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exceeding the asia-pacific Arrow vol 6 no 1 contents
About borderlands volume 6 number 1, 2007


Politics after the Event: Exceeding Asia/Pacific

Geoffrey Whitehall
Acadia University


In this paper I explore competing political grammars used to conceptualize the Asia/Pacific
community. Specifically, I problematize the dominant spatial concept of the Pacific Rim that reflects the transcendental resolutions of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) community of sovereign states. By opening the spatial Pacific Rim up to the temporalization of the Pacific Event, the pacific community can be rethought in terms of Oceanic flows that constitute shifting island networks or what Epeli Hau'ofa (1995) calls "a sea of islands". Finally, pushing this affirmation of Oceanic flows beyond its conceptual limits, I look at a particular political struggle on the edge of the Asia/Pacific community. Here an interesting political strategy emerges that exceeds the accepted terrains of political action and instead demonstrates a critical example of solidarity politics; whereby, political practice sets in motion the enactment of unintended futures.


The cadastral map is an instrument of control which
both reflects and consolidates the power of those who
commission it...the cadastral map is partisan: where
knowledge is power, it provides comprehensive infor-
mation to be used to the advantage of some and the
detriment of others...the cadastral map is active: in
portraying one reality, as in the settlement of the new
world or in India, it helps obliterate the old.

—Roger J. P. Kain and Elizabeth Baigent


1. In 1976, Endel-Jakob Kolde of the Pacific Rim Project produced a report called The Pacific Quest . Although now quite dated, The Pacific Quest reads as a simple, yet monumental, survey. The Pacific Quest sought to document the economic, political and cultural changes that were emerging in the Post World War II world. As such, the survey accounted for national populations, economies, treaties, resources and other variables (like religion, culture and languages) that are characteristic of 'area studies' or 'comparative politics' today. This task was monumental because the Pacific Rim has long been represented as the future of the West - the Pacific Era. Theodore Roosevelt, for example, declared the beginning of the Pacific Era in 1903; he predicted "the Atlantic Era is now at the height of its development and must soon exhaust the resources at its command. The Pacific Era, destined to be the greatest of all, is just at its dawn" (in Yahuda 2004: 5). Of course, the Pacific Era did not start in 1903, with British, French or Spanish colonial adventures, nor even in 1421 when China is said to have crossed the Pacific (Menzies 2004). Nor did it start with Japan's economic miracle or Asia's four Dragons. Endlessly announced and perpetually delayed, these dates are not as important as the broader impulse that Kolde's text exemplifies - the Pacific Rim was and still is a "quest".

2. Ambitious in scope, the purpose of Kolde's quest was to record:

the chaotic flows of Japan's economic miracle, the USSR's geo-political climb (and fall), the USA's financial and cultural hegemonic rise (and fall), the (post)cold-war tensions/strategies, 20+ countries' formal decolonization, NGOs, INGOs and MNCs' increasing clout, 1500+ bilateral treaties being signed and the (social) scientific shift towards appreciating the ocean's cultures, resources, geophysics and ecosystems (Kolde 1976).

Although dizzying in magnitude, it is interesting that Kolde represents his quest to bring together these disparate and isolated phenomena in the humble language of describing what is happening in the world. The disjuncture between Kolde's positivist claim and his ecumenical desire is not surprising. His quest is in keeping with the hermeneutic purpose of modernity, as typified by the international relations theorist Hans J. Morgenthau: "to bring order and meaning to a mass of phenomenon which without it would remain disconnected and unintelligible" (Morgenthau 1967: 3). Kolde's Pacific Quest sought to bring order and meaning to an age and a region that is routinely, to the point of cliché, defined by its complexity, diversity and contradictions. What appears to be a simple description and organization of facts into a realistic picture of the world 'out there' signals an important philosophical and political Event - the creation of a concept.

3. The Pacific Rim is an Event that frames the practical problems of post World War II economic, political, cultural and technological flows. It is an Event because the Pacific Rim does not exist before its discursive performance. Kolde's Pacific Quest simultaneously documents and participates in an Event: the recreation of the Pacific Rim concept. His enthusiasm is evident in his statement that "an epoch has ended. For a third of a millennium the Pacific served as an extraneous mass to a Eurocentric world...all that has ended" (Kolde 1976: 15). The Rim can no longer be the Pacific other to the European self, the sea monster lying at the edge of the civilized world-map or the Asiatic mode of production abandoned to past world-history. Instead, as Kolde dramatizes, the Pacific Rim is a character in search of itself and its home in the world. He reflects:

The Pacific Rim is a concept still in search of a definition. Traders and diplomats seem to have started using the term as a form of verbal shorthand to describe markets bordering the Pacific Ocean. Instead of individually enumerating and identifying all the nations and territories, they could conveniently be grouped under the label of "Pacific Rim". What mattered was not the potential or performance of individual countries, small and relatively insignificant as some of these were when taken separately, but the aggregate of many countries adjacent to one another. In a proverbial analogy, their strategists needed a name for the forest to distinguish it from the trees. The term Pacific Rim answered that need (Kolde 1976: 25).

