese governments issued a joint communiqué. The Japanese Foreign Minister, Kishida Fumio, stated that the Prime Minister, Abe Shinzō, ‘expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women’. Kishida stated that the Japanese government would provide the South Korean government with funds for the establishment of a fund for the care of the survivors and that ‘this issue is resolved finally and irreversibly’. The statement was met with hostility by the South Korean survivors, who felt they should have been consulted before any government-to-government agreement was reached, a basic principle of restorative justice. Then South Korean Foreign Minister, Yun Byung Se, confirmed that the issue was ‘resolved finally and irreversibly’ and that the Republic of Korea and Japan would ‘refrain from accusing or criticizing each other regarding this issue in the international community’. The statue was not mentioned in the Japanese statement at this stage, but the South Korean statement included an acknowledgment that ‘the Government of Japan is concerned about the statue built in front of the Embassy of Japan in Seoul’ and that the South Korean government would ‘strive to solve this issue in an agreeable manner through taking measures such as consulting with related organizations about possible ways of addressing this issue’.65 The agreement also returned the issue to a bilateral one between Japan and South Korea. Survivors from other countries demanded similar recognition. It was clear, however, that the Japan-ROK joint communiqué was a matter of geopolitics, an attempt to forge a closer alliance between the governments of the US, Japan, and South Korea against China.66

In December 2016 a community group in the Southern port city of Busan placed a statue in front of the local Japanese Consulate, hoping to make it a permanent installation. It was one year on from the unpopular bilateral agreement between the ROK and Japan. Prime Minister Abe called for the statue’s removal and recalled the Ambassador from Seoul and the Consul from Busan.67

In December 2016, Park Geun-hye – who had engineered the agreement with Abe Shinzō –was impeached on corruption charges, and in March 2017 the Constitutional Court voted unanimously to remove her from the Presidency. A new President, Moon Jae-in, took office on 10 May 2017. Moon has brought the 2015 Japan-ROK agreement into question. He has stated that he will institute a national day of commemoration, establish an institute to research the issue and build a museum, activities to be spearheaded by the Ministry of Gender and Equality.68 The statues continue to be attributed geopolitical significance in the region.

Commemoration in China

In Shanghai, two professors at Shanghai Normal University, Su Zhiliang and Chen Lifei, maintain the Chinese ‘Comfort Women’ Research Centre. In Shanghai there is an extant building which once housed a so-called ‘comfort station’. It is currently a residential building but many, like Su Zhiliang and Chen Lifei, would like to see it transformed into a memorial.69

In December 2015, a memorial to the so-called ‘comfort women’ opened in Nanjing.70 The building has been identified as the site of a former military ‘brothel’. In front of the museum is a statue which recreates in three-dimensional form the scene of the abovementioned well-known photograph of the survivors at the end of the Asia-Pacific War.71

Figure 4.9: Nanjing Liji Lane Former Comfort Station Exhibition Hall, June 2017, photograph by Antonia Finnane, reproduced with permission.

An exterior wall is covered with huge black and white photographs of some of the elderly survivors. Inside there are wall panels explaining the history of the system, historical photographs, and more recent photographs of the survivors. Explanations are in Chinese and English.

The name of the memorial is the Nanjing Liji Lane Former Comfort Station Exhibition Hall. Memorials and museums in other countries avoid using terms like ‘comfort women’ or ‘comfort station’ in their names, preferring to refer to ‘Women in War and Peace’, ‘War and Women’s Human Rights’ or, as we shall see below, ‘Grandmothers’. China’s Xinhua news agency, in its English-language reports on the issue, unapologetically uses the term ‘comfort women’.72

The location of the memorial in Nanjing takes on further resonance as this city was the site of the Nanjing Massacre in 1937 (also known as the ‘Rape of Nanjing’). Nanjing houses a massive memorial to the Massacre and various other historical sites. Statues at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial commemorate the victims of massacre, torture, and sexual violence. There is also a statue of controversial Chinese-American author Iris Chang (1968–2004), who campaigned to keep the history of the Nanjing Massacre in the public eye.73

Figure 4.10: Statue of Iris Chang, Nanjing, August 2015; photograph by Vera Mackie.

On the Xinhuanet news agency website, the article about the opening of the Nanjing Liji Lane memorial is grouped with a series of articles commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of hostilities in 1945. In the US, Europe, and Anglophone countries, it is usual to refer to the ‘Second World War’ (from 1939 to 1945). Historians working on East Asia, however, often refer to the ‘Asia-Pacific War’, recognizing that all-out war between Japan and China commenced in 1937. Historians in Japan often refer to the ‘Fifteen Years War’, counting fifteen years from the Manchurian Incident of 1931 to the end of the war in 1945. In China, much of 2015 was taken up with commemoration of what they call ‘The 70th Anniversary of Victory of Chinese People’s Resistance against Japanese Agression and World Anti-Fascist War’.74 A special section of the Xinhuanet website is devoted to what they call the ‘comfort women album’.75 In 2015, the Chinese media was full of stories about the war: dramatizations of important events, documentaries, and news stories about elderly survivors. The commemorations culminated in a huge military parade in Beijing on 3 September 2015. These commemorations are inseparable from ongoing geopolitical tensions between Japan and its neighbouring countries in East Asia.

The Grandmothers’ Museum in Taipei

In December 2016 a new museum was opened in Taipei, under the auspices of the Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation. This organization provides support for the survivors and has been planning the museum for the last decade.76 A commemorative plaque was unveiled on the site on International Women’s Day 2016 and the museum opened on 10 December 2016 (Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948).77 It is called the ‘Ama Museum’ or ‘Grandmothers’ Museum’. In Taiwan, too, the survivors are referred to respectfully as ‘grandmothers’.

Figure 4.11: The Ama Museum, Taipei, December 2016; photograph by Vera Mackie.

The Ama Museum is in a bustling shopping street called Dihua Street in a renovated building. The buildings in this area generally date to the mid-nineteenth century or the Japanese colonial period (1895–1945). The ground floor is a trendy café which is open to the public. On entering the museum, one walks along a corridor which has a gallery of photographs of the ‘grandmothers’ at different stages of their lives.

Figure 4.12: Gallery of Portraits of Ama, December 2016; photograph by Vera Mackie.

The Museum has a combination of historical documentation, profiles of survivors, artistic responses, and interactive installations. As one moves from the gallery of portraits to the museum proper, a series of questions invite reflection on the part of the museum visitor.

World War II ended more than 70 years ago. Why do you think we need to pay attention to the ‘comfort women’ issue?

If you were a loyal soldier and discovered your country had established a system of sexual slavery for the national military, what action would you take?

After the war, ‘comfort women’ survivors returned to Taiwan and found themselves the targets of discrimination and prejudice. If you were their family member, what would be your attitude toward this mistreatment?

The ‘comfort women’ system during World War II left the victims with both physical and mental scars. What do you think the Japanese government should do to face up to the historical mistake they made?

Issues regarding ‘comfort women’ often become reduced to the question of whether a person is ‘anti-Japanese’ or ‘pro-Japanese’. Do you believe that protesting against the Japanese government regarding the ‘comfort women’ system makes a person anti-Japanese?

While these questions are presented in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and English, captions in other parts of the museum are generally in Chinese and English. As of December 2016, brochures were available in Chinese, Japanese, and English. Japanese-language texts address the perpetrator nation; Chinese texts address Taiwanese and Chinese audiences; while English texts address an international audience.

Figure 4.13: Questions addressed to museum visitors, Ama Museum, December 2016; photograph by Vera Mackie.

Inside the museum, historical background is provided in informative historical panels, video testimonials, and artefacts of the movement for redress, such as a poster for the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery, where some Taiwanese survivors testified. Each of three panels celebrates the life of one of the survivors and several exhibits celebrate the therapeutic arts projects which were deployed as a way to heal the survivors’ psyches (as was also the case in South Korea). Memory baskets hold meaningful objects from each individual’s life. In front of each panel is a life story book of her life. In other interactive installations, visitors are invited to write postcards to the survivors or to the Japanese government.

Figure 4.14: Postcards from the Ama Museum, December 2016; photograph by Vera Mackie.

In addition to the informative sections, there are several artistic interventions. A major motif of the museum is the reed, signifying resilience. The ‘Song of the Reed’ commemorates the resilience of the survivors.78 A corridor leading from one gallery to another is called the ‘Song of the Reed Walk’, described as ‘a memorial corridor dedicated to survivors’. Transparent cylinders and metal cylinders, evoking the shape of the reed, are suspended from the ceiling. Fifty-nine of the metal cylinders take the form of little flashlights. Each projects the name of a survivor on to the floor, or on to the visitor’s hand if placed under the lamp. In another part of the museum, survivors’ names are carved into a black metal screen. The museum invites contemplation through its provocative question panels, active participation through its interactive displays, and emotional engagement through the artistic displays and installations.

The issue of militarized sexual violence emerged as an international feminist issue in the 1970s although there had been widespread knowledge of various forms of militarized sexual abuse well before then. By the 1990s, when the movement for redress had become a global one, demonstrators had transformed themselves from figures of suffering to political actors. They claimed public space in order to petition for their cause. In the 1990s, Cynthia Enloe reflected on the absences from most war museums of any reflection on sexual behaviour in wartime.79 While this is still to some extent true in mainstream war museums and memorials, recent decades have seen museums and memorials dedicated to the issue of wartime sexual violence. These museums do not simply document suffering. They also document the citizenship and activism of the ‘grandmothers’ who have fought for justice. A feature of these recent museums and memorials is that they also engage in an affective politics, mobilizing the emotions of the viewer in order to stimulate further activism.


