Dank je wel 2015, Salut 2016!

2015 will go down as one of the best years of my life (to date). I can’t believe that for the past 12 months I was able to go places, obtain another degree, meet new people, and acquire new skills.

Probably the icing on the cake for me was being able to travel to Europe – something which I have been dreaming of since I was a kid. There’s something about that continent which always drew me to it, and now that I’ve visited a part of it already, I understand why. It’s not really the destination that mattered but the people I meet along the way and the cultures I have been able to immerse myself into. And thanks to that, 2015 helped me become more of a traveler, a global citizen.

If there’s one big lesson I learned in 2015 it is this. It pays to understand the world from a different perspective. The traveling year that it was, 2015 has taught me to appreciate the world I live in before it is too late.

So bring it on 2016, surprise me! Take me wherever I have to be.

Een nota aan mijn jongere zelf

Jongere Geo,

Hoe hebt je zijn? Ik hoop dat je doen goed bent.

Ik schrijf om jou te vertellen dat je hebt een veel te bieden, maar je moet alles ontdekken. Veel uitdagingen komen op je weg, en moet je klaar voor hem. Maar wees niet bang; er zijn veel mensen dat jou zullen helpen. Je zal nieuwe vrienden ontmoeten, en zij zullen de reis met jou maken.

Hoe weet ik? Het is omdat ik zag het. Ik heb ervaren wat je zal ervaren. Er zijn veel ervaringen dat jou zullen maken jou een beter persoon. Klaar zijn voor alles. Verwacht het onverwachte. Op het einde, je zal vliegen en je zal jouw merk in dit wereld maken.

Je bent bestemd voor grote dingen.

Met vriendelijke groeten,
Oudere Geo.

P.S. Het is mijn eerste schrijftwerk in Nederland. 

A teaser to my AIESEC story in Poland

It’s been more than a month now since I returned to New Zealand from a very wonderful AIESEC exchange experience in Wroclaw, Poland (plus a month of travelling through Europe). Well yeah, you can say that I still have the travel bug. I miss the places, the cultures, the food, and especially the people I met along the way.

Wroclaw2

A bit of a backgrounder: I went to Poland through AIESEC Global Citizen. The project in Wroclaw was called International Summer Semi Camps, which ran parallel to a similar project called Global Semi Camps. The combined project is a six-week programme where volunteers from all over the globe got to mingle with Polish kids, sharing with them their own cultures while learning a lot about Polish culture. Specific tasks included sports, arts & crafts, and English teaching. There were 24 of us volunteers in the project, and we were divided into eight groups of three. Each team was assigned to a different town per week, so while doing the project we get to travel around the Lower Silesian region of Poland (of which Wroclaw is the capital).

Our team, labeled the “Commonwealth Team” (because I was from New Zealand and I was teamed with a volunteer from Australia and another from Canada, and everyone knows all countries are part of the British Commonwealth lol), were assigned to the towns of Olesnica, Zmigrod, and Popielow, for the first, second, and third weeks, respectively. Then our final three weeks were spent in Klecina, a southern district of Wroclaw. The kids we worked with were from different age ranges, different backgrounds, different experiences. But all of them were eager to learn not only what the NGO’s had in store for them during the course of their summer camps, but also what we volunteers could share to them about our respective countries. In turn, we volunteers learned about Polish culture and the cultures of our co-volunteers’ respective countries. It was probably one of the best and most amazing learning experiences I ever had.

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Of course our AIESEC experience wasn’t all work. We all had our weekends off so we took the opportunity to either travel around or explore Wroclaw. And those weekends included arguably the best weekend of my life: I celebrated my 28th birthday in another country and with new friends and while living out my European dream. I really couldn’t have asked for more. Then there’s the usual university life parties, hangouts, chill-outs (Wyspa Slodowa is now my new favourite chillout place in the world!) and dinners (Polish food, yummeh!).

Overall, my AIESEC experience in Poland has been one of the best, if not the best, experiences in my 28 years of existence. Until now I’m still giving myself a pat in the back for eventually deciding to ditch Makimono for Illot Cafe. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known AIESEC. Otherwise, this life-changing experience wouldn’t have happened.

If I get the chance to do it all again, I’ll be willing to jump at it and relive this experience all over again.

