Facing history, resolving disputes, working towards peace in East Asia: a statement by Minjian East Asia Forum
The recent disputes over the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands among mainland China, Taiwan and Japan, and over the Dokdo (Takeshima) Island between Korea and Japan resulted in drastic changes in East Asia, stifling the open and multilateral exchanges. In the South China Sea, mainland China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines are fighting over the Spratly Islands and the territorial sea; in the North, the disputes over the Kuril Islands between Japan and Russia remain unsettled. Territorial controversies triggered nationalist sentiments in each Asian country, and the US military deployment in both East Asia and Southeast Asia made military contestation even more intense, pushing the region to the edge of war. Since the late Cold War era, we have not seen such tension in East Asia, thwarting the people’s attempts to understand and reconcile with each other and hurting the friendship within the region slowly achieved over the past decades. This immanent crisis shows that war memories did not go away with history; East Asia remains locked in the Cold War consciousness. In the meantime, the rise of the Chinese, Indian, and Russian economies have restructured the global condition, and the expansion of capitalist economic crises have unsettled the status quo of power. These factors are turning territorial disputes into a minefield in East Asia.
Living in East Asia, with long term concerns for, commitments to, and participation in the minjian society, we consider the current disputes to be a yet-to-be-resolved problem of colonial and imperial history since the late 19th Century, as well as one entangled withand compressed by the Cold War structure. The competitions for land and resources in East Asia have threatened not only the environment of the region but also the livelihood of people living on the borders; national(ist) modes of thought on territorial sovereignty, in addition, has had negative impacts on earnest attempts to seek people-to-people solidarity, exchange and dialogue, mutual cooperation, and peace. In the past fifty years, the global capitalist mode of development has virtually become the only path to modernity in Cold War East Asia, intensifying the struggle for resources and hegemony and causing the lack in alternative imagination. With national pains still hurting and the Cold War experience of political contestation, national separation, and fault lines in thought and affect layering up, it is very difficult for East Asian countries to trust each other. And the gradual advent of mainland China, powered by a nationally monopolized capital, as an global force to be reckoned with, has caused concerns of its neighbors in the East and in the South, thereby giving the United States an excuse to strengthen its military presence and creating a new Cold War structure of regional rivalry.
With such a structure in place, if the politicians used war memories or threats from the neighbor as the excuse to stimulate nationalist sentiment in the forms of purchasing islands, crossing territorial seas, or military exercises to escalate conflict, the hope for peace in the region will be a rootless idea floating on water, leaving people to be haunted by the war and turning East Asia into a threat for world peace. The foundation for peace in East Asia is fragile because East Asian countries remain unable to collectively confront the profound pains caused by colonialism and imperialism and clarify war responsibility, and therefore cannot see and empathize with one another’s feelings caused by colonial aggression and the rejection of sovereignty claims. East Asian countries must recognize the colonial and imperial histories that have shaped the region; clean up the remaining wounds of war; and critically reflect on the structure that makes East Asian countries dependent on the United States. Otherwise, these unstable conditions will continue to affect the region, and the danger of war will be impossible to avoid.
We believe that the quest for peace and development is not only the wish of East Asian people but also the ineluctable responsibility of East Asian countries. When peace in the region is disrupted and people’s lives threatened, we—as part of East Asian people—feel obligated to respond. Participating in regional affairs and articulating voices of reason are not only the rights and responsibility of an individual citizen but also necessary practices of people’s democracy and solidarity in East Asia. Facing the dire situations up front, as minjian communities based on the vision of a peaceful East Asia,wefeel compelled to make the following statement:
1. We suggest that these disputed islands should be transformed into “spheres of border interaction,” “subsistence spheres for neighboring communities,” and “demilitarized zones” in East Asia.
2. We demand our respective governments soothe nationalist sentiments within their borders and refrain from militaristic aggressionwhen facing territorial disputes.
3. We support the Okinawan, Japanese, and Korean struggles against US military bases. We demand each Asian government to re-examine their military alliance with the US and to sign a pact for regional peace and security, so as to establish a regional mechanism for trust and peace and move toward the demilitarization of the region. Moreover, we ask the US government to remove its overseas military bases and to treat East Asian countries in equal and friendly terms, so as to fully resolve the problem of US bases in the region.
4. The Japanese government must confront its own imperialist and colonial histories, recognize its war responsibility, and candidly apologize to those affected countries. It must seriously reflect on its right-wing conservative tendencies, recently enabled by the entrenched US-Japan alliance, as well as the provocation it made by “nationalizing” the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands.
5. We must confront historical wounds and deal with territorial disputes so as to work toward peace in the region.