This is an edited and abridged extract of Sharon Crozier-De Rosa and Vera Mackie, Remembering Women’s Activism (Oxford: Routledge, 2019), pp. 161–199; reproduced with permission from Routledge. Also available here.


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Vera Mackie is Senior Professor of Asian and International Studies and Director of the Centre for Critical Human Rights Research at the University of Wollongong.

Sharon Crozier-De Rosa is a Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Wollongong.


1Vera Mackie, ‘Militarized Sexual Violence and Campaigns for Redress’, in The Routledge History of Human Rights, eds Jean Quatert and Lora Wildenthal (Oxford: Routledge, in press).

2The building which houses the memorial and archive was completed in 1941. Before the completion of the permanent building, the ‘Australian War Museum’ exhibited in Melbourne’s Exhibition Building from 1922 to 1925, and in Sydney from 1925 to 1935. Australian War Memorial, ‘Origins of the Australian War Memorial’, undated (Last accessed 30 May 2014).

3Australian War Memorial, ‘About the Australian War Memorial’, undated (Last accessed 30 May 2014).

4On the establishment of the Australian War Memorial, see: Australian War Memorial, ‘Origins of the Australian War Memorial’.

5Vera Mackie, ‘Gender, Geopolitics and Gaps in the Records: Women Glimpsed in the Military Archives’, in Sources and Methods in Histories of Colonialism: Approaching the Imperial Archive, eds Kirsty Reid and Fiona Paisley (Oxford: Routledge, 2017), pp. 129–153; Vera Mackie, ‘Remembering Bellona: Gendered Allegories in the Australian War Memorial’, Vida (November 2016) (Last accessed 23 January 2016).

6In the 1970s, the Australian War Memorial was one focus for demonstrations commemorating ‘Women Raped in War. Such campaigns were a feature of the women’s liberation movements in Anglophone countries in the 1970s. See detailed discussion in Sharon Crozier-De Rosa and Vera Mackie, Remembering Women’s Activism (Oxford: Routledge, 2019), pp. 162–165.

7The exhibition ‘Reality in Flames: Modern Australian Art and the Second World War’ at the Australian War Memorial in 2016 included a painting from Albert Tucker’s ‘Images of Modern Evil’ series, which unfavorably depicted Australian women who had liaisons with US soldiers stationed in Melbourne.

8Mackie, ‘Gender, Geopolitics and Gaps in the Records’.

9Mackie, ‘Gender, Geopolitics and Gaps in the Records’.

10Australian War Memorial Exhibition, Allies in Adversity: Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War (Last accessed 10 April 2016).

11Portrait of Jan O’Herne, taken at [Bandung], Java, shortly before the Japanese invasion in March 1942. Australian War Memorial, P02652.001. This photograph is also displayed in the Changi museum in Singapore in a display on women and war, even though O’Herne had no direct connection with Singapore or Changi.

12Handkerchief embroidered with signatures of Dutch ‘Comfort Women’ at the ‘House of the Seven Seas’, Semarang, Java. Australian War Memorial, REL26396. (last accessed 30 March 2018).

13Embroidered signature apron: Jan O’Herne and Dutch women at Kamp 1A Ambarawa Internment Camp, Java. Australian War Memorial. REL26397.

14Australian War Memorial, viewed on 23 April 2016.

15Jan Ruff O’Herne, Fifty Years of Silence (Sydney: Editions Tom Thompson, 1994), pp. 136–37.

16Ralph E. Lapp, The Voyage of the Lucky Dragon: The True Story of the Japanese Fishermen who were the First Victims of the H-Bomb (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1957), p. 80 and p. 85; Anthony H. Johns, ‘Towards a Modern Indonesian Literature’, Meanjin (December 1960), p. 385; John Ashmead, The Mountain and the Feather (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961), p. 166, p. 205, and p. 293

17As Heinz-Erik Ropers has noted, these were not obscure titles; many were mass market paperback books. Heinz-Erik Ropers, ‘Mutable History: Japanese Language Historiographies of Wartime Korean Enforced Labor and Enforced Military Prostitution, 1965–2008’, unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Melbourne, 2011, p. 150; Tomita Kunihiko, ed. Senjō Ianfu [Battlefield Comfort Women] (Tokyo: Fuji Shobō, 1953); Shirota Suzuko, Mariya no Sanka [Maria’s Hymn] (Tokyo: Nihon Kirisuto Kyō Shuppankyoku, 1971); Senda Kakō, Jūgun Ianfu: ‘Koe naki onna’ Hachiman nin no kokuhatsu [Military Comfort Women: The Grievances of 80,000 ‘Voiceless Women’] (Tokyo: Futabasha, 1973); Hirota Kazuko. Shōgen kiroku jūgun ianfu, kangofu: Senjō ni ikita onna no dōkoku [Testimonies and Records of Military Comfort Women and Nurses: Lamentations of Women Who Went to the Battlefront] (Tokyo: Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha, 1975); Kim, Il-Myon, Tennō no Guntai to Chōsenjin Ianfu [The Emperor’s Army and Korean Comfort Women] (Tokyo: San’ichi Shobō, 1976); Yamatani Tetsuo, Okinawa no Harumoni: Dai Nihon Baishun Shi [An Old Woman in Okinawa: A History of Prostitution in Greater Japan] (Tokyo: Banseisha, 1979). On early post-Second World War knowledge of the system, see Kanō Mikiyo, ‘The Problem with the “Comfort Women Problem”’, Ampo: Japan–Asia Quarterly Review, Vol. 24, No 2 (1993), p. 42; Eleanor Kerkham, ‘Pleading for the Body: Tamura Taijirō’s 1947 Korean Comfort Woman Story, Biography of a Prostitute’, in War,Occupation, and Creativity: Japan and East Asia, 1920–1960, eds. Marlene J. Mayo, Thomas J. Rimer, and H. Eleanor Kerkham (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2001).

18Tanaka Mitsu, ‘Josei kaihō e no kojinteki shiten’ [An Individualistic Point of View on Women’s Liberation] (August 1970) in Shiryō Nihon Ūman Ribu-shi [Historical Records of Japanese Women’s Liberation History] eds Mizoguchi Akiyo, Saeki Yōko, and Miki Sōko (Kyoto: Shōkadō, 1992), Vol. 1, pp. 196–200.

19Shirota, Mariya no Sanka; Soh, The Comfort Women, p. 198; Yamatani, Okinawa no Harumoni; Ropers, ‘Mutable History’, p. 194.

20Yang, ‘Revisiting the Issue of Korean “Military Comfort Women”, p. 68, note 2; Maria Rosa Henson, Comfort Woman: Slave of Destiny (Manila: Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism, 1996); Ruff O’Herne, Fifty Years of Silence; Graceia Lai, Wu Hui-ling and Yu, Ju-fen, Silent Scars: History of Sexual Slavery by the Japanese Military (Taipei, Shang Zhou Chuban, 2005), translated by Sheng-mei Ma; Floyd Whaley, ‘In Philippines, World War II’s Lesser-Known Sex Slaves Speak Out’, The New York Times (29 January 2016) (Last accessed 31 January 2016).

21On the emergence of the movement, see: Vera Mackie, ‘Sexual Violence, Silence, and Human Rights Discourse: The Emergence of the Military Prostitution Issue’, in Human Rights and Gender Politics: Asia-Pacific Perspectives, eds Anne Marie Hilsdon et al. (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 37–59; Vera Mackie, ‘The Language of Transnationality, Globalisation and Feminism’, International Feminist Journal of Politics Vol. 3, No. 2 (2001), pp. 180–206;Vera Mackie, ‘Shifting the Axis: Feminism and the Transnational Imaginary’, in State/Nation/Transnation, eds Brenda Yeoh et al. (London: Routledge, 2004); Vera Mackie, ‘In Search of Innocence: Feminist Historians Debate the Legacy of Wartime Japan’, Australian Feminist Studies, Vol. 20, No. 47 (2005), pp. 207–217; Mackie, ‘Militarized Sexual Violence and Campaigns for Redress’.

22Soh, ‘The Korean “Comfort Women” Movement for Redress’, p. 1235; Kim Tae-ick, ‘Former “Comfort Women” hold 1,000th Protest at Japanese Embassy’, Chosun Ilbo [Chosun Daily] (14 December 2011) (Last accessed 9 November 2015). Kim reports that they skipped a protest only once, during the Kobe earthquake of 1995, and that they marked the Fukushima disaster of March 2011 by holding their protest in silence. On the Wednesday demonstration, see Vera Mackie, ‘One Thousand Wednesdays: Transnational Activism from Seoul to Glendale’, in Women’s Activism and ‘Second Wave’ Feminism: Transnational Histories, eds Barbara Molony and Jennifer Nelson (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), pp. 249–271.

23Ronron Calunsod, ‘Former “Comfort Women”, Lefists Protest Growing Philippines–Japan Military Ties’, Japan Times (30 June 2015) (Last accessed 30 November 2015); ‘Former Sex Slaves Protest in Manila during Emperor Visit’, CCTV America (Last accessed 31 January 2016); Lai, et al. Silent Scars, p. 100.

24Keith Howard ed. True Stories of the Korean Comfort Women (London: Cassell, 1995), translated by Young Joo Lee; Dai Sil Kim–Gibson, Silence Broken: Korean Comfort Women (Parkersburg, Iowa: Mid–Prairie Books, 1999); Sangmie Choi Schellstede ed. Comfort Women Speak: Testimony by Sex Slaves of the Japanese Military(New York and London: Holmes and Meier, 2000); Lai et al., Silent Scars; Chyung Eun-ju and Park Si-Soo, ‘Ex-Comfort Woman Becomes Singer at 90’, The Korea Times (10 August 2017) (Last accessed 13 August 2017).