P.S. More of my European experiences in subsequent posts…

Back to blogging

I’m back! Yes, finally after three months of absence, I’ll start working on new posts for my blog.

Apologies if I haven’t posted anything since June; I was away on an overseas exchange experience in Poland – so far the most amazing experience of my life; however I had limited to no internet access hence this blog has been sleeping for the past three months. I’ll detail my experiences in Europe in the next few posts.

But yeah, that OE experience is definitely a life-changing one. Met so many new people, saw so many places, experienced a lot of things, tasted a lot of food… Obviously I wanna do it again, and I hope it will be soon. But for now, I’ll just share all my experiences in the coming weeks.

I’ve missed posting here and I am definitely excited to share all my experiences with you. But bye for now, see you all in the next post!

Why I am learning languages

People keep on asking me why I am knocking myself down trying to learn (currently) five languages. My answer has always been simple: languages keep my brain working, and I see it as my gateway to understanding different cultures.
Currently I’m learning Spanish, Italian, French, German, and Dutch. I have to admit it isn’t easy learning five languages by yourself simultaneously (without the assistance of any teacher whatsoever) and then try to apply what you’ve learned in real-life situations. Good thing I have friends who are native speakers of the above-mentioned languages who are ready to help me in any case, correct my pronunciation and grammar, and let me improve my vocabulary.

Learning languages may be difficult, but it’s fun! It helps me get an insight into the daily lives of people who live in the countries that speak the language that I’m learning. And as I embark on an exciting new adventure in barely a month’s time, I am hoping that the languages I am learning would allow me to survive even a minimalist conversation with the native speakers of that language.

And who knows, I might be able to speak more languages than Jose Rizal. 🙂

Save Mary Jane from the chains of economic oppression

While I am still hoping against hope that Mary Jane Veloso is saved, we have to be reminded that neither Indonesian President Joko Widodo nor the Republic of Indonesia is at fault here. We do not control their laws, nor are we in the position to interfere with their policing and laws.

Let us remember that the biggest faults here are the lack of socioeconomic accessibility in the Philippines, human trafficking, and our very own government’s lack of firm, decisive, but diplomatic and legal action. France was able to at least defer the French citizen’s execution because of the French government’s firm, decisive, yet diplomatic and legal action – steps were made to ensure that their citizen would have a strong and substantial defence while not breaking any law – local or international.

Furthermore, socioeconomic conditions in the Philippines are stagnant, if not deteriorating, forcing thousands to leave their homeland in search for a better life overseas. Not exaggerating here, but I actually fear that the Philippine diaspora is already reaching the levels of the biggest diaspora in history – the Armenian diaspora. Neoliberal economic policies such as privatisation, which cater only to big businesses rather than the people itself, coupled with corruption, lack of political will, and an ill-managed populace, have made the lives of the ordinary Filipino more miserable. And this scenario has actually emboldened human traffickers to take advantage of the Filipino’s miserable situation. In the end, it’s the ordinary Filipino like Mary Jane Veloso who falls victim.

The Aquino government boasts of economic gains? Trickle-down economics? Those are just economic indicators on a neoclassical scale. But all these “economic gains” will be useless if proper development does not take place – development that ensures all citizens are entitled to freely exercise their own socioeconomic rights, development that protects the people and not the big businesses, development that ensures proper political systems are in place and will not be taken advantage of by corrupt officials.

We just don’t call to save Mary Jane from execution. We must continue to call to save Mary Jane from the chains of economic oppression.

Transforming the US-Japan Alliance

Introduction

Until recently, Japan’s response to adversity has been muted, at best. Media has always portrayed Japan as a relatively small player in the international community, particularly in the security sense. However, the murder of two Japanese nationals in the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has elicited a relatively unusual response from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, giving political commentators the idea that the Diet (Japanese Parliament) is likely to make Japan a bigger player in the ongoing war on terror, something its ally the United States have wanted for so long.

While Japan has a long-standing alliance with the United States, it is not as smooth sailing as mainstream media would depict (Baker & Frost, 1992). The United States has chastised Japan for its little contributions in US-led coalitions during the Gulf War of 1991 and the post-9/11 campaigns on Iraq and Afghanistan. In recent years, Japan’s foreign policy has started to shift towards making Japan a normal state, leaving the future of its alliance with the United States at risk. Though Japan is apparently undecided as to whether to keep or let go of this alliance that was in place since the 1950s, recent developments in the geopolitical atmosphere of Asia would test the strength, or even the necessity, of this alliance. In this paper we examine the factors that are driving the transformation of this erstwhile alliance between two powerful states.

