ASIA PACIFIC: APEC reluctant to back Bush's war

October 24, 2001


Despite George Bush beating his war drum loudly all the way to the October 17-21 annual summit of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Shanghai, the US president has failed to obtain the kind of hearty support that he has received from Britain, Australia and other allies.

His reception from the region's leaders was cautious, although there was unanimous lip service support for his "war on terrorism". After all, how could any country dare to oppose the war drive outright, given overwhelming US military and economic might and Bush's threat that any dissenting voice would be treated as siding with the terrorists?

While most APEC members offered qualified support, one country did openly voice dissent. That country was Vietnam — one of the very few countries which, though small and impoverished, was able to successfully resist US aggression.

Within hours of the first bombing raids against Afghanistan on October 7, Quan Doi Nhan Dan, the Vietnamese army's official daily, boldly called on the US and its allies to halt the strikes immediately.

"The Vietnamese people are profoundly concerned and very worried by the fact that the US has launched a war in Afghanistan", the paper said, adding: "It is impossible to fight terrorism through war, particularly one launched against an independent and sovereign country."

Nhan Dan, the official organ of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam, pressed further on October 18, urging the US and other countries to cooperate with Vietnam in its fight against terrorism, particularly from groups such as the US-based Free Vietnam which has repeatedly bombed Vietnamese government offices in the country and overseas.

No other country was prepared to go that far.

Though without naming names, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri on October 14 made an unmistaken condemnation of the US bombing in Afghanistan, stating: "Blood can't be cleansed with blood."

Four days later in Shanghai, her trade minister Rini Soewandi did a backflip on her behalf, claiming that any perception that Megawati holds a critical stance was a mistake, stressing that Indonesia has no intention of relaxing its position on terrorism.

Even Malaysia, usually outspoken, had to tone down its criticism, with the country's trade minister Rafidah Azu saying on October 18: "We must begin to understand ... the root cause of the problem and also to caution about whatever retaliation that's being undertaken so that it doesn't harm innocent people."

Such hesitant sentiments were reflected in the statement adopted by the APEC ministers which not only failed to specifically back the US military action, but also stated that any collective response should be conducted under the lead of the United Nations.

Which other members contributed to this cautious position is unclear but they are unlikely to have come from Japan, Russia or China, which have extended Bush firm though low-profile support.

Russia and China smelt an opportunity for political expediency in backing Bush soon after September 11. The Chechens and the Uighurs (predominantly Muslims) have been fighting for years for independence from Russia and China respectively. Russia quickly labelled the Chechens terrorists, as did China of the Uighurs, and solicited from Bush reciprocal support.

Though Beijing hasn't openly advocated war, its support for Bush is unmistakable. Not only has there not been even one implicit critical statement, Beijing hasn't stopped patting Bush on the back.

After trumpeting Chinese President Jiang Zemin's honour of having received a direct call from Bush soon after the bombing started and while bombs were raining down on Afghanistan, the official mouthpiece People's Daily on October 8, carried Jiang's statement that as China and the US both have "major influence in the world" they should "shoulder common responsibility for protecting peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and the world".

Washington seems to be so confident of having Beijing in its pocket that US Secretary of State Colin Powell even made a crude threat in an official address in Shanghai on October 18, saying that "40% of [China's] exports are coming through the USA" which "is something that they will think twice about with respect to putting that at risk".

Bush also spoke of Japan's support with imperial arrogance. During a press conference at the Oval Office on October 16, Bush said that, while taking note of Japan's claim that it had dedicated US$40 million for relief in Afghanistan, he "appreciated" Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's understanding that Japan mustn't only provide short-term relief but must also be "part of a longer-term solution" in Afghanistan.

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