25Similar support activities are carried out for survivors in other countries, although there are no doubt countless others who have not come forward with their stories of wartime abuse. Survivors in the Philippines are supported by Lilas Pilipinas (League of Filipino Grandmothers) and Friends of Lolas; see ‘Friends of Lolas’ (Last accessed 30 November 2015); ‘Lolas’ House’. IMDiversity. 20 October 2012 (Last accessed 30 November 2015). Survivors in Taiwan are supported by the Taiwan Women’s Rescue Foundation; see Laurie Underwood. ‘Painful Memories’, Taiwan Today (1 October 1995) (Last accessed 6 December 2015). For activities in support of the Indonesian survivors, see McGregor, ‘Emotions and Activism’; for support of Chinese survivors, see Hornby, ‘China’s “Comfort Women”’.

26House of Sharing’, undated. (Last accessed 29 November 2015).

27House of Sharing, undated.

28The survivors were taught by artist Lee Gyeung-shin. Kim, ‘Filming the Queerness of Comfort Women’, p. 28; Hyunji Kwon, ‘The Paintings of Korean Comfort Woman Duk-kyung Kang: Postcolonial and Declonial Aesthetics for Colonized Bodies’ Feminist Studies, Vol. 43, No 3 (2017): pp. 571–609.

29Mackie, ‘One Thousand Wednesdays’, pp. 249–271.

30Several of the judges had been associated with the International War Crimes Tribunals in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, where the issue of sexual violence in wartime was explicitly raised. Rumi Sakamoto, ‘The Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery: A Legal and Feminist Approach to the “Comfort Women” Issue’, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 3, No 1 (June 2001), p. 55.

31Kim, ‘Global Civil Society Remakes History’, p. 612. A one-day public hearing was also held at the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice in New York on 11 December, where fifteen survivors of militarized sexual violence from around the world testified.

32Gabrielle Kirk McDonald et al, ‘The Judgement of the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal for the Trial of Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery’, Case No PT-2000-1-T, The Hague, 4 December 2001 (corrected 31 January 2002) (Last accessed 7 June 2014).

33Nicola Henry, ‘Memory of an Injustice: The “Comfort Women” and the Legacy of the Tokyo Trial’, Asian Studies Review, Vol. 37, No. 3 (2013), p. 363.

34Vera Mackie, ‘Gender and Modernity in Japan’s Long Twentieth Century’, Journal of Women’s History, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Fall 2013), p. 79; Vera Mackie, ‘Whispering, Writing and Working across Borders: Practising Transnational History in East Asia’, in Rethinking Japanese Studies: Eurocentrism and the Asia-Pacific Region, eds Kaori Okano and Yoshio Sugimoto (Oxford: Routledge, 2018), pp. 152–166.

35Mackie, ‘Shifting the Axis’, p. 238; Women in Black ‘Background‘, [link no longer active].

36Rita Arditti, ‘The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Struggle against Impunity in Argentina’, Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2002), p. 20.

37On the Asian Women’s Association and its journal, Asian Women’s Liberation, see Vera Mackie, Feminism in Modern Japan: Citizenship, Embodiment and Sexuality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 202–203. Ajia No Onnatachi no Kai (Asian Women’s Association) is now called the Ajia Josei Shiryō Sentā (Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Centre) and their journal has changed its name from Ajia to Josei Kaihō(Asian Women’s Liberation) to Onnatachi no Nijūisseiki (Women’s Asia 21).

38Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace (2013–2016), ‘Exhibition’ (Last accessed 14 July 2016).

39Jan Banning and Hilde Janssen, Comfort Women/Troost Meisjes (Utrecht: Ipso Facto, 2010). On Banning and Janssen’s project, see Katharine McGregor and Vera Mackie, ‘Transcultural Memory and the Troostmeisjes/Comfort Women Photographic Project’, History & Memory. Vol. 30, No 1 (Spring/Summer 2018), pp 116-150.

40Days Japan. Vol. 11, No. 10 (October 2014).

41Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace (2013–2017), ‘Exhibition: Battlefield from Hell: Japanese Comfort Stations in Burma’ (Last accessed 3 January 2017).

42Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace (2017), ‘Exhibition: The Silence of the Japanese “Comfort Women”: Sexuality Managed by the State’ (Last accessed 25 September 2017).

43On the history wars, see Mackie, ‘In Search of Innocence’, pp. 207–217.

44On the connotations of the butterfly in Korean culture, see Choi Goun, ‘”Flowers and Butterflies – In Perfect Harmony” Exhibition: Enduring Symbols of Korea’s Traditional Culture’, Korea Foundation Newsletter, Vol. 19, No 9 (September 2010) (Last accessed 26 December 2017).

45Compare this with the statue of Qiu Jin, Figure 2.13 in Crozier-De Rosa and Mackie, Remembering Women’s Activism, p. 111.

46The project team at Wise Architecture included Sook Hee Chun, Young Chul Jang, Bokki Lee, Jiyoung Park, Kuhyeon Kwon and Aram Yun, ‘Seoul House Becomes Museum Highlighting the Plight of Second World War “Comfort Women”’, dezeen magazine (20 March 2015) (Last accessed 31 January 2016); Hee-Jung Serenity Joo, ‘Comfort Women in Human Rights Discourse: Fetishized Testimonies, Small Museums, and the Politics of Thin Description’, Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies, Vol. 37, Nos. 2–3 (2015), p. 172. The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery (Chongsindae munje taech’aek hyopuhoe) was founded in November 1990 as an umbrella group for several feminist organizations in South Korea. It was also allied with feminist groups in Japan, Taiwan, Burma, the Philippines, and North Korea. The Council has been at the forefront of research on the issue and in campaigns for redress for Korean survivors. In Japan, the Asian Women’s Association and the Violence Against Women in War Network (VAWW-Net-Japan) have been important. Yang, Hyunah, ‘Revisiting the Issue of Korean “Military Comfort Women”: The Question of Truth and Positionality’, positions: east asia cultures critique, Vol. 5, No 1 (Spring 1997), pp. 51–71.

47The butterfly is regularly used as a logo for political campaigns on this issue. See the ‘Butterfly Fund’, established by the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum in support of victims of sexual violence (Last accessed 31 January 2016).

48Hee-Jung Joo argues that the gaps between the bricks signify the gaps in knowledge about the vast numbers of women who suffered under the system. Joo, ‘Comfort Women in Human Rights Discourse’, p. 182, note 7.

49On one of the smaller replicas, see Vera Mackie, ‘The Grandmother and the Girl’, Vida (December 2016) (Last accessed 12 August 2017).

50The Glendale monument was donated by the Korean American Forum of California. Rafu Shimpo, ‘Fullerton Council Approves “Comfort Women” Resolution’ (24 August 2014) (Last accessed 24 October 2015).

51These shifting regimes before and after 1945 are another reason why it has been so difficult to document the enforced military prostitution system. Some Dutch war trial records, for example, are still closed. In what are present-day Indonesia and Timor-Leste, administration has shifted between the Dutch East Indies, Portuguese Timor, the Japanese Occupation, the Australian-administered period of surrender, reversion to Dutch and Portuguese control, the independent nation-state of Indonesia (including West Timor), Indonesian-Occupied East Timor, and the independent nation-state of Timor-Leste. For the difficulties of tracing the fates of individual women through these different administrative regimes, see Mackie, ‘Gender, Geopolitics and Gaps in the Records’, passim.

52House Resolution 121, as amended, ‘[e]xpresses the sense of the House of Representatives that the government of Japan should: (1) formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility for its Imperial Armed Force’s coercion of young women into sexual slavery (comfort women) during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II; (2) have this official and public apology presented by the Prime Minister of Japan; (3) refute any claims that the sexual enslavement and trafficking of the comfort women never occurred; and (4) educate current and future generations about this crime while following the international community’s recommendations with respect to the comfort women’.

53Soh, The Comfort Women, pp: 66–68; Anna Song, ‘The Task of an Activist: “Imagined Communities” and the “Comfort Women” Campaigns in Australia’, Asian Studies Review, Vol. 37, No 3 (2013), pp. 381–395.

54Brittany Levine, ‘Federal Judge Upholds “Comfort Women” Statue in Glendale Park’, Los Angeles Times, 11 August 2014 (Last accessed 15 July 2016).

55Extraordinary Council Meeting – Comfort Women Statue’, August 2015 (Last accessed 1 December 2015); ‘Strathfield Council knocks back plan to build a Comfort Women statue proposed by Korean Community’, Daily Telegraph (14 August 2015) (Last accessed 8 November 2015); Lisa Visentin, ‘WWII Peace Statue in Canterbury-Bankstown Divides Community Groups’, Sydney Morning Herald (1 August 2016) (Last accessed 16 September 2016).

56Antoinette Latouf, ‘Comfort Women Statue Unveiled in Sydney Despite Ongoing Tensions’, ABC News(6 August 2016) (Last accessed 12 August 2017); Ben Hills, ‘A Fight to Remember’, SBS, 31 March 2017, (Last accessed 30 September 2017).

57German City Drops Plan to Install First “Comfort Women” Statue in Europe’, Japan Times (22 September 2016) (Last accessed 7 January 2017).

58First “Comfort Women” Statue in Europe is Unveiled in GermanySouth China Morning Post (9 March 2017) (Last accessed 30 November 2017).

59The photograph is held in the US National Archives.

