They came from China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Hawaii, New Zealand, and from across the US. They represented a wide variety of national interests, perspectives and struggles. They aired some differences. But they also found much common ground.
On October 22-23, a conference on "Peace in Asia and the Pacific" organized by AFSC, other peace organizations, and the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament was held at American University in Washington DC. In addition to visitors from abroad, the conference drew over 80 participants from eight states and the District of Columbia.
As speakers shared perspectives, common themes emerged. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Pentagon are calling for a pivot to Asia and the Pacific in the wake of recent wars; the “competitive” US.-Chinese “interdependence” has implications for many countries. Defense spending, driven by the goal of containing and managing China’s rise, must be cut to attain peace and economic security in the region.
Lead conference organizer and AFSC staffer Joseph Gerson said, “We need to pivot the peace movement in the same way that the US is pivoting resources to the Asia Pacific region and away from Afghanistan and Iraq. And we’re not just jousting with windmills. We have real openings.”
Last December, the bipartisan commission on deficit reduction urged a reduction of military bases by one third. And a growing number in Congress are advocating for base reductions and cuts in military spending. Reducing US bases in Asia and the Pacific would ease regional tensions, and contribute to win-win collaborations that address common interests. However, given the power of the Pentagon to determine US foreign policy, people in the US will need to press to stop the escalation of military preparations in the Asia Pacific region.
Most people don’t want wars. But when governments engage in arms races, powerful interests all too easily can drown out people’s peace-oriented voices. The more say people have in government priorities, the more likely peace will be pursued, including reducing military spending to meet real human needs. As conference speaker Zia Mian pointed out, the need for greater democratic participation in decision making is important from Washington to Beijing and everywhere in between.
“When you look at education, medical care, infant mortality, and spending on infrastructure, you see that the US is becoming a second-rate nation,” said Joseph Gerson. “ In addition to the imperative of preventing deadly armed conflict, cutting military spending makes it possible to invest in the future of the US. As a grandparent, I feel deeply about that future.”
In addition to helping turn the US peace movement’s attention toward the Asia-Pacific region, the conference deepened international alliances among peace activists. Organizers are considering an International Day of Action as well as conducting outreach to involve additional networks in next steps. AFSC is exploring ways to contribute to peacebuilding between China and Southeast Asian nations that have competing (and increasingly militarized) claims to the South China Sea’s mineral rich and strategic waterways.
As both senior Chinese official Madame Yan Junqi and AFSC’s General Secretary Shan Cretin warned, failure of the US and China to collaborate will lead to instability and increased potential for conflict worldwide. But together, they agreed, we have the potential to transform Asia and the Pacific into a peaceful and prosperous region.