4. Kolde does not seem troubled by the conceptual difficulty in pronouncing when or where something like an Event has arrived. Instead, his excitement builds at the prospect of blurring the threshold between the forest and the trees, the global and the local and the one and the many. As such, Kolde takes up the role of the author and pronounces that the aggregate of the Pacific Rim would no longer be a void, a res nullius, in the Anglo-American social scientific world. Like other 'discoveries', the Pacific could find a place within a post-Columbian will to truth. Moving Asia from the east of Europe to the west of America continues to mark the organizing desire of the Pacific frontier. In 1976, Kolde announced the success of the Pacific Quest: the Pacific Rim became a concept along side others (like Europe). Within a modern matrix of intelligibility, its dimensions are studied, its characteristics chronicled and its essence is endlessly debated.

5. This paper looks at how the Pacific Event unfolds, occupies and naturalizes a geography and history of the 'Pacific Rim' and in return how such a quest is problematized. In the first section, the Pacific Event is treated as an emerging political trend that subsumes 'national' objectives through regional geopolitical organizations like the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (henceforth APEC). APEC constitutes a disciplinary space where national differences, local resistances and migrant politics become pacified by the interest on national cadres. In the second half of the paper, the false promise of national politics is refused and the Pacific Rim's totalizing cartographic imaginary is contested. Introducing an Oceananic aporia opens the epistemic quest for regional closure and instead develops a political sensibility that emphasizes errant currents and temporal horizons.

The Event of the Pacific Rim Project

6. The Pacific Rim is an Event. It unfolds geographically (the Pacific Rim) and temporally (the Pacific Century). In turn, APEC geopolitically reproduces its momentum and its individual member states police dissent. Together these four components (or movements) constitute a political diagram of the Pacific Rim Event.

7. This political diagram reflects the Kantian division between geography, history and politics (May 1970). For Kant, geography prepares the world for historical comprehension, which in turn is organized and guaranteed through liberalism's imperial geopolitics. However, to say that something is answered geographically implies a naturalization of a representation. Although performed through an empirical imaginary, the Pacific quest is not simply an act of description. Describing the world involves what Edward Said calls an "imaginative geography" (1979: 21). As Roger J. P. Kain and Elizabeth Baigent suggest, "the map is active... it helps obliterate the old" (Kain & Baigent 1992). Description makes the region manageable; description is a mode of government. Interestingly, Kolde acknowledges the region's discursive patrimony. He states "it is no longer unusual to hear convention speakers at business conferences using Pacific Rim in the same breath as Europe, Africa and Latin America" (Kolde 1976: 29). In this sense, the Pacific Rim achieves the status of what Kolde calls a "household word" (29). Kolde finesses this discursive acknowledgement, however, by granting a household word the ontological status of a continent. Occupying a positivist imaginary, the region simply "encompasses the entire Pacific Ocean and all the lands - both continental and insular - that border on its shores" (3). The continental Rim becomes an aggregate of everything (lands, waters, peoples, boundaries, cultures, diplomatic treaties and corporate relations) within this space. What, at one moment never existed, suddenly is a bounded, solid continental Being.

8. Continents, however, are not themselves natural entities. They are created in and through social relations and hide historical processes and imperial drives (Lewis & Wigen 1997: 10). The push to recognize the Pacific Rim as a continent in its own right, in part, emerges from the desire to correct an imagined historic wrong: if Europe gets to be a continent, then why not the Pacific Rim? However, this does not make either 'entity' more natural and less political. The mystical grounding of the continents

conveys a sense of the immense difficulties entailed in rightly grasping - and naming - the elusive spatial structures of contemporary life. All geographic divisions share with these neo-categories the quality of being artificial simplifications, more or less convenient devices for advancing analysis rather than reflections, wholly knowable spatial structures. (Lewis & Wigen 1997: 205) .

