WASHINGTON, D.C. – Increased U.S. military presence, and not China’s emergence, will heighten tension in Asia, two Asian church leaders said at an ecumenical conference in this city on Sunday (March 26).
Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI, or the Philippine Independent Church) said the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), is opposed to all forms of U.S. military intervention in the region and is calling for a review or abrogation of the U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement.
Another church leader, Rev. Kim Young Ju, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), said the NCCK is opposed to the plan of the South Korean government to build a new U.S. military base in his country.
Calang and Kim headed a panel discussion on peace, militarization and U.S. policy in Asia and Pacific during the Ecumenical Advocacy Days, an annual conference when faith-based groups in the United States draw up a list of U.S. domestic and international policy issues that they will lobby for before the U.S. Congress.
There has been a growing concern over security in the region since U.S. President Barack Obama announced in November the new U.S. policy in Asia-Pacific that calls for redeploying American military forces away from Europe and the Middle East and sending them to Asia.
The policy, dubbed the Pacific Pivot, is widely considered as the U.S.’ reaction to the growing economic power of China in the region.
Both Calang and Kim, however, said they do not see China as a regional threat.
“The Philippines has a long history of trade with China, even before the Spanish colonized us,” said Calang of the IFI, one of the member-churches of NCCP. “We have been co-existing peacefully with China for so long.”
He said even if China and the Philippines have conflicts, such as the one over the Spratly Islands, he believes these conflicts can be and should be settled through diplomacy.
Kim, for his part, believes that it’s up to China and Korea to settle between them whatever differences they may have in the future. He also said involving the U.S. would actually invite China to assume a more belligerent position.
“We (China and Korea) are neighbors, and as neighbors, we must live harmoniously,” he said through an interpreter. “But building a U.S. military base at the nose of China, is that harmonious living?”
“To promote peace in Asia, we need to demilitarize it,” Kim said.
Last year, the South Korean government began construction on a $970-million naval base in the southern island of Jeju. Many anti-base activists in Korea suspect that the naval base will serve as an outpost for the United States Navy to project its power against China.
With a strong domestic and international pressure to close U.S. military bases in Okinawa, Japan, the U.S. has been scrambling to look for new hosts for its military bases and troops in Asia.
Jeju Island, the home of three UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites and nine UNESCO Geo-Parks, is believed to be among the alternative sites being considered by the U.S. for its military bases.
Calang said the plan to build a military base in Korea, the VFA in the Philippines and the recent push to amend Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution are the recent manifestations of the growing U.S. intervention in Asia.
Article 9 stipulates that Japan forever renounces war and prohibits it from maintaining armed forces. Critics claim that the U.S, has been pressuring Japan to amend the article, so that Japan can share the burden of policing the region as the U.S.’ junior partner.
One U.S. foreign policy analyst, however, dismissed the U.S.’ anti-China posturing as “largely an advertising campaign.”
“It’s an election year; this is the time to conduct the Pacific Pivot,” said John Feffer, co-director for the Washington, D.C.-based think-tank Institute for Policy Studies.
Feffer said the Obama administration and the Democratic Party to which Obama belongs need to do something this year to address questions about the seeming lack of U.S. action against China’s growing influence.
“Now, Obama can say, ‘we have pivoted in Asia’,” Feffer said during the conference.
Another expert on East Asian affairs, Rev. Xiaoling Zhu of the Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ in the U.S., said there seems to be a distorted view of security in the Asia-Pacific region.
“China has not been to war in the last 45 years,” he said. “It is the U.S. that has gone to war in the 60, the 70s, up until today. “
Calang is part of the Philippine delegation that toured U.S. cities to seek the support of the American church and government leaders, members of the diplomatic community and the Filipino Americans in asking the Philippine government to address the human rights violations in the country.
The delegation met earlier in the week with the U.S. Senate, House and State Department and submitted a report on the human rights conditions in the Philippines. The delegation also asked U.S. leaders to put human rights conditionalities on U.S. military aid to the Aquino administration.
In the meeting with the State Department, the Philippine delegation were told the U.S. has already placed $3 million worth of U.S. aid under an encumbrance, which means that amount will be released only if the Philippines fulfills its promise to improve its human rights record.
On March 1, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced that the U.S. has granted $144.66 million military assistance to the Philippines for this year, up by $21.38 million or 17.3 percent from last year.
Together with Calang, the other members of the delegation are Bishop Reuel Marigza, vice chairperson of the NCCP and general secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), and Angelina Bisuna Ipong, secretary general of the Society of Ex-Detainees Against Detention and Arrest (SELDA), who is considered as the “oldest female political prisoner” in the Philippines until her release in 2011 after six years in jail.
The Philippine delegation’s call to hold U.S. military aid to the Philippines is based on the findings five years ago of Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions.
In his report, Alston said extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, abductions and torture were perpetrated by state security forces and paramilitary groups trained by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“The U.S., by supplying hundreds of millions of US dollars in military aid, materials, advise, and personnel to the Philippine military, is contributing to this culture of impunity,” Marigza said.
The U.S. tour of Marigza, Calang and Ipong is sponsored by the Asia Pacific Forum (APF) of U.S. and Canadian churches with Asia and Pacific related programs and concerns. APF is a geographic forum related to the international humanitarian and development agency Church World Service.
(Noel Pangilinan, editor of a hyperlocal website for immigrant communities in New York City, was in Washington, D.C. to cover the EAD.)
PHOTO 1: CALANG AND KIM
Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Philippine Independent Church (left) emphasizes a point during a panel discussion on peace, militarization and U.S. policy in Asia and Pacific in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, March 25. With him is Rev. Kim Young Ju, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea. (Photo By Noel Pangilinan)
PHOTO 2: MARIGZA
Bishop Reuel Marigza, vice chairperson of the National Council of Churches in the Philippine (NCCP) and general secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) reporting on human rights situation during an ecumenical conference in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, March 25.
(Photo By Noel Pangilinan)