60Soh, The Comfort Women, pp. 197–201. Svetlana Shkolnikova, ‘Fort Lee to Revisit “Comfort Women” Memorial’, North, 21 August 2017 (Last accessed 30 September 2017). For a survey of plaques, statues, and memorials, see here (Last accessed 15 July 2016). ‘Korean-Chinese coalition plans SF comfort women memorial’, The Korea Times (6 November 2015) (Last accessed 8 November 2015). ‘Strathfield Council knocks back plan to build a Comfort Women statue proposed by Korean Community’, Daily Telegraph. 14 August 2015 (last accessed 8 November 2015).

61Seoul Buses to Carry Sex Slave Statues in Memory of Victims’, Korea Herald (10 August 2017) (Last accessed 13 August 2017).

62First International Memorial Day for “Comfort Women”’, Seoul Village,14 August 2013 (Last accessed 1 October 2017); ‘International Memorial Day for the “Comfort Women”’, World Council of Churches, 14 August 2014 (Last accessed 1 October 2017); ‘Expressions of Solidarity on International Memorial Day for “Comfort Women”’, National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 14 August 2016 (Last accessed 1 October 2017); Lee He-Jun, ‘More and More Comfort Women Statues Springing up, in and out of South Korea’, Hankyoreh, 24 August 2016 (Last accessed 1 October 2017); Roshni Kapur, ‘Women Rights Group Demands Japan for an Apology on International “Comfort Women” Day’, The Independent [Singapore], 25 August 2016 (Last accessed 1 October 2017); ‘Int’l Memorial Day for “Comfort Women” Marked in San Francisco’, China Daily, 15 August 2017 (Last accessed 1 October 2017; ‘From 32 to 22: “Comfort Women” Remembered in China and the World’, People’s Daily Online, 14 August 2017 (Last accessed 1 October 2017).

63Choe, ‘Statues Placed in South Korea’.

64A replica of this version of the statue has now been erected at Shanghai Normal University. ‘Comfort Women Statues Unveiled at Shanghai University’, Japan Times (22 October 2016) (Last accessed 10 January 2017). In July 2017 fibreglass replicas of the statues of Korean and Chinese girls were placed in front of the Japanese Embassy in Hong Kong, as demonstrators marked eighty years since the commencement of the second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. ‘Old War Wounds Opened up by Hong Kong Statues of Comfort Women’, South China Morning Post (Last accessed 30 September 2017); Ilaria Maria Sala, ‘Why is the Plight of “Comfort Women” Still so Controversial?’, New York Times, 14 August 2017, (Last accessed 30 September 2017. A further development is the statue recently unveiled in San Francisco. It consists of a likeness of the late Kim Hak Sun, whose testimony in 1991 was so important to the movement for redress. Her figure overlooks three young women, in Korean, Chinese, and Philippine dress, thus bringing together many of the themes of previous memorials. Conway Jones, ‘SF’s “Comfort Women” Statue Honors Victims of Japanese Sex Trafficking’, Oakland Post, 29 September 2017 (Last accessed 1 October 2017).

65WSJ Staff. ‘Full Text: Japan–South Korea Statement on “Comfort Women”’, Wall Street Journal (28 December 2015) (Last accessed 31 January 2016).

66Park Geun-hye attended the commemorative parade for the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Beijing on 3 September 2015. In earlier times it might have been expected that it would have been the North Korean leader who attended. The attempt to settle the historical issue of wartime militarized sexual abuse was an attempt to forge closer links between the US, Japan and South Korea.

67Abe urges South Korea to Remove ‘Comfort Women’ Statue at Busan, 2015 agreement at stake’, Japan Times (8 January 2017) (Last accessed 10 January 2017); ‘Japan Recalls Ambassador over “Comfort Women” Statue’, Japan Times (9 January 2017) (Last accessed 10 January 2017).

68James Griffiths, ‘South Korea’s New President Questions Japan “Comfort Women” Deal’, CNN, 5 June 2017 (Last accessed 1 October 2017); ‘S. Korea to Create Memorial Day for Wartime Sex Crime Victims’, Yonhap News Agency, 19 July 2017 (Date last accessed 1 October 2017); ‘South Korea’s Moon Speaks out on Wartime Forced Laborers’ Right to Seek Redress from Japanese Firms’, Japan Times, 17 August 2017 (Last accessed 1 October 2017).

69Hornby, ‘China’s “Comfort Women”’; Peipei Qiu et al., Chinese Comfort Women.

70Memorial for “Comfort Women” opens in Nanjing’. Xinhuanet. 2 December 2015 (Date last accessed 15 July 2016).

71A widely reproduced photograph from the end of the Asia-Pacific war shows four survivors of the system, one visibly pregnant. It is held by the US National Archives and Records Administration.

72Comfort Women Album’, Xinhuanet (Last accessed 15 July 2016).

73Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War (New York: Basic Books, 1997). On critiques of Chang’s work, see Erik Ropers, ‘Debating History and Memory: Examining the Controversy surrounding Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking’, Humanity, Vol. 8, No 1 (2017), pp. 77–99.

74Commemoration of 70th Anniversary of Victory of Chinese People’s Resistance against Japanese Agression and World Anti-Fascist War’, Xinhuanet (Last accessed 15 July 2016).

75‘Comfort Women Album’.

76Muta Kazue, ‘Taipei Fujo Enjo Kikin Hōmon Repōto: Taiwan Ianfu to Josei no Kinken Hakubutsukan Ōpun o mae ni’ [Report on Visit to Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation: Before the Opening of the Museum], Women’s Action Network (Last accessed 6 December 2015).

77“Comfort Women” Museum Inaugurated’, Taipei Times (11 March 2016) (Last accessed 16 July 2016).

78A documentary, The Song of the Reed, directed by Wu Hsiu-ching and produced by the Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation, was released in August 2015 in commemoration of the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Asia-Pacific War. ‘Documentary on Comfort Women Reaches Theaters’, Taipei Times, 13 August 2015 (Last accessed 1 October 2015).

79Cynthia Enloe, ‘It Takes Two’, in Let the Good Times Roll: Prostitution and the US Military In Asia, eds Saundra Sturdevant and Brenda Stoltzfus (New York: New Press, 1992), pp. 22–27; Cynthia Enloe, The Curious Feminist: Searching for Women in a New Age of Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004) pp. 196–197.

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Recovering the history of in-service dissent during the war in Vietnam is of utmost importance. Recognition of that dissent is essential to our documentation of the war and anti-war movement. The inclusion of those voices in our accounts honors them and establishes their roles models for later generations.

It is also important to understand why, 50 years after the war, we must work at recovering essential elements of the story that are missing in public memory and many academic accounts. While we fill-in the gaps, we need also to talk about why the gaps were left, or even created, as memories of the war years took shape: the way suppression of dissent, its cooptation and buyout, ostracism, discrediting, pathologizing, and displacement were all enlisted to silence the voices of conscience.

Recovering the Story of GI and Veteran Dissent

Suppression of Dissent—and the News About It.

Silencing occurred most directly through the suppression of dissidence at the time and place of its origin. We know from David Cortright’s 1975 book Soldiers in Revolt and David Zeiger’s 2006 film Sir! No Sir! that in-service resistance was rife from the war’s earliest years.1 That resistance was expressed through claims to conscientious objection, refusals to deploy, collaboration with civilian peace activists at off-base coffee houses, and efforts to organize opposition through the GI Press, a network of antiwar newspapers. In Vietnam, war resisters displayed anti-war symbols on clothing, sabotaged equipment, went AWOL and deserted, refused to carryout orders, and carried out acts of violence against superiors known as fragging.2

Image on the right: David Zeiger’s 2006 film Sir! No Sir!

Anti-war sentiment arose, as well, within the walls of Hao Lo prison in Hanoi, North Viet Nam (aka the “Hanoi Hilton”) where captured U.S. military personnel were held. According on one source, 30 to 50 percent of the prisoners were “disillusioned” or “cynical” about the war by 1971, a striking figure given that most of the POWs were seasoned Navy and Force pilots noted for their patriotism and loyalty to U.S. military mission in Southeast Asia. Many expressed dissenting views through broadcasts make over Radio Hanoi and interviews given Western journalists and peace activists. And yet, that dissent is all but missing from American memory of the war years, and even from the historical accounts of opposition to the war.3

Authorities within and outside the military sought to prevent, disrupt and punish acts of dissent. Coffee houses were declared off-limits and raided by local police, radical newspapers were confiscated, peace symbols were banned and their wearing punished as Article 15 violations, and courts-marshal charges brought against the most serious offenders. Predictably, though, attempts to suppress bred more disruption and by the last years of the war the low level of troop discipline threatened military operations.

News about resistance in the war zone was slow to come out. The military long denied that it had a problem. The investigative reports it commissioned in 1970 and 1971 were not made available until after the war. Journalists were dispatched to Vietnam to find and report war stories, not anti-war stories; until veterans themselves returned with eyewitness accounts of breakdowns in unit discipline that might be affecting operations, news organizations either remained oblivious to the emerging rebellion or suppressed it.4

But the news did come out. Washington’s promise that there was “light at the end of the tunnel” for the U.S. military mission in Vietnam was dashed when communist forces mounted the Tet Offensive in early 1968, inflicting heavy losses on U.S. troops, alerting the press to prospects of a long-term stalemate, and pushing public support for the war to new lows. Newly deployed troops arrived in Vietnam with critical mindsets honed by news about antiwar protests and attitudes toward authority influence by the counterculture. By spring of 1969, many veterans of the war were ready to lend their voices to the cause of ending it.

