American independence has been based on the enslavement of Native Americans and peoples of color domestically; the primacy of neoliberal globalization clothed with the tenets of liberal democracy; and, its foreign policy of imposing unfair trade relations and flexing its military power to maintain global hegemony.

The rise of US military dominance after World War II was in pursuit of its policy of containment and interventionism. Its alliance with 30 countries from Europe and North America through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has justified the maintenance of military bases and facilities across the world to ‘protect the people and the territories of its allies.’

While the declared purpose is to prevent conflict, the strategic positioning of US troops has served to preserve their economic interests by meddling in local affairs, diverting policies to ensure their gains, and interfering with the sovereignty of many independent nations.

A major effect of American troop presence has compromised several communities in the areas surrounding these bases. Reports of human rights violations have increased and counter-insurgency programs have harmed innocent civilians in the countryside.

Currently concerned with the rise of a rival superpower in China, the US has become more aggressive in its strategy of containment by beefing up its military settlements in the Asia Pacific to protect investments and ensure political influence in key countries. This dynamic concerning the two superpowers has affected nearby countries and partners, allowing both to set up undeclared alliances in a battle not just for positioning and regional dominance, but also for the probability of war.

On the day of American independence, APRN calls for the eviction of overt and covert US bases, military installations, and settlements in Asia Pacific. APRN also calls for a pull-out of US troops in the region and the termination of the incentivization of war. The Network calls for genuine independence from the US hegemonic agenda, as well as from similar powers such as China’s domineering tactics disguised as soft-power diplomacy.

by Ivan Phell Enrile, Policy Officer APRN

(first published by SLUG Nettverk for rettferdig gjeldspolitikk (Debt Justice Norway))

In the last fifteen years, the world has seen China’s impressive rise as a major player in the international development finance. In such a short period, China has transformed from being an aid recipient to a net aid donor, rivaling traditional major donors and lenders. It has also financed big ticket infrastructure projects in mostly low-income countries.

A number of factors are driving China’s profile rise in global development finance. Despite its growing economic influence, its role in major international financial institutions such as the US-led World Bank and Japan-led Asian Development Bank (ADB) remains limited. In response, it has promoted the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road Fund with a view to bridge the huge financing gap in infrastructure investment demand and supply in Asia-Pacific. The ADB and World Bank not only failed to meet the demand for infrastructure investment in developing countries but also came with tighter conditions such as market-oriented reforms. China has taken advantage of this not only to edge out Japan and US in the region, but also to enable it to offload some of its excess industrial capacity, secure markets and raw materials to support export activity, and arrest China’s economic slowdown.

President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative aligns with China’s economic imperative “Going Out” to maintain its existing growth pattern and expand this overseas. The BRI will spread China’s tentacles across Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania via “The Belt” which will recreate the old Silk Road land trade, and the “Road” which will create a sea-based trade route spanning several oceans. This ambitious initiative is expected to spur investments in large-scale gas and oil pipelines, roads, rails, and ports as well as link economic corridors.

The BRI is an evolving design. It is not limited to infrastructure; it includes “financial integration,” “cooperation in science and technology”, “cultural and academic exchanges”, and “trade cooperation mechanisms”. The BRI is also expanding geographically. In September 2018, Venezuela announced joining the New Silk Road commercial plan. Venezuela follows Uruguay, which was the first South American country to receive BRI funds.

So what are the key concerns of peoples in the Global South with regard to Chinese development aid?

Collateralizing sovereignty

Chinese loans and investments have been heavily criticized for their transparency deficit. Information on terms and conditions of Chinese loans is scarce to nonexistent and data on lending from China’s development banks are not standardized. Deficiencies in accounting could mean that the international policy community may be in the dark regarding many developing and emerging countries’ external debt situation.

As yet another debt crisis among poor and underdeveloped countries loom in the background, China’s growing ownership of key infrastructure as a result of, or built into, the terms of its loans is a cause of worry. The media is abuzz with talks of so-called China’s debt trap diplomacy. The strategy seemingly consists of China providing billions of dollars of loans to poor countries and once unable to pay, are forced to give up their natural resources and strategic assets as collateral. An oft cited case is Sri Lanka’s hand over of a strategic port to China on a 99-year lease after the former could not repay its more than $8 billion loans from Chinese firms.