9. In the place of its previous complexity, neo-categories, artificial simplifications and convenient anchor-statements, like "The Pacific Rim is the most dynamic region in the world today" (Nemetz 1990: 1), begin academic papers, newsmagazines, and business forecasts without adequate qualification. Once the Pacific Rim is rooted within a positivist geographic imaginary it can be studied, probed and managed. The region, as social and political production, is treated as empirical fact, a simple backdrop for anthropological, political, economic or regional studies (Murphy 1991: 24; Dirlik 1998: 17; Said 1979: 54). This imaginative geography cuts through other possible (non-Western) stories and submerges complex histories, cosmologies and routes of encounters. In Arif Dirlik's words, "to define, as to Name, is to conquer" (Dirlik 1998: 5). Preparing the Pacific Rim, and granting it the status of a singular continental being, ignores the indefinite other ways that peoples have moved and lived in the world.

10. With a singular named continental geography also comes a singular time for Pacific Rim - The Pacific Century. The Pacific Century emerges as the Pacific Rim's plane of immanence since it functions as the temporal continuum for all past and future developments. As such, the Pacific Rim appears to have simply arrived from nowhere and yet oddly created its own history in the process. Dennis Flynn and Arturo Giraldez, for instance, declare that the Pacific Rim "does not seem to possess a common chronology prior to the Second World War" (Flynn & Giraldez 1998: 16) . Over its temporal lacuna, the Pacific Century erases and claims other histories (Western, Chinese or Japanese Imperialism and various local resistances). By organizing the historical and therefore future conditions of existence, the Pacific Century stands as a historical memorial to its own creation.

11. Pearl Harbor, for example, marks an imposed future and an erased past. It memorializes through a strategic forgetting of other possible histories (Turnbull 1996). One mode of being in Hawai'i (as an American settler) replaces the multiple other ways of being in Hawai'i (as a Hawaiian) (Trask 1993). As such, Pearl Harbor can be remembered as America's monument (a place where America's national story is rehearsed) but it is also a Hawaiian monument to the current American occupation of Hawai'i. Similarly, for some Kaho'olawe is a empty island ideal for testing military weapons but it is a site of spiritual significance and is itself a spiritual expression for others (Wood 1999: 129-150 ). The differences between these remembrances are the infinite histories and futures of Hawai'i.

12. In addition to erasing the diversity of historical narratives, the Pacific Century defines future possibilities within its self-creating temporal trajectory. Toshiya Ueno calls this assumed future horizon "techno-orientalism" (Ueno n.d.). Ueno argues that the West fantasizes about its own future by projecting, claiming and owning a techno-imaginary of Japan (Ueno n.d.). Japan, in particular, but the Pacific, in general, becomes the next logical step of the West's manifest destiny or like China, the future rival that threatens the American Empire. David Morley and Kevin Robin's statement, quoted by Ueno, is exemplary of this logic. They argue, "if the future is technological, and if technology has become 'Japanised,' then the syllogism would suggest that the future is now Japanese too. The postmodern era will be the Pacific Era. Japan is the future, and it is the future that seems to be transcending and displacing modern society" (in Ueno n.d.). The Pacific become the extension of the Western frontier, simultaneously a zone of erasure and creation, whereby populations are re-written in the service of America's territorial ambition and anxiety (Palumbo-Liu 1999).

13. The Pacific Quest, therefore, answers the desire for an epistemological and ontological unity by creating a geographic and historical concept - the Pacific Rim. The Event, once authorized, is constitutive of what can and cannot be said about histories, cultures, politics and economics. The Event is literally grounded in a geographic and temporal imaginary so that it ceases to be appreciated as an Event. The Pacific Rim becomes a continent, a region, a geography and all politics becomes history.

14. How is this imaginary secured and, in turn, depoliticized? A concept requires material reproductions and performances to capture the diversity of everyday practices. Organizations like the APEC, Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) attempt to solve the problem of keeping together, not only flows of people and economic transactions, but also, the very meaning of the Pacific Rim. Using APEC in this section, it is possible to see how these organizations, in the most general sense, function as modes of governance [1] In terms of a performance, APEC does not fail to trumpet its capacity to govern and resolve the conflicts in the "region". At the beginning of all its official documents it boasts:

APEC has 21 members - referred to as "Member Economies" - which account for more than a third of the world's population (2.6 billion people), approximately 60% of world GDP (US$19, 254 billion) and about 47% of world trade. It also proudly represents the most economically dynamic region in the world having generated nearly 70% of global economic growth in its first 10 years (APEC 2004) .