In early May 1969 the news service UPI carried a lengthy report on the GI Movement that included photographs of coffee-house scenes and stories from underground GI newspapers. On May 23, Life Magazine featured a story about what it called “a widespread new phenomenon in the ranks of the military: public dissent (emphasis in the original). In August, the New York Daily News reported the refusal of an infantry unit in Vietnam to continue fighting. On November 9, the New York Times ran a full-page advertisement that was signed by 1,365 GIs opposing the war and included the rank and station of each signer.5

That the American people became aware of this as it happened, underscores the questions: What happened between then and now? What happened to the awareness and memory of such widespread resistance to the war within the military?

The answers lie in what happened in the closing years of the war as establishment leaders began to worry about the legacy left by a generation of warriors who turned against their war. In short, the Nixon administration, news organizations, and leading cultural institutions—Hollywood filmmakers in particular—began to redraw the image of uniformed dissenters, casting shade on their legitimacy and authenticity.

Cooptation and Buy-out.

The Vietnamese Tet Offensive of January and February 1968 revealed that the then-current U.S. strategy was not leading to victory. The U.S commitment to the war had begun with small numbers of troops sent as advisors to the South Vietnamese military; the number took a quantum leap to 184,000 in 1965 when combat units were dispatched to defend U.S. airbases. By Tet of 1968, there were 485,000, insufficient to the task thought William Westmoreland, Commander of U.S. forces. Westmoreland requested a troop increase that raised the number to 554,000, the highest it would reach.

Westmoreland’s demand for more troops could only be satisfied by drafting larger numbers of recruits, including some who had earlier been deferred for college studies or occupations in math and science deemed valuable to national defense.

Older and better educated, with more exposure to the anti-war and counterculture movements sweeping the country than was typical of earlier draftees, the “Westmoreland Cohort” arrived in Vietnam late in 1968 with debilitating consequences for military readiness. Most draftees went into the Army where applications for conscientious objection tripled between 1967 and 1969, desertion rates doubled from 21.4 to 42.4 per thousand, and AWOL rates increased by 30% from 78.0 to 112.3 per thousand. The problems for the Army were amplified by the communication skills that the cohort brought with it and the social and political contacts back home to which it could report its experiences—their skill with typewriters and mimeograph machines made them a greater threat to command control than a few hours on the rifle range made them to the enemy Vietnamese.

The impact of disaffected troops was amped still higher when they returned from Vietnam. As portrayed in Sir! No Sir!, anti-war veterans sought out men destined for Vietnam to educate them on what the war was about. The countermove by the Brass was to keep these populations apart: isolate the veteran-voices of conscience from willing listeners. By 1969, draftees had a 24-month commitment to service; the Army tour in Vietnam was 12 months. With time for training and leave time before going abroad, many were returning from Vietnam with six to seven months left on their 12 months in the service—six to seven months with little else to do but mix with and influence those awaiting departure for the combat zone. By discharging draftees returning with less than six months remaining on their 24-month hitch, their isolation from those preparing to leave for Viet Nam was assured. And by allowing them to extend in Vietnam just the number of days required to put them over the six-month bar, many were home from Vietnam and out of the Army 19 months from the date of their induction.6

The closing years of the war also raised suspicions that awards for service medals were being handed out generously in order to placate disgruntled troops. Officers in particular seemed be departing Vietnam with questionable decorations. Navy SEAL Bob Kerrey, later a Nebraska Governor and Senator and President of The New School in New York City was awarded the Medal of Honor for leadership in a February 1969 operation. In a later interview, he recalled having considered declining the award, feeling at the time that its purpose was to lure him away from participation in the antiwar movement.7

Ostracizing the Veteran Voice.

Going forward, it was the voices of anti-war veterans testifying to what they had done and seen would play an important role in shaping public memory of the war. Donald Duncan a Green Beret Sergeant decorated for gallantry, left the Army and came out against the war with an article “I Quit” in the February 1966 edition of Ramparts magazine; in it, he declared the war to be a “lie.” The April 15, 1967 mobilization against the war (known as “Spring Mobe”) brought together six veterans to form Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). The presence of anti-war veterans at the October 1967 March on the Pentagon and in the 1968 campaign of anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy established them as a powerful voice for peace in Vietnam.8

Image below: Donald Duncan, Ramparts Magazine, February 1966.

No longer subject to the censorship of military authority, and with access to the civilian press, dissident veterans posed a challenge to the pro-war establishment. Unable to directly suppress and punish dissenting views, the Nixon White House sought, instead, to drive a wedge between the radical veterans and the liberal majority in the antiwar movement.9

Early efforts to do that took the form of ostracism, defaming protesting veterans as traitors and even communists. When VVAW members marched from Morristown, NJ to Valley Forge, PA to protest the war in September 1970, older veterans of previous wars belittled them for their long hair and shouted for them to “go back to [the enemy capital] Hanoi”. 10

In April 1971 VVAW staged an encampment on the capital mall in Washington to accompany its lobbying effort to end the war. John Kerry, representing VVAW, gave a passionate antiwar speech before a congressional committee for which he was later accused of betraying the security of the troops still in Vietnam. A year later, efforts to criminalize VVAW peaked when charges were brought against the Gainesville FL chapter for planning an armed attack on the 1972 Republican Party national convention in Miami Beach.11

Discredit Their Authenticity.

The widespread distrust of information flowing from Washington about the war meant that the voices from the ground level view of returned veterans were especially welcomed by the American public—and especially threatening to political and military elites. If those voices could not be suppressed or isolated, they would have to be discredited, their identity disputed, their authenticity impugned. Beyond the crude suggestion that VVAW members might be agents of a hostile government and criminalized as seditious, critics suggested that protesting veterans were not “authentic,” their numbers inflated by radicals posing as veterans. Speaking before a military audience in May of 1971, Vice President Spiro Agnew said he didn’t know how to describe the VVAW members encamped on the mall but “heard one of them say to the other: `If you’re captured . . . give only your name, age, and the phone number of your hairdresser.”12

Marching Against the War: Vietnam Veterans Against the War

In the same speech, Agnew said the antiwar vets “didn’t resemble” the veterans “you and I have known,” a statement, when combined with having gay-baited them, was a effort to draw an “us and them” distinction, a discourse that anthropologists would characterize as “otherizng.” Thusly drawn, the line invited more pronounced differentiations between “real men” and those who now refused to fight.

Stigmatize as Pathology.

Ostracizing and otherizing are forms of stigmatizing, the denigration of an individual or group’s identity. In his 1964 book Stigma sociologist Erving Goffman wrote that the attribution of stigma can disqualify those “others” from full social acceptance. In modern society, assignment of mental illness to targeted parties has become a powerful and pervasive form of stigmatizing.13

The first unlawful break-ins leading to the Watergate scandal of 1973 were those done by President Richard Nixon’s “plumbers” on the psychiatrist’s office of Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg, a Marine Corps veteran and employee of the Rand Corporation doing contract work for the government, had copied secret documents showing that political and military leaders had been misleading the public on the conduct of the war for years; those documents were later known as “The Pentagon Papers”. Ellsberg had released the papers to the press in 1971 incurring the wrath of the President. Wanting to discredit Ellsberg prior to the 1972 elections, Nixon assembled a team of former FBI and CIA agents to burglarize the doctor’s office for files that would “destroy [Ellsberg’s] public image.”14

Simultaneous with the plumbers’ raid on the psychiatrist’s office, press reports were hanging the same mental health markers on VVAW actions. When VVAW gathered in Miami Beach to protest the Republican Party’s nomination of Richard Nixon as its presidential candidate in 1972, the New York Times featured a front-page story on the mental problems of Vietnam veterans. Beneath a headline reading “Postwar Shock Besets Ex-GIs,” the text was peppered with words and phrases like “psychiatric casualty,” “mental health disaster,” “emotional illness,” and “mental breakdown.” The story acknowledged that there was little hard research on which to base those characterizations. Indeed, if the reporter had done his homework he probably would have found Peter Bourne’s 1970 book Men, Stress, and Vietnam in which Bourne, an Army psychiatrist in Vietnam reported American personnel having suffered the lowest psychiatric casualty rate in modern warfare.15

After the 1972 Times story, the press tapped-out a steady beat of stories about soldiers home from Vietnam with psychological derangements—and journalism was in step with the direction popular culture was headed with its representations of the war and the people who fought it. Hollywood had begun portraying Vietnam veterans as damaged goods since the mid-1960s and, consequentially, writing political veterans out of their stories. Films like Blood of Ghastly Horror (1965) and Motor Psycho (1965) anticipated the symptomology of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder before health care professionals coined the phrase. Controversies over the validity of war-trauma nomenclature riled professional organizations throughout the late 1970s, and when PTSD was finally confirmed as a diagnostic category by inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association in 1980, one of the authors of the terminology, Chaim Shatan, credited the New York Times’s opinion piece with having been the difference-maker in professionals’ deliberations of its merit.

Shoulder Patch Capturing the Paranoia about “Hidden” War-wounds.

The shift from the political discourse that had dominated the veterans’ homecoming story in the late 1960s and early 1970s to the mental-health discourse that became dominant in the 1980s is evinced in Hollywood film. In the 1978 film Coming Home Luke (Jon Voigt) is politicized by his experience in Vietnam and shoddy treatment at a military hospital; he comes out publicly against the war. Four years later we’re given Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) who suffers flashbacks to his combat experience in the opening scene of First Blood, and then goes on a murderous rampage. Although political veterans like Luke were never prominent in feature films, the die was cast with Rambo—from then on, American film-goers got a regular diet of warriors home with hurts.