Business investment disguised as official aid

Chinese official aid has often been cast as “conditionality-free” making it seemingly more attractive for developing countries. However, Chinese official aid, according to a study conducted by AidData, is intended for commercial projects and loans that are required to be repaid with interest. As observed by Matt Ferchen from the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in China, “China’s aid is only a very small part of what it considers to be development engagement, which often simply means doing business deals”.

According to Antonio Tujan, Jr., activist from the Global South, Chinese development assistance in 1990s under Deng shifted its focus on economic and infrastructure development to promote Chinese corporate sector. Since Chinese corporations are both public and private, their overseas engagements are both investments and official aid. Thus, there is no bidding as in traditional official development assistance or ODA; projects are awarded to Chinese firms as investments. In BRI, 90% of projects are being built by Chinese companies.

In the Philippines, 3 infrastructure projects with Chinese funding are in the pipeline: the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project, the New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project, and the North-South Railway Project-South Line. According to the country’s socioeconomic planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, the Philippine government would select among 3 Chinese companies. This is a fertile ground for corruption, according the Philippine Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, since said firms can simply collude and agree among themselves on who will corner which project.

Furthermore, this arrangement is biased against domestic business and entrepreneurs. While Chinese firms and contractors will profit from their country’s “development assistance” projects, Chinese aid will reinforce dependency and potentially erode the nascent and fledgling industries of poor and underdeveloped countries.

In some instances, Chinese-financed projects are not only built by Chinese companies but also use Chinese workers and materials. Such was the case with the construction of the Bar-Boljare motorway in Montenegro. In the Philippines, the influx of Chinese workers for the government’s mega-infrastructure program Build, Build, Build is questioned amid high unemployment rates in the country.

Fueling the climate crisis

Chinese companies have been investing heavily in coal power especially in BRI countries. According to Global Environment Institute China is currently involved in coal power projects in 65 BRI countries. Between 2001 and 2016, China was involved in 240 coal power projects in BRI countries, with a total generating capacity of 251 gigawatts. The top five countries were India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Vietnam and Turkey. The research also reveals that China’s involvement in coal power projects in Belt and Road Initiative countries has been increasing overall.

If the trend continues, China will lock these countries into coal-power assets that will damage people’s health and well being and exacerbate climate change.

Suppression of rights and militarism

China’s megaprojects come at a sharp cost to human rights, causing massive displacements of communities. The China-funded New Centennial Water Source Kaliwa Dam Project in the Philippines is set to displace the Dumagat-Remontados indigenous peoples who have been living in the area and enjoying a symbiotic relationship with nature for centuries. Until now the indigenous peoples have not been given a Free Prior and Informed Consent to the Kaliwa Dam as required by national laws. The dam will be constructed over the Infanta Fault and will be a sword hanging over the head of 100,000 people living downstream the Kaliwa River.

Such megaprojects have faced fierce resistance from affected communities. Consequently, private security companies serving Chinese companies in BRI projects have grown exponentially. In 2013, there were 4,000-registered firms, employing more than 4.3 million personnel. By 2017, there were 5,000 firms with around 5 million staff.

Chinese aid may not be significantly different from its Western counterparts after all. For China to increase its aid effectiveness it should increase grants than loans, promote partnerships that foster mutual respect, solidarity, and non-exploitation, and ensure that it does not replicate the same neocolonial relations that have tied peoples and nations to centuries of peonage and maldevelopement.

On this issue:

Development Aid With Chinese Characteristics?

Activists, CSOs bolster call to reject RCEP in Bali negotiations

APRN Pushes for Effective Development Cooperation Amidst Shrinking Spaces for CSOs

Goals vs Realities: Looking back at the Peoples’ Forum & APFSD 2019

Quo Vadis Goal 16? A people’s review of the state of peace, justice,
and inclusion in Asia Pacific

Day of the Landless Statement: Reclaim our Lands, Reclaim our Future!

New Publication: The Peoples’ Global Conference Against IMF-World Bank in Bali, Indonesia

Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN), in partnership with Asia Pacific Regional Civil Society Engagement Mechanism (APRCEM), held the panel discussion titled “Quo Vadis Goal 16?” at the Asia Pacific People’s Forum on Sustainable Development 2019 (APPFSD) on March 25 in Bangkok. Thirty five (35) participants from regional and national CSOs, people’s organizations, UN agencies and members of the media attended the said forum.