APEC was established in 1989 in response to the growing interdependence among Asia-Pacific economies. Begun as an informal dialogue group, APEC has since become the primary regional vehicle for promoting open trade and practical economic cooperation. Its goal is to advance Asia-Pacific economic dynamism and sense of community (see for instance IPEG 2002: italics added)

15. Like the Pacific Quest, APEC answers the call to fill the governmental void. Not only does APEC claim dominion of all the region's people and economic activity, but also it asserts itself as the guarantor of these very dynamisms. APEC imagines itself as the beginning and end of the political process. By standing in and re-presenting all that occurs within the region, APEC claims dominion over it all. This claim is difficult to recognize because APEC also requires the political practice of reifying national political horizons. Asian countries and regimes are regularly represented as being ineffective, if not hostile, to efforts to create a region governance similar to the European Union (Pempel 2005). Nationalism is presumed to be a counterweight to regionalism, hegemony and globalization.

16. The logo for APEC provides a good visual device to explain how APEC comes to stand in for the region's complexity by taking up the image of transcending an empty void.

Figure 1 : APEC Logo. Used in accordance with the APEC Logo Guidelines available at

What is interesting about this logo is that APEC has come to represent the space in-between the Rim. APEC not only acts as the bridge between landmasses and countries, but, semiotically, APEC acts as the pre-eminent Sign. APEC replaces the very diversity it claims to represent. In representing the cultural, social, economic, historical and political complexity (represented by the ocean, for example) APEC annuls that diversity. In exchange for complexity, APEC creates a void, an absence, which only APEC's "open regionalism" can fill. It fills the cultural, social, economic, historical and political absence within the newly naturalized absence at the heart of the Pacific Rim. Through its member economies, APEC becomes the geopolitical referent that manages resistances to regionalization.

17. However, in as much as resistance flows through member economies towards APEC, APEC also emerges as the geopolitical guarantee that the sovereign state will be the central political actor in the Pacific Rim. APEC defines the kind of diversity that will be tolerated; it is an exclusive club for nationalizing states. In APEC's official history, the sovereign state emerges from the background, into the centre of the organization. APEC started with the buried economic ambitions to form a Pacific Free Trade Area emerging in the late 1960s. The name APEC emerged in conjunction with the Pacific Trade and Development conference, the Pacific Basin Economic Council and the Pacific Economic Co-operation Council in 1989. Originally an Japan-Australia initiative, it was not until 1993 that APEC, as an institution, emerged with its respective heads of states (now numbering twenty one) and APEC would have to wait until 1995 to have functioning voluntary agenda within "open regionalism" and timetable for implementation (Bhalla & Bhalla 1997). Explaining "Why APEC matters to Americans", the US Embassy in Jakarta posted this fact sheet,

The United States, recognizing the value of top-level meetings to advance the work of creating a Pacific community, invited member economies' leaders to Blake Island, Washington, to meet informally to discuss major issues in the APEC region. This gathering of economic leaders has become the single most important institution in the Asia Pacific region. It brings top level attention to APEC's vision of free trade and investment as well as providing a forum for Leaders to meet on a regular basis both as a group and bilaterally to discuss current issues and resolve disputes (U.S. State Department 2001: italics added).

When standing in for local, regional and national complexity, the APEC region simply appears to be a collection of heads of states, ready to sit down across the abyss of international anarchy and hammer out inter-national initiatives about major issues. It is still further assumed that these agreements will benefit their national communities and that these communities are uniformly nationalized. Despite persistent protests, the good of a state's trade interests are assumed to be good for all peoples in that state. Finally, having APEC at the centre of the Pacific Rim allows for extra-territorial issues (i.e., gender, poverty, environment and justice) to be policed back within the geopolitical frame of nations for easier political consumption.

18. Parallel conferences that deal specifically with APEC, for example, began to emerge in 1993 in Seattle. People's Summits, for instance, have grown to include a successful alliance of participants from environmental, solidarity, feminist, indigenous and labour organizations. As these people's summits became more successful, however, APEC was legitimated as the universal space where particular claims are heard (but not resolved). Whether in praise or in anger, particular demands are directed towards a universalized APEC.

