The Guardian July 23, 2003


Cool reception to Howard's sabre rattling in Asia

Howard's visits to the Philippines, Japan and South Korea last week were 
by no means a resounding success. His main objective was to pressure the 
Governments of these nations to support an aggressive, interventionist 
policy against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). 
Howard's junket was closely followed by British Prime Minister, Tony Blair 
who was on a similar mission, to line up Japan and South Korea. It is of 
interest that neither Howard nor Blair bothered to visit China or the 
Russian Federation which have land borders with North Korea.

Earlier a group of 11 nations had met in Brisbane under the baton of the 
United States which, together with the Howard Government, was attempting to 
knock together another "coalition of the willing" to "interdict" North 
Korean vessels that they "suspected" of carrying missiles, drugs or even 
counterfeit money. The nations that attended the Brisbane meeting were, in 
a number of cases, less than enthusiastic about becoming involved in such 
open piracy.

Howard's visit to the Philippines did win him a joint statement between the 
two governments to continue the "war against terrorism" but, according to 
media reports, a very chilly personal relationship between the Philippines 
President and John Howard was on display. It may well be that the arrogance 
of Howard and the Australian Government's clear intention of telling the 
Philippines Government how to run its business was not well received in 
what is after all, a far more important country in the Asian region than is 

Commenting on the escape of a "terrorist" suspect from a Philippines jail 
at the time of his visit, Howard said that the incident underlined the 
"need for steady institution building in many of the countries in the 
region". Presumably there is no such need in Australia where Phillip 
Ruddock could show these "backward" countries how to run efficient 
concentration camps.

Similarly in Japan where the government might have been expected to 
enthusiastically sign up to a new war on the Korean Peninsula. The two 
sides did no more than back the US demand for multilateral talks between 
North Korea, South Korea, the US, Japan and other Asian nations. They 
talked vaguely about co-operating in the fight against terrorism. The 
proposal to interdict North Korean ships received a cool reception. There 
was no mention of a free trade agreement although Japan remains one of 
Australia's major trading partners. Rather, Japan intends to impose a 50 
percent tariff on the import of Australian beef.

Trade issues also came up in the Philippines, where the Government accused 
Australia of using quarantine restrictions as a means to keep Philippine 
bananas off supermarket shelves.

In South Korea the Australian "man of steel" could ring no more out of the 
South Korean Government than a commitment to pursue dialogue with North 
Korea and the wish to have the problems which have, in fact, been cooked up 
by the United States, settled by negotiations. The people of both South and 
North Korea are opposed to war and are increasingly embracing the movement 
for the reunification of the two states. (See story page 8.) The fear of 
peaceful reunification and an independent Korea is one of the main factors 
behind the increased aggressiveness coming from the US and the Australian 
Governments. That would leave the US with no excuse to maintain its forces 
on the peninsula.

Meanwhile The Weekend Australian (July 19-20) has excelled itself in 
editorial vitriol. Under the heading "Only monkeys see no evil in N Korea", 
the editorial churns out lurid inventions such as "one in 10 of its 
citizens has died of starvation since 1995", "The regime holds 200,000 
political prisoners and another 400,000 have died in prisons" and that 
"North Korea is literally undermining its neighbour with secret tunnels 
reportedly penetrating deep into South Korea".

All this is used to justify the "prescient" speeches of George Bush in 
which he branded North Korea as one of the three "axis of evil" countries. 
But then, Rupert Murdoch who owns The Australian is one of George 
Bush's most avid admirers and supporters.
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