Goal 16 of building peaceful, just and inclusive societies is important as a means and an accelerator to achieve Agenda 2030. And yet, achieving the targets of Goal 16 remains difficult given the rise of repressive governments, closing civic spaces, and growing militarism.

The forum identified the systemic barriers to Goal 16 namely shrinking spaces for CSOs and limiting people’s participation in the development process, increasing militarization, and widespread attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms.

Ivan Enrile of APRN gave an overview of Goal 16 and the challenges to achieving the goal’s interlinking targets. “The transformative nature of SDG 16 makes it uniquely powerful, yet also difficult to achieve as it requires significant shifts in all its interlinked aspects,” Enrile said. “Peace should be sustainable and positive, not simply the absence of violence; accountability should be mutual; justice must be comprehensive including social, economic, environmental, cultural and political justice,” he added.

Enrile further shared the move of the Philippine government to tighten its grip on democratic participation of CSOs through a new memorandum released by the government’s Securities and Exchange Commission that would classify CSOs according to the risk they pose for being used for financing terror groups.

“Shrinking space as a real threatening trend in our region. It is going in various ways- in political restrictions, in physical arrests and killings, in disappearance, in growing treats,” adds Nurgul Dzhanaeva of Forum of women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan underscoring the increasing dangers civil society have to face to fulfill their part in achieving development goals.

Daya Sagar Shrestha of the NGO Federation of Nepal shared the same experience as their government reinstitutes restrictive laws which make it more difficult for CSOs to register, operate, and access resources.

Kartika Sari of Palangkaraya Ecological And Human Rights Studies (PROGRESS) talked about militarization of development. “In Indonesia, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) revealed that there are a total of 1,500 cases of conflict related to disputes, conflict and struggles for land and natural resources. Thirty percent (30%) of these cases involve palm oil plantations,” Sari shared.

The same attacks on rights were also noted in the labor sector. “Despite the recent upsurge in labor strikes in the Philippines, the calls to end contractualization have fallen on deaf ears. More than 30,000 workers who went on strike suffered repressive blows varying from threats, intimidation and assault. A total of 28 killings have been recorded in the labor sector from 2016 to 2018,” reports Otto de Vries of the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER).

To cap the discussion, Ajay Jha of CECODECON and feminist activist Sarah Zaman talked about the different ways that civil society and movements were resisting militarism, closing civic spaces, and exclusion. Zaman shed light on the experience of Pakistani women in confronting repression, threats of arrest, and misinformation. Jha meanwhile shared how Indian farmers’ organized resistance reversed court decisions that trampled on their rights.

Participants agreed to come up with a strong statement on the shrinking spaces for CSOs and advocate for a rights-based approach to development at the coming Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development. They further agreed to strengthen and widen the solidarity in pushing back against efforts to stifle the voices of the grassroots and to undermine their struggle for development justice.

Carrying placards calling for the rejection of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP), activists managed to slip past the tight security of Nusa Dua Complex in Bali, Indonesia to conduct a protest in front of the Bali International Convention Center where the RCEP Trade Negotiating Committee is holding its 25th negotiation round.

Joining the protest were members of Front Mahasiswa Nasional (FMN/National Students’ Front), Aliansi Mahasiswa Papua (Papuan Student Alliance), Serikat Perempuan Indonesia (SERUNI/Indonesian Women’s Union), and People Over Profit – Indonesia.

Inside the convention center representatives of people’s organizations and civil society organizations are delivering their statements in a Stakeholder Dialogue with trade negotiators. The delegates echoed the key messages on issues discussed during the CSO forum held prior to the meeting.

Retno Dewi representing Indonesian women’s group SERUNI minced no words in criticizing the conduct of negotiations for the trade pact. “You have kept us blind; you have kept the details of this deal a secret. For that reason alone, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement or RCEP deserves an unequivocal rejection from women, and all the other sectors here present now,” Dewi said.

Andrew Zarate of APRN slammed the evident corporate interests behind the new trade deal. According to Zarate “signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will further seal the control of ASEAN economies by the few powerful corporate elites that influenced most of RCEP’s chapters.”