19. A concrete historical example is useful to demonstrate how an organization like APEC polices political dissent. In 1997, the Asia Pacific community descended on Vancouver and solidified Canada as a member of the Pacific Rim. With eighteen state leaders, sixty dignitaries recognized as internationally protected persons and approximately 10 000 visitors destined for APEC functions, everyone knew that there were going to be protests. Canada personified the geopolitical project to order the Pacific Rim, and instead of treating APEC as a threat to its national narrative, the city of Vancouver and the Canadian Government ironed out the cleavages between 500 local, 2500 national and 1000 soldiers from the Canadian Army to create one unified Canadian police/force acting on behalf of APEC (CBC 1997). The conference was supposed to be an extra-territorial space, like the Pacific Rim, since it is neither inside nor outside the interstate system. Protesters were to be kept out of sight and earshot of APEC "at all costs" and on direct orders from the Prime Minister's office (CBC 1997). Protesters, however, wanted to call attention to the abuses of the Suharto regime and the economic perils of fast tracking liberalization. As such, when the demonstrators trespassed the boundaries that had been carefully established, patrolled and secured, the police took decisive action with the now all too familiar pepper spray and mass arrests.

20. Violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Supreme Court decision (Ramsden v. Peterborough (City) 1993) 2 S.C.R. 1084, the right to free speech and peaceful assembly was abandoned. A central revelation at the APEC inquiry, for instance, was the degree to which the state, through its international (CCIS), national (RCMP), regional (B.C.) and local (Vancouver) enforcement agencies was "legitimately" involved in the "private" affairs of its citizens (CISIS 2000) . The RCMP had infiltrated the demonstrators' meetings to track their intentions (The Globe and Mail 1999) , swapped files between police jurisdictions (Toronto Sun 1999) , and spied on its own population - something prohibited by the mandate of CSIS (The Vancouver Sun 1998; The Globe and Mail 1998; The Province 1998) . To some, these actions are contrary to the mandate of a nationalized state, however, because the RCMP's policing was done in the service of APEC, under the protection of international recognized persons,[ 2] it was considered within Canada's purview to violate the same Canadian rights that its police are "supposed" to be protecting (Ericson & Doyle 1999) .

21. Simply put, the question of excessive force used against Canadians was less important than the dignity of APEC and its heads of state. On behalf of APEC, Canadian policing kept the newly recognized Pacific Rim population under nationalized control. As Canada integrated into the Pacific Rim imaginary, the means of governance and the vision of citizenship remain inter-nationalized. People living on the east coast of the Pacific Rim, apparently, have no "business" with the political abuse of their regional partners. Despite the rhetoric of regionalization, the possibility of engaging with regional problems remains within the tight control of state functionaries in the interest of a functioning APEC timetable.

22. Instead of seeing what happened in Vancouver as unique, or the Pacific Rim as natural, it is more useful to see APEC and the Pacific Rim as a particular instance of a larger set of global trends that are reorganizing the ways in which politics are disciplined. The Vancouver protests/policing later became the model for Seattle 1999, Washington 2000, Genoa 2000 or Quebec 2000 and Honolulu 2000 marking the trend towards criminalization of dissent and the securitization of protest (Weldes & Laffery 2003; Moore 2003). APEC is no longer limited to strict economics (trade, tariffs and liberalization) (APEC 1997). It has developed an ear for soft trade issues (tourism, intellectual property rights and standards) (APEC 1997). It has grown a heart for social issues (environment, sustainable development and women's issues) (APEC 2000; 2003) . It has even gained a voice through "official forums" that made possible statements about "hot topics" (human rights, terrorism and avian bird flu) (APEC 2002; 2001) . Member states slowly change to fulfil APEC imaginary of which they are part, resolving the tensions, questions, and problems that arise.

23. In these shifting tides of regionalization, these "issues" become APEC's governing agenda. APEC now claims to solve the very problems that it is (in some cases) responsible for creating. Any contemporary engagement with APEC itself - though reform, regulation or protest - will further the discursive "authority" of an organization like APEC. The net result: instead of questioning the Pacific Rim, the very concept that makes APEC possible, we question APEC. The Pacific Quest is successful.

Ocean, Currents and Exceeding Politics

24. If the Pacific Rim constitutes a political diagram of an Event in a globalizing age of regionalization, then a crucial question remains: "if the Pacific Rim stands as a Event around which other possible ways of thinking, acting and being are actively policed, then how can political resistance be imagined that does not in turn contribute to APEC's expansionary problem solving zeal?" Can resistances, in other words, be imagined that exceed what Deleuze and Guattari call an "apparatus of capture"? (Deleuze & Guattari 1987: 424-73)

25. It is difficult to image such a resistance because an "apparatus of capture" works like a Gordian knot. The knot is not a thing itself; it is a movement that continues to hold. Struggling with the rope only makes the knot tighter; it only makes the legitimacy of the process stronger . Deleuze and Guattari explain that "the mechanism of capture contributes from the outset to the constitution of the aggregate upon which the capture is effectuated" (Deleuze & Guattari 1987: 446). Put simply, a knot is a rope that is made to work against itself. Capture, as such, is never active; it turns forces in upon themselves, makes active forces join and become reactive (Deleuze 1983: 57). A political paradox crystallizes when the captured are compelled to act in the service of the apparatus of capture while using their own capacities to undermine their future possibilities. Whether examined in terms of modernity, sovereignty, colonialism and capitalism, in general, or within the Pacific Rim (as a particular constellation of these forces) in particular (see Chen 1998), this frustration remains. The lure of counter hegemonic strategies reflects and mobilizes this discursive frustration. Being reactive amounts to separating forces from what they can do (Deleuze 1983: 57).

