Through the East Asian lens

IssueJune - Aug 2003
Feature by Kim Petersen

The lyrics were recognisably Korean, but then the song became understandable as the chorus burst forth in punk staccato: “Fucking USA”.

It was the title refrain from a hitherto obscure Korean singer, Yoon Min Suk,that has struck a cord recently with young Korean music fans. The Koreanhigh school students, many clad in Usd esigner labels, reveled to the beat. KwonHyuk Hwan, 17, was particularly forthcoming: “I hate fucking Bush. US must get out of Korea.” Kim Myung Su, 16, said: “Korean people don't like Bush.”Many might be quick to label this as anti-Americanism.

Yet this was not an ignorant manifestation of hatred. The students cited objections to the US invasion of Iraq, the US's belligerent posture towards their North Korean kinsfolk, and the grating presence of US bases in South Korea. Nonetheless,Shin Seung Chul, 14, considered: “I think Mr Bush is a bad man but USA people are kind.”

Granted, on the surface there seems to be an element of anti-Bushism. But the Korean students' grievances were legitimately expressed and should not be dismissed simply as anti-Americanism.

We are just against war!

Japanese people seem to have similar views to the Koreans. Masahiro Oyama, a32-year-old businessman in Osaka, opined: “I think the US is too crazy to understand any more. So do most Japanese, I believe. We know it was mainly caused by Bush and the people who are something to do with him.”

Mr Oyama said that Japanese TV had provided “rather excessive information about the war” and that therefore people had the opportunity to be well informed about the reasons why the US attacked Iraq although he cautioned “information is sometimes dangerous, so we have to know better than to believe all of it. We are just against war! We need peace!”

Suzzan, an expatriate Americanised Japanese running a scuba-diving business in Beijing said: “I don't like Bush, never did, Senior or Junior, and I think it's a shame that Japan will never say no when-ever USA needs help with whatever.”

One big family

The assessment pervaded also among the Chinese. Zhu Xiao Hui, 25, an elementary school teacher thought “that everyone hates the USA now.” She expressed the view that the US has arbitrarily designated itself up as the “world's policeman”albeit historically “many wars were made by America”.

The scholarly, retired professor Han Dong Wu spoke eloquently on the US. He likened the US to a big fish preying upon smaller fish: “Because we are all human beings and we all live on the same planet, we should live as a community ina global village, a community of equals.

Different languages, different cultures,and different skin color is unimportant. We should have the morals to think about each other and help each other as if one big family.”

”Moral norms eschew selfishness for altruism.”

”But this common concept once shared by the East and West has diverged. Nor-man Bethune came to China in the past to help in the spirit of common humanity. Now a spirit of egoism has emerged.”

”The US is hypocritical. For example, the US supposedly attacked Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people but everyone knows that oil and control of the Middle East was the actual motive. Superficially the US defeated Iraq but in the Middle East the US has sown deep seeds of hate.”

Foolhardy warmongers

“Military against military, of course the US will win, but in the battle of hearts the US will lose. That is where the final victory will be.” Mr Han continued: “It is important to separate the US government from the US people. The US is a unique superpower but it is not a moral superpower.”

The US doesn't act from altruism; it is unabashedly driven by the “national interest”. Chomsky explains that Adam “Smith's concern was `the wealth of nations,' but he understood that the `national interest' is largely a delusion;within the `nation' there are sharply conflicting interests, and to understand policy and its effects we have to ask where power lies and how it is exercised, what later came to be called class analysis.”

Mr Han invoked the hapless figure of Ah Q from classical Chinese literature. Ah Q was a selfish peasant who projected his own lunacy and foolhardiness onto the other villagers. The US views itself as a beacon on the hill, a paragon for other nations to emulate. Nations that deviate too far from the American paradigm open themselves to attack.

Mr Han asks: “In this day and age, where the world is developing and people are better educated, what kind of civilisation would resort to the evil of war to attain its national interest?”