The Nye Report and a Quest for Equal Partnership

While both the United States and Japan are economically dependent on each other, the US-Japan alliance is seemingly tipped towards the United States’ favour (Baker & Frost, 1992; Hughes, 2007). The ‘Peace Constitution’ that was imposed on the Japanese after their defeat in the Second World War prohibits Japan to build an offensive military capability. Japan’s present military component is exclusively for defence purposes, and the country has deeply relied on the United States for its security. Because of this, Japan has often sided with the United States in many international matters (Christensen, 1999; Hughes, 2004a; Hughes, 2007).

Japan’s quest for equal partnership in the alliance began after the collapse of the Soviet Union when the threat of a nuclear North Korea became imminent (Hughes, 2004a). North Korea’s reticent nuclear arms programme and the failure of the alliance to issue a diplomatic response became a growing concern for the rest of Asia. This pushed Japan to seek a more equal bilateral cooperation with the United States. Conversely, the United States pushed to strengthen its alliance with Japan as well as its active role in maintaining security and the balance of power within the region (Hughes, 2004a; Hughes, 2007; Sakaeda, 2007).

The strengthening of the US-Japan alliance was largely influenced by the United States Security Strategy for the East Asia-Pacific Region, or more popularly known as the 1995 Nye Report after its author Joseph Nye who was then the assistant secretary of defence for President Bill Clinton. Nye’s report stated that ‘the revitalisation of the US-Japan alliance [is] the keystone in US security strategy in East Asia’ (Hughes, 2004a, p. 98). The newly formulated security policy, whilst formulated in accordance with that of the United States and the recommendations from the Nye report, gave Japan a bigger role in any decision-making processes with regards to security. Meanwhile, the United States apparently maintained an upper hand in the alliance as Japan continued to rely on them for their national security needs (Christensen, 1999; Sakaeda, 2007).

Opposition to American Presence in Japanese Soil

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s surprising response to the threats made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to murder two Japanese nationals polarised Japanese society, including the Diet. While some sectors praised Abe for his vehement stance against terrorism, many have criticised him for doing little to save the lives of the two nationals. Eventually, ISIL forces ended up murdering the two Japanese captives together with a Jordanian air force pilot, the brutal actions captured on video and released through cyberspace.

The criticism faced by the prime minister in handling the ISIL situation is similar to the criticisms faced by Japan vis-à-vis its role in the war on terror. The United States has continuously panned the Japanese government for doing very little in the said campaigns (Hughes, 2007; Sakaeda, 2007). Ironically, Japan’s role in the war on terror has also met polarised opinions within Japanese society, arguing that Japan’s involvement in the US-led war has enormous costs on Japan’s economy.

More than the war on terror, American presence in Japan has actually put the strain on the Japanese economy (Christensen, 1999; Hughes, 2007). After the Second World War, the United States has maintained the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, first as part of the United States Military Government of the Ryukyu Islands (established after a separatist movement developed in the Ryukyu Islands) then as part of the US-Japan alliance. At present, the Japanese government shoulders two-thirds of the cost of maintaining the air base (Hughes, 2004b), which occupies 10% of the entire landmass of the Okinawa prefecture and is close to the urban centre of the city of Okinawa. While the air base provides employment for close to a thousand Japanese, opponents of continued American presence on Japanese soil argue that the cost of maintaining Kadena is higher than the economic opportunities it provides (Hughes, 2007).

The Japanese government maintains that American presence on Japanese soil is not only in accordance with the provisions forged in the US-Japan alliance, but also necessary to maintain national security in the absence of an offensive military unit. The United States have also found its presence in Japan crucial in its humanitarian efforts in the Asia-Pacific region as well as in its continued response to threats from North Korea, Russia, and a rising China (ibid). Nevertheless, the continued American presence has caught Japan entrapped in the United States’ campaigns, as evidenced by Japan’s own situation with the Islamic State.

Regional Politics: The Threats of North Korea and a Rising China

For a long time, Japan has been perceived as the ‘great power’ in the Far East. Economically, Japan is highly advanced compared to the perceived economic tigers of Asia, including China. However, the security threats posed by China and a nuclear North Korea has triggered concern within Japan.