26. In the light of this paradox, a key political question restated remains: how does one resist or do politics at all, when the terrain of politics is itself suspect? Kolde's Pacific Quest gives us a starting clue to this problem. In his text, the ocean is a problem that cannot be resolved:

the Pacific Rim has so far been a strictly terrestrial concept: the land ringing the ocean. Such a view is now obsolete. Maritime research and technology are unlocking accesses to heretofore unknown treasures of the seas on which the economic welfare of society will increasingly depend. Any definition of the Pacific Rim oriented toward the future must therefore integrate the land with the sea of the region. ... Incorporating the ocean into the definition introduces a linguistic complication . Is the word rim appropriate to describe the ocean itself as well as the lands on its shores? (Kolde 1976: 3 original underline, emphasis added) .

In the Pacific Rim discourse, the ocean completely disappears or is reduced to a floating resource to be 'fished' by nation states. For Kolde, however, the ocean becomes an ontological problem for his quest to solve. In an attempt to salvage the Pacific Quest from this complication, he imagines that the word "Basin" would be sufficient to replace the term "Rim" (Kolde 1976: 3). Can a basin capture oceanic flows better than a rim? Why introduce a semantic solution to what is an ontological problem?

27. Kolde's ambivalence recognizes that the ocean is an ontological aporia to the western cartographic tradition. It has been something to fear, conquer or cross. As such, the ocean does not conform to the spatial, territorial, controlled and geopolitical narratives of APEC, the Pacific Century or the Pacific Rim. The ocean's flows and currents evade the Pacific Quest's epistemological drive for closure. Because it circumvents the sovereign desire to map, name and govern, the Ocean can offer a critical begining from which to rethink Pacific politics. At the heart of the Rim, the Pacific Ocean will not be pacified.

28. Contrary to Kolde's governmental instincts, the ocean is more than its resources. The ocean is already inhabited, not only by its "resources," but also by its peoples. The ocean cannot be reduced to the rim or a basin because, like the Pacific Rim, the Ocean is a concept in its own right. It includes diverse ways of knowing and being in the world. Communities that are organized around and within the ocean have either been invisible on the dominant terrestrial world maps or been erased in the process of creating new representations of those regions (Hau'ofa 1995; Stienberg 2001; Gilroy 1993; Wilson & Dirlik 1995). The ocean, of course, does not need a home in the Pacific Quest; it is already home.

29. One way to appreciate the ocean is as a fluid ontology. Here the ocean is a movement of clashing currents and waves. It is a fluid "space" of overlapping currents. Rob Wilson and Arif Dirlik (1995) move towards representing, acknowledging, and celebrating the ocean's diversity and openness by introducing the term "Asia/Pacific". This term appreciates and reclaims the fluidity at the core of the Pacific Rim because the slash between Asia/Pacific is an open disjunctive; it is "linkage yet difference" (Wilson & Dirlik 1995: 6). It complicates the desire to close, know and map the Rim. Asia/Pacific respects how, quoting Chris Connery, "resistance writes its own geography" (Connery in Wilson & Dirlik 1995: 6) by affirming the complex and interwoven network of flows, relations and zones of becoming (Wilson 2001: 470). Instead of the Pacific Rim, therefore, Asia/Pacific is re-presented as a "space of cultural production" (Wilson & Dirlik 1995). Shifting the organizing language of the Pacific discourse to a creative and contested language of Asia/Pacific gives standing, recognition and acknowledgement to local enclaves that have previously been excluded, erased and ignored.