RCEP will galvanize labor contractualization schemes, push down wages, and erode labor standards won by the workers themselves. RCP will destroy what’s left of our local industries resulting to forced migration and labor export.

“In this same chapter, corporations would weild the power to sue our governments in investor-state dispute settlement tribunals, question laws that promote people’s welfare, and when they win, reap billions from people’s taxes,” he added.

Kartini Samon of GRAIN aired her group’s opposition to RCEP’s intellectual property (IP) provisions that would target seeds and other agricultural products. According to Samon RCEP’s IP chapters would only “benefit the seed industry and systematically eliminate local seeds and create dependence of farmers on the seed industry, and create indebtedness.”

The Indonesia AIDS Coalition raised their concern on the proposed extension of patents for life-saving medicines which would inevitably cut or immensely delay the supply of affordable generic medicines.

Another big concern are the provisions on e-commerce which would consolidate the monopoly of tech giants over digital technologies, infrastructure, services, and data. Leaked text of RCEP’s e-commerce provisions reveal that it closely resembles those in the recently signed Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (CPTPP) whose provisions generally reflected the demands of U.S. digital monopolies.

Proposals would allow service suppliers to transfer and process data offshore which include personal and commercial information, this would disarm governments from policing the use, sale and abuse of those data. Furthermore, governments cannot require service providers to use or locate their computing facilities within the client country, discouraging governments to invest in their country’s local digital infrastructure. Restrictions against giving preferences to local firms that develop content using local knowledge and cultural content are also being negotiated.

As governments race to finish negotiations before the year ends, people’s organizations and civil society groups across the region commit to sustain their vigilance and remain at the forefront of opposing the trade deal.

In a students’ forum on RCEP held in Bali’s Udayana University, youth leader Thofu Ajaa of FMN, pledged to conduct more activities to raise the public’s awareness on RCEP and other similar neoliberal trade agreements and economic policies. “Building a popular movement must start from exposing the adverse impacts of neoliberal economic policies on people’s lives and livelihood. The youth must help in all efforts to expose pro-corporate and anti-people trade deals and policies, and to mobilize thousands to oppose them,” said Ajaa.

Watch SERUNI’s Intervention at the RCEP TNC Stakeholder Meeting below:

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Intervention of Retno Dewi (SERUNI)

Intervention of Retno Dewi (SERUNI)

This book features five studies that provide insights on how civil society organizations are fulfilling their commitments contained in the Nairobi Outcome Document at the country level. Published by APRN and the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE), this book showcases the experiences of CSOs in Bolivia, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.

Download your copy here.

Our newsletter for the 4th quarter of 2018 is out! Read on this issue reflections on the recently held People’s Global Conference Against IMF-World Bank, a look back into APRN’s 20 years of work in championing people-centered research, and download links to recently released publications.

Download your free copy here!

Cross-regional mega-FTAs are now being preferred over bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements as imperialist powers compete for cheap labor, sources of raw materials, and markets. Workers of the South are set to bear much of the brunt of this shift, as new sets of trade rules would further permit monopoly capitalists to dictate the cheapest value of labor and other production facilities, and disregard decent standards, to accumulate bigger profit.

Download EILER’s briefer “Mega-FTAs and its implications on Asian Workers” written by Rochel Porras and Otto de Vries to read more on the potential impacts of RCEP and other mega-FTAs on the region’s labor sector. Get a copy here.

The APRN Newsletter for the 1st half of 2018 is now available! On this issue we covered activities during the 2018 APFSD, the 51st ADB Governor’s Meeting, statements on the ISDS, the crackdown on activists in India, and the terrorist proscription of Filipino civil society leaders, and other network updates.

Download your copy here.

After 22 negotiation rounds and several missed deadlines, the 10 ASEAN countries and their 6 free trade partners will meet again in July 2018 to try and move forward the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

While India’s hard stance on certain issues like tariff reduction has been a big factor in slowing down the past negotiations, it is unlikely that it will withdraw from the pact, and reject new trade rules that will be detrimental to its people, including giving up its role as Asia’s pharmacy of affordable, generic life-saving drugs.

In this paper, Ajay Kumar Jha of the Center for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society discusses the possible impacts of RCEP on the people and livelihood of India.

Download the briefer here.