North Korea is known to have been developing a nuclear programme since the 1960s whereas China’s own nuclear programme is on the rise (Garret & Glaser, 1997; Christensen, 1999). While no imminent conflict may erupt between Japan and North Korea, China’s aggression in both the East China Sea and South China Sea is a source of major concern for Japan’s security. Recently, Japan and China have been involved in minor skirmishes concerning the Senkaku Islands. Furthermore, the southernmost inhabited islands of Japan are within close range of Taiwan, and the Japanese fear that the proximity of their southernmost islands may entrap Japan in any conflict that may arise between Beijing and Taipei. While economic cooperation between Tokyo and Beijing are in place towards the end of the 20th Century, brewing tensions in the East China Sea have hampered further mutual cooperation between the two giants (ibid).

Japan’s regional security concerns are shared by the United States, and Washington has vowed to protect its allies in the East Asian region (Baker & Frost, 1992; Garret & Glaser, 1997; Sakaeda, 2007). These security concerns created apprehensions within Japan with regards to the US-Japan alliance; commentators have noted that despite these recent apprehensions regarding the alliance, talks would most likely result in Japan revitalising its alliance with the United States as opposed to repealing it.

Increasingly powerful nuclear threats from North Korea, China, and even Russia have prompted Japan to share its nuclear technological capabilities with the United States (Wampler, 1997; Christensen, 1999; Norris et al, 1999). While the Japanese government asserted that Japan has a non-nuclear policy, an agreement that the United States can clandestinely bring nuclear weaponry to Japan has been reached in the 1960s (Wampler, 1997). Reports claim that there are close to 1,000 nuclear warheads supplied by the United States to Japan and are clandestinely stored somewhere in the Kadena Air Base (Norris et al, 1999).

Conclusions

The alliance between the United States and Japan have been in place since the end of the Second World War, but this alliance is far from perfect. The end of the Cold War have seen the transformation in the alliance between the two powerful nations. Conversely, this transformation is being driven by three major factors – Japan’s quest for an equal bilateral partnership with the United States, a growing opposition against continued American presence on Japanese soil, and the imminent threats from its neighbouring states, particularly China, North Korea, and even Russia. Geopolitical developments throughout recent history have caused the revitalisation (using the language of the United States government) of the alliance between the United States and Japan to not follow a steady path. On the one hand, while the United States heavily chastises Japan for its insignificant role in US-led campaigns in the Middle East, the United States sees the alliance as a keystone for maintaining peace and order as well as power balance in the region. On the other hand, while Japan heavily relies on the United States for its security needs, it continues to seek a larger part in arguably one of history’s most powerful yet one-sided alliances.

References

Baker Jr., H.H., & Frost, E.L. 1992. Rescuing the US-Japan alliance. Foreign Affairs, 71(2). 97-113.

Christensen, T.J. 1999. China, the US-Japan alliance, and the security dilemma in East Asia. International Security, 23(4). 49-80.

Garrett, B. & Glaser, B. 1997. Chinese apprehensions about the revitalization of the US-Japan alliance. Asian Survey, 37(4). 383-402.

Hughes, C.W. 2007. Not quite the Great Britain of the Far East: Japan’s security, the US-Japan alliance, and the war on terror in Asia. Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 20(2). 325-338.

Hughes, H. 2004a. Forging a strengthened US-Japan alliance. In Hughes, H. (ed). Japan’s Re-emergence as a Normal Military Power. London, England: Routledge Books. 97-115.

Hughes, H. 2004b. Japan’s shifting security trajectory and policy system. In Hughes, H. (ed). Japan’s Re-emergence as a Normal Military Power. London, England: Routledge Books. 41-66.

Norris, R.S., Arkin, W.M., & Burr, W. 1999. Where they were. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 55(6). 26-35.

Sakaeda, R. 2007. Soft power, the 1995 Nye Report, and the US-Japan Alliance. Japan Aktuell, 5(7), 43-56.

Wampler, R.A. 1997. Revelations in Newly Released Documents about US Nuclear Weapons and Okinawa Fuel NHK Documentary. [ONLINE] retrieved from www.gwu.edu. Retrieved on 07 Feb 2015.