30. Instead of presenting the ocean as a problem to be solved or an enigma to be contained, a space of ontological fluidity can be affirmed. Erased histories and possible futures reside at the heart of the Euro-American quest in the Pacific. Epeli Hau'ofa (1995) makes a fundamental shift in thinking from the Pacific Rim and its scattered Pacific Islands towards the Pacific Ocean. For Hau'ofa, the ocean is not a vast empty space in the midst of a solid rim of land. Nor are Pacific Islands small isolated and scattered. The ocean is a "sea of islands with their inhabitants" (Hau'ofa 1995: 92). The flows and relations between islands and island peoples therefore constitute the ocean. Whereas islands appear small and isolated from a land centric view, in the embrace of the ocean, islands are nodes between different flows, migrations and networks. Such a shift in thinking affirms that order, containment and smallness are the axiological aims of a Western tradition but they are not the singular encompassing condition of all Being. Hau'ofa's ontological statement implies the ocean does not separate; it flows. The ocean, here, is treated as an affirmation of ontological fluidity. For Hau'ofa, "Oceania is vast, Oceania is expanding, Oceania is hospitable and generous, Oceania is Humanity rising from the depths of brine and regions of fire deeper still, Oceania is Us. We are the sea, we are the ocean, we must wake up to this ancient truth and together use it to overturn all hegemonic views that aim ultimately to confine us again..." (Hau'ofa 1995: 98).

31. However, aspects of Hau'ofa's declarative might be troubling for those interested in flows since it enters into the perpetual game of substituting one concept, space or ontology for another. The implication being, on the one hand, juxtaposing flows against order has the unintended effect of feeding or inviting the modern desire to (re)impose order. In other words, it feeds the very narratives that legitimate APEC's problem solving zeal and fuels the central stabilizing dynamic of state sovereignty. Equally troubling, on the other, it ignores the possibility that the dominant order is now disorder (Ó Tuathail, Herod, & Roberts 1998; Hardt & Negri 2000). The idea of a borderless world of free movement offers no resistance in an age that champions a neo-liberal borderless world (Miyoshi 1996). People may always move, but separating the people from the various overlapping forces that move people or constitute their movement is, to say the least, difficult (Mitchell 1996; Trask 1993; Fujikane & Okamura 2000). What is needed therefore is a way of affirming the ontological fluidity of the ocean without losing a political edge that can differentiate between movements (including APEC and the state).

32. The ocean does not resist the problem solving zeal of APEC because of its nature; the ocean constitutes a resistance because it consists of indefinable, errant and constantly changing movements or currents. Instead of celebrating movement as a counter hegemonic ontological space, an oceanic ontology can be treated as temporal horizons of becoming. Deleuze and Guattari explain that

becoming is certainly not imitating, or identifying with something; neither is it regressing-progressing; neither is it corresponding, establishing corresponding relations; neither is it producing, producing a filiation or producing through filiation. Becoming is a verb with a consistency all its own; it does not reduce to, or lead back to "appearing," "being," "equalling" or "producing" (Deleuze & Guattari 1987: 239).

Instead, becoming requires "experimentation before ontology" (Rajchman 2000: 6). When experimentation comes before ontology conceptual foundations become contingent and it becomes impossible to assume a fixed way of being in the world (like a national citizen or oceanic being). When ontology is contingent, being always becomes something different. An ontology of becoming, therefore, is composed of an indefinite series of currents and an always already open horizon. To every current, there is a horizon; to every horizon, there is a moving beyond.

33. As contingent temporal horizons of becoming, the ocean throws even the hardest boundaries and most self-assured shores into doubt. The American Heartland, for example, is not a likely place to find the Pacific Ocean. Yet, the Hula Hoop, Island Boogie, the Aloha Shirt and Slack Key Guitar and Blue Hawai'i, remind us how the attempt to occupy and claim the Pacific in turn changed America's essence (Stillman & Mundt 2002). After Hawai'i, Utah, of all places, has the next highest concentration of Pacific Islanders in the United States (Grieco 2001) demonstrating the Mormon reach into to the Pacific but also the tenacity of the Pacific diaspora. Continental North America is only a moving island in the Pacific archipelago (Diaz 2003).

34. The relationship of Chuukese with the horizon expresses a similar appreciation of fluid openings. Joakim Peter explains that "Ppaileng is the space we (Chuukese) refer to today as the horizon, that is where the sea and the sky meet, beyond which is a world of foreign things, peoples, spirits - navigators and travellers are specialists in this realm..." (Peter 2000: 256). With an appreciation of the horizon, Peter explains, there is a refusal to claim and narrate space:

The same space that colonialism attempts to subdue and reorient has already been inhabited by others, namely island travellers. Islanders are ocean people. On many levels and in many forms, travelling is a major part of how islanders deal with, appropriate, and understand space. Space is not just physical. It is fluid and mobile, so that navigation is just one way of conceptualizing these seemingly unruly forces. Travelling is about casting and expanding one's own boundaries, thus demanding an attempt made here to define the terms of both travellers and the nature of travelling (Peter 2000: 256).

