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Moana Nui Set to “Undress” APEC

Jon Letman

HONOLULU, Hawaii, U.S., Oct 3 2011 (IPS) - This November, when the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum holds its annual rotating summit in Honolulu, it will attract more than the attention of the world’s media.

Coinciding with APEC 2011, an alternative conference called Moana Nui (in Hawaiian “Great Ocean”) will draw activists, scholars and advocates for fair trade, environmental and indigenous rights from Asia, Oceania and the Americas to Hawaii for meetings and panel discussions in response to APEC.

Moana Nui will convene Nov. 9-11 in Honolulu to examine models of self-determination and sustainability and discuss APEC’s impact. Concerns include free-trade economics and the effects of militarisation, globalisation, resource depletion and threats to native sovereignty, local economies and the environment.

APEC formed in 1989 as a ministerial-level dialogue group which has grown to 21 “member economies” including the United States, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and Singapore, as well as developing economies in Papua New Guinea, Peru and Vietnam.

APEC represents roughly 41 percent of the world’s population, 54 percent of global GDP and about 44 percent of world trade.

Against this economic behemoth stands Moana Nui with its very different perspective.

One of Moana Nui’s key speakers is Hawaiian studies Professor Jon Osorio of the University of Hawaii. He said the significance of APEC’s Honolulu meeting is mostly symbolic, but sees great importance in Moana Nui.

“We believe that globalisation has become increasingly injurious to the earth and its inhabitants and is showing increasing signs of instability,” Osorio told IPS. “While we know there’s little we can do about that globalising, capitalising endeavor, we have to give people hope that we can strengthen our own native and local economies so that as instability continues, we can feed and clothe ourselves and care for our people and our lands. That’s the purpose of this conference.”

Osorio hopes any statements drafted by Moana Nui will help other indigenous peoples around the world develop strategies of their own.

“We are committed to this effort to gain more control over our local economies,” he said.

Osorio does not know how people might express their disfavour with APEC, but said he hopes people will “devote themselves to a positive building effort”.

One of more than two dozen organisations participating in Moana Nui is the International Forum on Globalization (IFG), a north-south research and education institution that critiques globalisation and advances alternative proposals.

IFG executive director Victor Menotti said that as indigenous leaders around the Pacific see intensified resource exploitation through fishing and deep sea mining, combined with increased militarisation in places like Hawaii, Guam, Okinawa and South Korea’s Jeju island, they recognise the connection between the economic alignment that APEC seeks in the name of “free trade” and the need to assert their native sovereignty over traditional territory and customary resources.

IFG was invited to Honolulu, Menotti said, to provide contextual background about what APEC leaders will be discussing and how its decisions affect people around the world.

Honolulu, headquarters for the United States Pacific Command, serves as a backdrop for APEC 2011 which will see a meeting of the so-called G2 (China and the U.S.). Menotti describes the rise of China and the U.S. reaction to it as turning indigenous Pacific peoples into “potential road kill while the two elephants are doing the dance”.

One of the most significant aspects of APEC 2011, Menotti said, is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement currently under negotiation between the U.S. and eight other APEC nations. He compares it to “the NAFTA model on steroids with even greater corporate benefits”.

“TPP is really (U.S. President Barack) Obama’s only trade initiative,” Menotti said. “All the others were inherited from (his predecessor, George W.) Bush. But TPP is Obama’s after campaigning against free- trade and for fair trade. So this is a big test for future trade policy in the U.S.”

The fact that many citizens in TPP partner nations have never heard of the agreement, he said, is “the only way these things slip through.”

Whether Hawaii’s typically laid-back atmosphere will give way to vigorous or even violent demonstrations remains to be seen, but Menotti said it’s no accident APEC is meeting in Hawaii.

“Honolulu is the most remote place in the world, it has a huge military presence and it’s not really known for big street protests,” he said.

Like Cancun, site of the 2010 COP16 climate talks, Menotti believes Honolulu was chosen for strategic reasons ― namely its distance from large urban population centres which are better positioned for attracting well-organised protests.

“Seattle has clearly already been stained (by violent police-protester clashes during the 1999 World Trade Organisation conference). Honolulu is more central (for APEC delegates) and more remote (for protestors),” Menotti said.

The city and county of Honolulu has allocated over 14 million dollars for APEC security, though local media have reported figures as high as 45 million dollars. The Honolulu City Council is also considering a resolution that would convert or install up to 260 surveillance cameras during APEC.

One lighthearted hallmark of APEC summits is the group photo when APEC heads of state stands shoulder to shoulder donning the host country’s national garb. At the 1994 Bogor summit, they wore colorful batik shirts, in Busan they posed in Korean hanbok and in Lima brown ponchos.

APEC 2011 may well conclude with smiling world leaders dressed in flowery Aloha shirts making for a pleasant parting image, but Moana Nui’s participants, activists and the indigenous peoples across the Pacific region who don’t have a seat at the table will be standing just off-screen eyeing the colourful costumes and wondering what APEC leaders have on underneath.

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