Jacket Cover for the 1978 film Coming Home.


I began teaching courses on the memory and legacy of the war in Vietnam in the 1990s. Introducing the course, I would ask students if they had ever heard of Vietnam veterans with PTSD—all (or most) students would raise their hands. When I asked if they had heard of VVAW, no (or few) hands went up.

The silencing of the anti-war veteran voice was a matter of the public forgetting that many Vietnam veterans spoke out against and resisted participation in the war. But forgetting is not just a lapse in memory, not a passive failure to remember. Forgetting is not about the memory that did not happen. Rather, we forget something because something else overrides, or supplants and takes the place of what we had known from experience or first-hand evidence. Forgetting is about something else displacing what we had known.

Image on the right: A Street Person Presenting Himself as a Down-and-Out Veteran

The rebel GIs and veterans that appeared on front pages and television news coverage in the early 1970s would be “forgotten,” pushed out of memory by images of “good” veterans befitting the GI Joe figures loyal to their mission and nation born out of World War II lore.16 The existence of “good” veterans was largely conjured out of the myth that “bad” anti-war activists had been hostile to Vietnam returnees, even spitting on them; the good-bad binary of that myth suggested that the existential badness of spitters implied the goodness of their targets.17 Further, the alleged trauma of the homecoming experience for “good” veterans was the stimulus for the victim-veteran narrative that underwrote the diagnostic nomenclature of PTSD. The conflation of normative “goodness” and mental-emotional pathology thereby completed the construction of a more comfortable idiom for remembrance of Vietnam veterans than that of VVAW.18

The Forgotten POW Dissenters

If there was a segment of the Vietnam veteran population destined for canonization as good veterans, it was surely those who had been captured and imprisoned during the war. And yet, as it turned out, the POW story is as complicated and conflicted as is that of the rest of the Vietnam generation of veterans.

The peace agreement that ended the war on January 27, 1973 stipulated the arrangements for the release of U.S. POWs, most of them held in prisons in and around Hanoi. The releases began on February 12 and continued in three increments into March. Carried aboard Air Force C-141 aircraft, they landed first at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines for debriefing and medical assessment. From Clark, they were flown to stateside basis and on to their hometowns.

News coverage of the POW’s arrival at Clark anticipated stories of dissent behind the bars that were yet to come. “Freed P.O.W. Asserts He Upheld U.S. Policy” read a February 15 New York Times headline before reporting that the pilot had made statements opposing the war while being held. A February 23 headline, “P.O.W.s maintained Discipline but had Some Quarrels and were Split on the War” promised still more.

Intriging as they seem, those headlines may have been less so for readers in 1973. Peace activists and journalists had been journeying to Hanoi for years where they met with POWs and heard a range of views about the war. George Smith, captured in the South and released in 1965, had written a book, P.O.W., about his two years in captivity that was critical of the war. Far more interesting in retrospect is how, what was widespread knowledge about POW dissenters in 1973, has been forgotten. As with the lost history of GI and veteran dissent recounted above, the story of POW dissent is less about forgetting than the reconstruction of memory. 19

“Muzzled POWs . . . “

Not a screech from an ACLU broadside, “muzzled POWs,” replete with the ellipting periods, headed a New York Times editorial—not an op-ed—on February 24, 1973. It followed a set of stories carried on its own pages about attempts to suppress news coverage of POWs’ dissent since their release twelve days earlier. News about the suppression of POW news led the news: “P.O.W. conduct barred as Topic” read a February 5 headline a week before the first releases; “Managing the P.O.W.s: Military Public Relations Men Filter Prisoner Story” on February told of 80 public relations specialists assembled to “hide possible warts and stand as a filtering screen between the press and the story.”

Even before anti-war veterans hurled their medals onto the Capitol steps in April, 1971, a group of anti-war POWs was taking form as the “Peace Committee” in the Hanoi lockups. News magazines like Time, and Newsweek had been made available to the POWs by the prison administration, so news about the unpopularity of the war at home was always within earshot of the prisoners.20 The loudspeaker PA systems in the prison facilities regularly broadcast news about the US antiwar movement that included “draft card burnings” and “defectors” which presumably referred to in-service rebels and VVAW.21

For that matter, the POWs captured after October 1967 when 50,000 protesters marched on the Pentagon, which was most them, would have known that resistance to the war was spreading through the military ranks and that hundreds of returnees from Vietnam were in the streets as veterans against the war. Most profoundly, it was widespread knowledge that fellow POWs George Smith and Claude McClure had come out against the war after their release—Smith’s book P.O.W.: Two Years with the Viet Cong was made available to the Hanoi captives by prison authorities.22

April 1, 1971 is also when twelve POWs taken in South Vietnam and known as the “Kushner Camp” arrived in Hanoi. Some, including the group’s Senior Ranking Officer (SRO), Captain Floyd Kushner, had been in captivity since 1967 and been exposed to unimaginable harshness in jungle living with inadequate nutrition, primitive sanitation and health care, confinement in tiger cages, and forced marches. Along the way, the group witnessed the execution of recalcitrant comrades and the deaths of others due to neglected wounds and untreated disease. Their survival instincts and disgust for the war honed by their experience, the Kushners were receptive to the voices of conscience rising within the Hanoi prison system and ready to join the chorus.

Whatever its genesis, dissent was growing inside the walls of Hao Lo by 1971 and, not unlike their counterparts in leadership across the U.S. military system, the Senior Ranking Officers (SROs) in the Hanoi prison system came down hard on the Peace Committee (PC) and its fellow travelers. Efforts to suppress their protests included threats of courts-martial when they were released and returned to the states.

When outright suppression didn’t work they warned others to stay away from the radicals, trying thereby to isolate the bad apples. The prison administrators and guards controlled the movement and communications among the prisoners, of course, but the SROs contrived their own Kangaroo command hierarchy into which they tried, first, to coopt the highest-ranking dissidents, Navy Capt. Walter Eugene Wilber and Marine Col. Edison Miller, and, failing that, “relieved [them] of military authority” –“excommunicated” them, as historian Craig Howes put it. From then on, wrote Howes, “most men avoided them like the devil.”23

POW mate calls McCain ‘liar’ over ‘turncoat’ charge

Image below: Edison Miller, POW Charged with Collaboration, Denies the Allegation.

The demonizing of the dissidents through “excommunication” is a recognizable form of stigmatizing, the same tactic as that implemented against the GI and veterans’ movements in the States. By exiling the leaders, the SROs had set them up for victim-blaming: their isolation would be construed by their peers (and later the American public) as self-exacted, a kind of asked-for segregation, for which they were responsible. Putatively, the irrationality of their behavior stemmed from personal traits: they were loners, losers, alienated, and maladjusted, a cluster of shortcomings bespeaking weak character.24

The “weakness” notion was a kind of slander but it gained currency through its application to the Kushner group, many of whom were younger enlisted men who were less educated than the high-ranking pilots who preceded them into the Hanoi lockups; the group, moreover, was disproportionately Black.25 The ascription to personal failings of the Kushners’ anti-war leanings and resistance to the SRO’s chain-of-command was a way to discredit the political authenticity of their opposition. Notwithstanding the condescension of rooting those “weaknesses” in the rebels’ social backgrounds, the weakness language was also a form of character assassination; it was a dog whistle for moral weakness, the failure to witness to faith by willingness to suffer worldly deprivation. With a twist, it riffed on the mental health discourse already forming the narrative of GI and veteran dissent into which the voices of conscience home from Hanoi would be fitted.

The disrespect shown for the anti-war POWs followed them into their release and return home. From their first landing at Clark Airforce Base in the Philippines through the White House welcoming staged for the POWs, their representation in the press, and further on to the stack of books that would be written about the “POW experience,” they were the deviants whose behavior needed to be accounted for and explained.

From Muzzled, to Criminal, to Medical: The Transforming Narrative of POW Dissent

Forgetting is insidious because it entails its own obscurity as a process even as it takes place. In the case of the POW dissidents, the news about their censoring was short-lived, replaced first by stories about legal charges brought against them, and their defense against those charges. It was a kind of reversing-the-verdict maneuver whereby the stories about muzzled POWs that had had the government on the defensive for the violation of freedom of speech were now reversed, putting the dissidents on the defensive for their conduct as prisoners.

Most news stories in March carried headlines like Seymour Hersh’s for The New York Times on March 16, 1973, “Eight may face Courts-Martial for Anti-war roles as P.O.W.s.” It was not as though the P.O.W.s were silenced by that spin so much as that they were being compelled by the discourse itself to speak as defendants in interviews with news reporters that were framed by legalese rather than their own voices of conscience. The conflict between those modes of discourse was on display in Mike Wallace’s interview with Eugene Wilber for the April 2, Sixty Minutes on CBS. Confronted with Wallace’s insinuation that he must have caved to the fear of torture—the “weakness” narrative that was building in the press—Wilber stuck with his claim to “conscience and morality.” Wilber’s stand effectively turned the tables, putting the prosecutorial parties on the defense for suppressing conscience.26 Wilber’s adherence to principle, however, was a grain of sand in the celebratory tide raising the stature of the “good” POWs reputed to have pridefully endured the torture handed out by their communist captors.

