Walden Bello interviewed by Ogura Toshimaru
Japonesia Review, 16 May 2008
Ogura: A different initiative to mobilize Japanese people against the G8 summit which is taking place in 2008, in Toyako town, Hokkaido Prefecture, is emerging. How do you see the present G8 strategy and what kind of struggle is important and necessary for movements against the G8, especially against the Japanese government that plays a key role in controlling other Asian countries through the G8 and Asian monetary system? What do you think about the present G8 situation and its role in the global capitalist regime?
Bello: The G8 was initially planned, as G7 in 1975 to be a sort of coordinating group of the most dominant capitalist countries to be able to work out a common strategy towards the south and the weaker countries generally. The G8 members seemed to believe that the summit still meets the purpose to come up with strategies that are liberal sounding to make the summit looks like they are solving global problems. But in fact they have failed miserably in terms of their actions and rhetoric.
In their rhetoric they basically say they are out to have better relations between the north and the south. They want to save Africa, they want to deal with climate change, and they want to deal with the debt problem. But their commitment to seriously dealing with these issues has been mainly rhetorical. There have been very little substantial actions they have come up with. The promises they made in terms of Africa aid, and the debt cancellation, have achieved very meager result in fact.
Now they are saying that they will focus on climate change. This was the theme during the last G8 summit in Rostock, Germany. But if you look at this, the whole real idea is about how they can continue their economic growth, while making symbolic and unserious efforts to cut down on emissions of green house gasses. In the G8 in Rostock, the members basically did not want to face the fact that the north should be the ones to radically bring down the consumption level to reduce the green house gasses. They did not come up with that discussion. In fact, they avoided it. They had no serious plan.
I think that the G8 summit at this point is some kind of a body where the members meet but that has become mainly a talk show. The members use the summit as a way by which the leading countries can try to evolve a strategy of defusing resistance in the south, but they cannot among themselves agree on what measures to take. I think that more and more people have seen the G8 as a body that is really ineffective in terms of addressing serious problems that are faced by the world today.
Ogura: I agree that more people are seeing the G8 as an ineffective body. Nevertheless, I think the G8 still retains its power as a sort of an informal headquarter of global capitalists. The G8 and several other ministerial meetings discuss the best way to operate global capitalism.
Furthermore, each member country has its own particular role. For example, Japan, as the only member country in G8 from Asia, plays the role of integrating other Asian countries into global capitalism. Also the G8 as a whole uses the United Nations, WTO, IMF, the World Bank and NATO and other transnational institutions. By seeing the problem in these terms, I believe the G8 holds hegemonic power in capitalist globalization.
But also, the internal ideology of the G8 is fundamentally contradictory. The climate change issue reveals itself as an aspect of this contradiction, as you just pointed out. Climate change issue is a part of environment issue. The environmental issue is broader than the mere issue of climate change. When you think of Subic in the Philippines, where a major U.S. military base was located until 1991, it still has very serious toxic contamination problems. Also, the JPEPA (Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement) is now being discussed at the Senate of the Philippines. I guess Japanese capital and the state also intend to export industrial waste to the Philippines and other Asian countries.
I also believe that the climate change issue is related to the nuclear plant issue. The Japanese government and businesses are trying to export nuclear plants to Asian countries. What do you think about the Japanese government vis-a-vis the G8?
Bello: Japan is a part of the G8 from the very beginning. I have always seen Japan as trying to act as the Asian voice in the G8. But, increasingly, I think that role has been challenged by China. The idea that Japan speaks for Asia within the G8 is also met with a lot of resentment and anger because that’s the way in fact Japan is putting forward itself. But people here in Asia are asking themselves who gave Japan the right to represent Asia. This is a big problem which should be considered among us.
Japan will feel that its membership in the G8 is more important because of the threat it faces from China’s rise as a big economic power. I think Japan will try to keep China out of the G8. Politically Japan needs the G8 for its prestige in Asia, and as of the body by which Japan can consult with other G8 members that are equally threatened by the rise of China.
If you look at the last G8 ministerial documents, aside from climate change, they were discussing about how countries should open up their investment, which was directed at China, and how countries should have rules in exploitation of natural resources -- again this was directed at China. So what Japan eventually wants to do is to try to make the G8 some sort of a break on China’s ambitions. That’s why the G8 has increasingly become important to Japan.
But as I said before, for Asians, it is bad for public relations with Asians to say that Japan is the voice of Asia within the G8. This is something that will create some resentment.
Ogura: I think that Asian countries have very little respect for Japan. In my opinion the main issues for the G8 will revolve around China. One will be China’s economy and the other will be national security or some kind of military issue. What do you think about the China-U.S. military relationship and Asian military relationships in terms of China?
Bello: I would see the U.S. and Japan, and even European countries seeing the G8 as a mechanism by which they can counter China’s rise. G8 members will cooperate to find ways to contain China.