The POW news in May was dominated by President Richard Nixon’s White House reception for them and their families. Press coverage of the reception totally erased the anti-war POWs from the story, and worse, did not cover the intimidation and threats inflicted on them and their families behind the scenes.27

When they returned to the news, the dominant narrative had turned again—the rebels weren’t criminal so much as emotionally and psychologically hurt, sick, damaged goods just as were their brothers who had been in the streets as protesters against the war since 1967. A June 2 Times story headlined “Ex-P.O.W.s to get Health Counseling for 5-year Period” sprinkled in references to “high violent death rates,” “depression,” “fright,” and “euphoria” (sic), with no references to sources for the claims. “Some Wounds are Inside: Health of P.O.W.s”, headlined a June 10 health column, raising mental health as the specter that would stigmatize dissent as a symptom. A July 15 Times story “Antiwar P.O.W.s: A Different Mold Seared by the Combat Experience” locked-in the mental health discourse despite there being virtually nothing in the content of the story to support the use of “seared” in the headline.28

The psychologizing of the dissenting views within the POW population was a way to dismiss their authenticity as political and moral expressions of conscience.

Eugene Wilber, Edison Miller, and the Peace Committee were integral to the first history of the POW affair written by John Hubble in 1976. But Hubble used the dissidents as negative referents against which to define the “good” POWs, the ones who not only fought with courage before capture but continued the mission as “prisoners at war” in counter distinction to “prisoners of war”. The “prisoner at war” is the protagonist, à la John Smith in the American captivity narrative, the centerpiece of the Nation’s founding mythology; the “war” in that story being as much about the struggle within the individual and collective Self as it was between captives and captors. The strength to resist the attraction of the Other—as the temptation of Pocahontas is portrayed in the John Smith legend—and refuse favorable treatment, entailed the repression of desire, the deferment of worldly comfort out of a commitment to principle and religious faith. The memoirs of the Vietnam War POWs record the Christian intonations of their resistance to the temptations proffered by the guards, and even an embrace of torture to validate their virtue—the strength of their virtue confirmed by the bad POWs who succumbed to temptation.29

The rebel POWs had no place in the Smithian narrative. And with the loss of the war having marginalized the otherwise honorable tradition of American dissent—the Thomas Paines, Jane Adams, and Martin Luther Kings—there were no associations with which to associate the POW dissidents. What, exactly, was to be remembered? The GI and veterans’ movements had begun at a time when the anti-war movement was peaking in the late 1960s; they were embraced as allies in the general and larger movement and written into its historical accounts. By contrast, the story of anti-war POWs unfolded after the war was over and the anti-war movement was dissolving.

Antiwar Warriors: A Place in the American Story?

Service members, POWs, and veterans who spoke against the war remain contested figures in Vietnam war remembrances. Easily scapegoated for the loss of the war—their words were said to have demoralized their comrades still in the fight and lent aid and comfort to the enemy, according to their detractors. The efforts to discredit their dissent as psychological disorder nevertheless had a sympathetic tonality that bent some critics toward understanding if not forgiveness. Viewed as tragic figures caught in the fog of war, on the other hand, their courageous stances blended into an ill-focused victim-veteran figure destined to fade from social memory.

Their displacement from memory was abetted by broader anxieties left by the war. Public upset that war had been mismanaged by Washington and hampered by people-of-conscience naively misled by leftwing propaganda was a recipe for McCarthyite conspiracism. Stirred by Hollywood film and the revanchist Reagan-Bush presidencies in the 1980s, the conspiracy theorists fantasied a sellout of the military mission by an intelligentsia highly placed in media and governmental circles, aka the “Washington insiders.”30

The storyline of an enemy inside the gates rendered the history of in-service dissent a mere footnote in a larger narrative of national degeneration as cause for the defeat in Vietnam. It wasn’t just that returning veterans were said to have been spat on by protestors—they were neglected and forgotten by an ungrateful American public as well, and POWs, the good ones, were “left behind,” abandoned in Southeast Asia by a government hastening to forget the ignominy of a lost and unpopular war.

The memory of the Vietnam veterans who lent the credibility of their uniforms to the cause of peace has largely been displaced by that of veterans victimized by the war as successive administrations have waged new wars from Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya and Syria. That displacement has diminished their appeal as role models for a new generation of would-be resisters and deterred the out-reach of civilian peace activists for allies within the military.

When the Iraq Veterans Against the War base-tour bus stopped at the Navy base in New London, CT in 2006, I asked Tom Barton, one of the organizers about the response they were receiving from the local groups hosting them. “Everywhere we go,” he complained, “all people want to talk about is PTSD. Do these guys look fucked-up to you?” he asked, waving his arm toward the IVAW members. No, I answered, before beginning a conversation about the way anti-war Vietnam veterans’ voices had been silenced and the legacy of their missing voices in our political culture.31

A full accounting of the whys and wherefores of the war in Vietnam, and the legacy of GI resistance for the country today, is an ongoing project. The story of the silencing of dissenting voices of service members and POWs is one of the biggest gaps in the historical record, one that is only beginning to be filled.


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Jerry Lembcke is the author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam and Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal. He is Associate Professor Emeritus at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA and a Distinguished Lecturer at the Organization of American Historians.


The 13-episode The War in Vietnam produced for public television in 2017 by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick touch on themes of in-service dissent but in ambiguous ways. I reviewed the film for Public Books  here.

The history of the coffee houses is written by David L. Parsons in Dangerous Grounds: Antiwar Coffeehouses and Military Dissent (UNC Press, 2017). For GI Press history, see James Lewes’s Protest and Survive: Underground GI Newspapers During the Vietnam War (Praeger Press, 2007).

Neither Cortright nor Zeiger mention the POW dissidents.

The military constraints on civilian reporters were tighter than sometimes believed today. It was not easy for reporters to get out of major cities and military installations. When they did, they were sometimes “given a story” by a field unit’s “public affairs liaison” and put on a plane back to Saigon. See Cortright (p. 269) for references to the Army’s inquiries into dissent.

The major news breakthroughs came in 1969 due, in part, to growing public pessimism about the war after the Tet Offensive of 1968 and the presence in the military of an older and better-educated cohort of draftees that came in with the post-Tet callup. See my “Contradictions of 1969: Drafted for War, The Westmoreland Cohort Opted for Peace” in The American Historian, May 2018.

I was one of those on the 19-month plan.

A month after the action for which he was decorated, Kerrey led a raid on Thanh Phong village in which his men knifed to death its inhabitants. Later critics called the deaths murder, charges that dogged Kerrey in the latter years of his career. See here

See Andrew Hunt, The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veteran’s Against the War (NYU Press, 2001).

Just after the October 15, 1969 Moratorium Day against the war, H.R. Haldeman, an aide to President Richard Nixon, said, “The trick here is to try to find a way to drive the black sheep from the white sheep within the group that participated in the Moratorium . . .”

10 The University of Northern Colorado chapter of VVAW, of which I was a member, was banned from a Veterans Day parade in the early 1970s. Working around the ban, we followed behind the parade stepping to a solemn “death march” cadence.

11 For an analysis of Kerry’s speech and responses to it, see David Thorne and George Butler, The New Soldier: Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

12 John R. Coyne The Impudent Snobs: Agnew vs. The Intellectual Establishment (Arlington House Press, 1972).

13 Erving Goffman, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Identity (Penguin, 1964); Liz Szabo, “Cost of Not Caring: Stigma Set in Stone—Mentally Ill Suffer in Sick Health System.” USA Today, 2014.

14 See Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (Penguin, 2003).

15 The Times article was Jon Nordheimer’s, “”Postwar Shock Besets Ex-GIs” August 21, 1971. See Peter G. Bourne, Men, Stress, and Vietnam (Little, Brown 1971).

16 As “lore,” the origins of ideal American veteran are obscure and largely figments of imagination. The GI Joe figurine was created in the early 1960s, too late for it to have been more than a cultural expression during the 1960s and 1970s. More likely, Americans expected their soldiers to look and act like John Wayne playing Marine Sergeant John Stryker in The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) or Audie Murphy (said to be the most decorated veterans of WWII, playing himself in To Hell and Back (1955).

17 A 1971 survey by the Harris Poll conducted for the U.S. Senate reported 99% of Vietnam veterans polled saying they were welcomed home by friends and family, and 94% of the veterans polled saying their reception from their age-group peers was friendly. Only 1% of veterans in that poll described their homecoming as “not at all friendly.”

18 The binary nature of the spat-upon veteran is developed more fully in my The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, Pp. 5, 53-55, 104, 124.

19 The blackout of news about shot down U.S. pilots may never have been as great as some Americans believe today. In John Hubble’s book P.O.W.: A Definitive History of The American Prisoner-of-War Experience in Vietnam, 1964-1973, which is regarded as the “official story,” he records (pp. 51-52) pilot Larry Guarino’s arrival in Hao Lo Prison in June of 1965 and his telling Bob Peel, who had been captured earlier, that he had “read about” his capture and that “your name has been officially released as definitely captured.”

20 In “Antiwar P.O.W.s: A Different Mold Seared by Their Combat Experience” The New York Times Steven V. Roberts on July 15, 1973 reported, “All members of the peace committee—the men say that they never organized a formal group or gave themselves a name. . . .”

21 The quoted words are Nick Rowe’s in Stuart Rochester and Frederick Kiley’s Honor Bound: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973. Rochester and Riley write (p. 193) that POWs got news of Quaker Norman Morrison’s self-immolation in November 1965, the Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal, and (p. 412) the 1968 Democratic National convention.

22 When jungle prisoners Smith and McClure were released in late November/early December 1965, the American news media and superiors in Washington characterized them as either “turncoats” or victims of “brainwashing,” according to Rochester and Kiley (p. 249). The notion of brainwashing was popularized in the accounts of Korean War POWs who choose to stay in North Korea after the war. Brainwashing, however, never gained the same credibility in the case of Vietnam POWs.