But of course there is the whole set of other relations within Asia that is not in the G8, like military issues. Here, too, what unites the U.S. and Japan elites is their sense that they should cooperate more to be able to counter the rise of China.
However, they will see a big contradiction, because they also heavily dependent on China. China has a huge market, produces many products that G8 or northern countries need for their manufactures. For the United States, China is a source of credit. China is the well for global growth.
The important thing for us in the developing world is to show our opposition to policies of Japan and the U.S. directed at China, because these policies would eventually lead to conflict. But at the same time, we see China as becoming one of the pillars of the global capitalist order. Unless there is a new relationship between the south and China, China could end up with the same kind of exploitive relationships with the south that the U.S. and Japan and Europe now have.
And then the environment is another problem, because China is developing in a way that is damaging not only to itself but also to the environment of other regions and to the world. And we, especially the civil society, are basically saying that China should move towards more environmentally sustainable kind of economy. It can no longer hide behind excuse: U.S. does not respect the Kyoto Protocol, why should we.
So basically at this point in time it is important for the civil society in Asia to be critical about the policies of Japan and the U.S. aiming to contain China. But we should also have our own criticism of China as having patterns of growth that are environmentally quite destructive.
In fact, China and the U.S. have something almost like an unholy alliance, because when Bush says he will not sign the Kyoto Protocol because China and India have not signed it, then China says why it should agree to mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions while the U.S. has not signed it. Basically, this is almost an undercover alliance, which exempts the Chinese and the U.S. industrial elites from having to take serious environmental controls.
Ogura: Japanese business circles look at China as a big opportunity for environmental investment.
Bello: When we look at environmental problems in China on one hand the U.S., Japanese and European investors have made use of China’ weak environmental enforcement in order to raise their profits. But at the same time, as you said, Japan is looking at China that in the future it can be a good source of environmentally advanced technology. This is an interesting issue emerging.
Ogura: The last question is about the people’s movements against the G8. I know that you were at the Rostock G8; what was your impression of the anti-G8 movement in Rostock, and what do you think about the mission of the people’s movement against the G8, especially the next G8 in Japan?
Bello: What was very impressive about the protests against Rostock G8 was that we were able to recover a spirit of Genoa. The English civil society and the NGOs, not all but some of them, made a very bad move in Gleneagles in 2005. What they told the civil society was that we should praise the G8 so that they would do good things like aid Africa and have fair trade rules. So instead of criticizing the G8, what happened at the Gleneagles Summit was that civil society was made to support the G8 so that they would make good moves, which was a big failure, because almost all the promises at Gleneagles have not been met.
At Rostock, the Germen NGOs were able to get back to militant mood of Genoa in 2001. Our role there was not to praise the G8, but to tell it to get out of the way, that it has no right to manage the affairs of the people of the world. So it was a very important message in Rostock and the levels of the demonstrations and the efforts to close down the G8 by the very use of actions and the theme; we are here not to talk of the G8 but want them to get out of the way and to shut down the G8 summit.
I will certainly come and I think many people will come to Japan next July to continue to give the same message. We want you to get out of the way, and we want the people of the world to, in fact, manage the affairs of the world, and we no longer want to be seduced by promises on Africa, on climate change, and that you are the organization that has failed and the world would be better off without this directorate of global capital.
The G8 is the directorate of the global capital. How successful it is, that is a different matter. Nevertheless we do not need anymore of such a directorate. It is like a board of directors of global capital. We don’t want that, we don’t want a G8 summit anymore. And hopefully since it is taking place in Japan, Japanese movement will be able to lead in telling the G8 to stop. That is the big hope we have.
Ogura: In my view the G8 does not have negotiating partners. But some NGOs intend to negotiate with the G8 at the summit. How do you think we could make broader coalitions, including moderate NGOs together with very radical social movements. How do you think of the best way to construct such a network? Rostock made a very broad alternative space including NGOs together with a Black Block. It痴 difficult to achieve this, but still important.
Bello: Rostock showed that the movements out on the streets were able to make a strong anti-G8, programs, protests, messages. This was from a broad fronts including church groups. You could have the same common theme which will unite everybody: “G8 out of the way, because you made promises you have not fulfilled, and let people manage their affairs.” I think Rostock showed that you could have a wide anti-G8 appeal.
Ogura: How do you think Japanese people and people in other Asian countries work together in anti-G8 actions? Japan is a member of the G8, but other governments in Asia are not. How can we encourage Asian people to join the anti-G8 actions in Japan?
Bello: It would be important in the preparations leading up to the G8 to be able to talk to these various groups why they should have an alliance for global reform. And the process of discussions starting right now could convince them that it is useless to ask the G8 to be the one to reform. It is very important to get as many people as possible through-out Asia to come to Japan. We should really start right now to plan it well.
It can be a historic one. One of the themes can read that in Toyako it should be “the last G8 meeting ever.” This will be a good theme to catch people’s imagination: the final G8 before it abolishes itself.
Ogura: So the slogan will be “the final G8, farewell G8.”