23 Craig Howes’s Voices of the Vietnam POWs (pp. 110-111) is a reliable source for the struggle between SROs and PCs. The quoted “excommunicated” is his. The SRO’s attempt to control their own imprisoned peers was based on their reading of the military Code of Conduct. Post-war legal proceedings judged the Code to be a nonbinding guide to the behavior of captives, not an inviolable set of orders which the PCs were legally obligated to follow. The SROs also played the “buyout” card, offering Wilber and Miller the chance for “reinstatement” as commanding officers in the chain of command they had configured. See Rochester and Kiley, p. 553.

24 The “weakness” theory had its predecessor in official accounts of Korean War POWs: some had turned against the war and even elected to stay in North Korea when released. See Albert D. Biderman’s 1963 book March to Calumny: The Story of American POWs in the Korean War (Pp. 166-167) for the weakness thesis.

25 Hubble (p. 109) attributes the Kushners’ motivations to “naivete, weakness, and mental illness.” Rochester and Kiley (p. 565) add “lacked strength and intelligence and discipline” to the list.

26 See Seymour Hersh’s coverage of the Wallace interview in the April 2, 1973 New York Times.

27 The New York Times, May 23 “Ex-P.O.W.s Cheer Nixon” made no mention of the dissidents, nor did its June 2 story “400 Ex-P.O.W.s are Given $400,000 Dallas Reception.” Tom Wilber, Eugene’s son, is a source of information on the behind the scenes shenanigans against the family. 

28 Like for other antiwar veterans, the diagnostic framing of their views functioned politically and culturally more than medically. Press reports at the time portrayed POWs as healthy and later medical reports confirmed that. POW memoirs written as late as the mid-1980s make no mention of PTSD or trauma.

29 Pauline Turner Strong, Captive Selves, Captivating Others: The Politics and Poetics of Colonial Captivity Narratives.

30 The John Birch Society peddled the hardcore paranoia of an enemy-inside-the-gates.

31 Barton was, at the time, the editor of G.I. Special Newsletter.

All images in this article are from APJJF

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The 71st anniversary of Sri Lanka’s independence from British rule was celebrated on February 4 in a “gallant ceremony” at the Galle Face Green in Colombo. Geopolitical rivalry, foreign intervention and constitutional reform for political devolution, however, are posing serious threats to the island’s sovereignty and environmental and human well-being. Even the country’s nominal “flag independence” is severely threatened.

Beginning in 1505, Sri Lanka’s coastal lowlands were successively colonized by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British until the entire island came under the British with the capture of the Kandyan kingdom in 1815. Colonial rule was maintained through deliberate policies to divide and conquer local communities, cultivate patronage and collude with local elites. Colonial plantations undermined local subsistence agriculture and the ecological balance, while Western religion and ideologies of progress and civilization weakened the people’s historical pride in their cultures and the island’s sovereignty.

In the early years following independence, Sri Lankan governments introduced policies to nationalize plantations and other private enterprises, foster local industries, and develop local culture and identities. The 1972 constitution replaced the island’s colonial name “Ceylon” with “Sri Lanka,” declaring the country to be a “free, sovereign, independent and democratic socialist republic.” These designations remain on paper but many of the post-colonial policies backfired, giving rise to massive youth unemployment and violent social class and communal conflicts.

Reversing autarkic economic policies, a newly elected Sri Lankan government introduced an Open Economy in 1977 giving free rein to foreign investment and imports and to privatizing hitherto state-owned sectors such as transport and telecommunications. The speed-up of economic “liberalization” and the dismantling of the traditions of state welfare, urged on by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, made 1977 a turning point in the economic and political history of the island.

Still, it was not a radical departure in that it signified an acceleration of capitalist development begun with colonial plantations in the 1830s. Notwithstanding promises of prosperity and freedom for all, the post-1977 period saw the emergence of the horrific armed conflict over Tamil separatism that lasted for more than 30 years, until 2009.

Deepening foreign control

In the years following the 2015 elections and a change in political leadership, Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, foreign debt, geopolitical rivalry and foreign intervention have all intensified posing serious threats to the island’s independence, peace and security. The Indian Ocean (along with the Western Pacific) is expected to become the center of future world politics, strategy and economics and one of the most strategically contested regions in the world. China, the US, India and also Japan and other states are struggling for influence over Sri Lanka, which is strategically located in the heart of the Indian Ocean. Sea lanes of the Indian Ocean are considered to be the busiest in the world with more than 80% of global seaborne oil trade estimated to be passing through them.

Sri Lanka is central to China in its massive import of energy and export of goods. The US-backed political leadership in Sri Lanka tried to break ties with China upon coming into office in 2015. However, faced with the necessity of Chinese economic support, notwithstanding India’s concerns over Chinese encirclement, Sri Lanka has committed itself to active participation in the Maritime Belt and Silk Road initiative, China’s extensive network of ports and maritime facilities connecting the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

In January 2017, the Sri Lankan government announced a deal granting China a 99-year lease of Hambantota Port in the south in exchange for US$1.1 billion in debt relief. The debt-for-equity swap raises concerns over the loss of the island’s strategic state assets and economic sovereignty, and the long-term impact on the Sri Lankan people.

Another massive Chinese project in Sri Lanka is the Port City being built in Colombo on 269 hectares of land reclaimed from the Indian Ocean. This $1.4 billion project by the state-owned Chinese engineering firm China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) is the largest single foreign direct investment in Sri Lankan history.

Environmental activists have pointed out that excavation of sand along the coast is destroying the habitats of various species including corals, while disturbing the ecological balance and the livelihood of those in the fishing and related industries. The Sri Lankan government suspended the project in 2015 but it was resumed in 2016 and is now rapidly moving forward. The new set of environmental regulations the government is said to have negotiated with CCCC is yet to be made public.

The Port City, called “Sri Lanka’s ‘new Dubai’” by British newspaper The Guardian, “with its own business-friendly tax regime and regulations – and possibly a different legal system to the rest of Sri Lanka,” has serious implications for the island’s sovereignty and independence. Sri Lankan activists are concerned about the power a majority-state-owned Chinese corporation would wield as landlord of the territory it leases in the Port City.

There is concern that the Port City will be a separate entity where only a certain class of wealthy people, mostly foreigners, will live while services would be provided by Sri Lankans receiving little economic benefit

There is also concern that the Port City will be a separate entity where only a certain class of wealthy people, mostly foreigners, will live while services would be provided by Sri Lankans receiving little economic benefit.

Efforts are also under way by neighboring India to integrate Sri Lanka (as well as other smaller neighbors like Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan) firmly within its sphere of economic and political influence. Based on a memorandum of understanding signed between the Indian and Sri Lankan governments in April 2017, India has been invited to develop the West Container Terminal in the Colombo Port as a joint venture with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.

According to The Diplomat, the Colombo port “is one of the busiest ports in South Asia and an important trans-shipment hub in the region.” After a visit to the island by Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono in January 2018, plans have been made for Japan to build an LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminal in the Colombo Port and a floating storage regasification unit. Both the FSRU and LNG terminal projects are to be joint ventures by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority with both Japan and India.

The disagreement between Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe regarding control of the island’s ports is said to have been a key issue that led to Sirisena’s dismissal of Wickremesinghe as PM last November (he was reinstated in December). Wickremesinghe, backed by International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama, wanted port development, specifically the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port, on the basis of an Indian investment. Sirisena, on the other hand, had argued that it was vital to keep the seaport “within the ambit of the Sri Lankan government.”

Another highly controversial agreement between India and Sri Lanka is the proposed Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA). Unlike earlier bilateral trade deals with India, this Indo-Sri Lanka trade deal covers trade in services, especially information technology, shipbuilding and engineering. Although the ETCA proposal is yet to be made public, given the asymmetry in size and economic and political power of the two countries, it has generated tremendous opposition from professional bodies in Sri Lanka. They are fearful that inundation of doctors and other professionals from India would displace Sri Lankans in their own country.

There are also criticisms in the country of the bilateral trade agreement signed between the governments of Sri Lanka and Singapore in January 2018 on grounds that Sri Lanka would lose millions of dollars each year due to elimination of tariffs for Singapore exports, among other negative effects.

In reverting attention to growing Indian involvement in Sri Lanka, it is necessary to consider India’s plan to build a sea bridge and tunnel, at a cost of more than $5 billion from the Asian Development Bank, to connect the southern tip of India with the northwest of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and unique cultural heritage were maintained historically through its physical separation from its large and powerful neighbor. As such, there is fear particularly among the Sinhala Buddhist majority that the easy influx of Indian Hindus and Muslims into Sri Lanka through the planned bridge would change the demographic make-up of Sri Lanka turning them into a minority in the island.

It is also believed that in the long term, the bridge could well threaten the territorial integrity of India itself by providing the basis for the long-held Tamil separatist dream of Greater Eelam combining Tamil Nadu and northern Sri Lanka, renewing conflict and violence in the process.

In August 2016 the first joint operation between the US and Sri Lankan militaries took place in Jaffna with participation of TNA (Tamil National Alliance) politicians at the launch. Since 2016, US Navy ships have visited Colombo, and US Seventh Fleet vessels and the aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis have visited the eastern port of Trincomalee. Trincomalee, the second-deepest natural harbor in the world, is considered to be of great strategic military value in the Indian Ocean. Last December, the US Navy announced the setting up of a logistic hub in Sri Lanka to secure support, supplies and services at sea.

On December 31, US President Donald Trump signed the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act to strengthen the US strategic position in Asia vis-à-vis China. According to recent reports, between January 24 and 29 this year, Bandaranaike International Airport in Sri Lanka was “used for US military planes to bring in supplies, and for aircraft aboard the John C Stennis<