Against Kolde's cartographic desire to name and contain the ocean, Peter reminds the reader that navigation is about negotiating boundaries, dealing with the edge of one's experience, self and expectations. The horizon pushes the limits of what you "are" supposed "to be". The horizon, of the ocean and self, demands becoming different and "the world becomes that of moving oceans of islands" (Peter 2000: 256). In navigation, the ocean canoe sits still and the islands begin to move (DeLisle & Diaz 1997). The horizon is not spatial, the end of the world, with the monster that awaits on old maps of the Pacific, but instead, the horizon is an opening, a new earth, a new self, that is always already moving in the practice of navigation.

35. Therefore, oceanic flows need not ground opposition; they open futures. The ocean, in this sense, affirms that futures and movements develop on migrating horizons. When we start with stories of migration instead of ending with them as threats to be contained, the very ontological ground beneath our feet beings to move (Soguk & Whitehall 1999). The search for solid ground is illusory. Movement is the rule, not the exception. It never starts; it simply changes. As such, movement does not occur in relation to stable permanent rims and horizons, but horizons themselves migrate. Like ocean currents, migration demands that we recognize how we have always already been moving (Diaz 2003). In uncertain waters, perhaps only in uncertain water, the problem of the political again arises.

36. If the Pacific Rim is an Event and its political diagram consists of four movements (i.e., geography, temporality, geopolitics and the state) and an oceanic ontology develops within itself an open fluid temporal horizon, what then becomes of politics? In worlds of movement, the moment of politics ceases to be celebrating movement or deciding whether to move. Since everything is always already a movement within other movements such options are misleading. Instead a deceptively simple political question needs to be asked: how do movements exceed the logic or force of other movements? How is it possible, in other words, to resist an "apparatus of capture" when struggling with the rope only makes the grip stronger? In a different context, how are Native Hawaiians to engage politically with the Akaka Bill when the bill undermines their claims to international sovereignty and accepts Indian Status within the United States? Similarly, how should First Nations have dealt with British Columbia's referendum on native entitlement when participation legitimates the very process that is contested? Yet again, do desires for independence in West Papua or Bande Ache legitimate the security apparatus of the Indonesian State? The dilemma that unites these examples (an indefinite others) is that politics itself has become reactive; it remains bound to a practice of recognition and representation that reproduces the same onto-political project that denies political subject-hood to other temporal horizons of becoming. If something like an oceanic horizon of becoming is sought, then the future of politics itself must be made active.

37. If capture is never active (it turns forces in upon themselves) but separates forces from what they can do, an active politics must exceed the movements of capture. Seeking sovereignty, independence and recognition do not offer the escape velocity required to transgress the Event horizon of modern political capture. Exceeding the movements of capture requires making what is already available operate in manners indifferent to their being. Instead of separating forces from what they can do, an active politics seeks to amplify what forces can become; it strengthens forces that amplify the edges of becoming.

38. Three trajectories serve to illustrate an active politics. First, everything is a weapon if you hold it right (DiFranco 1993) - a political sensibility is needed that draws from an open horizon that is beyond the range of options deemed available at any particular time. A transformative agent is capable of pushing something (i.e., a clay pot, a billiard ball or a bail of hay) beyond its being, function or place. Second, transformative acts of solidarity require risking privilege. What was interesting about the recent referendum on Native Rights in British Columbia and in the OHA elections in Hawai'i, were the ways in which indigenous political tactics invited dominant subject positions to risk their re-enactment of privilege (i.e., voting). Instead of entering into a new alliance or broad coalition, for example, Chief Judith Sayers of the Hupacasath First Nation in Port Alberni (another transformative agent) invited being Canadian into an open temporal horizon of becoming other. Finally, politics takes time. As such, success must adopt an aesthetic measure beyond opposition, negation and finality. One example of such an aesthetic measure is transversality. Transversal struggles

are irreducible to clashes of rational identities that might be said to command a territory, control a population, project a cause...these struggles know no final boundaries between "inside" and "outside"...these struggles are waged in local sites, not upon a totalizing scale; they involve the play of difference, not a clash of identities already formed; and they neither reveal nor impose any absolute purpose, telos, or end (Ashley 1989: 299).

Such a measure allows for a more ephemeral appreciation of political transformation that is still embedded in local experimentations and lived experience. Since politics take time, actions that affirm new horizons often appear (in the immediate) to be inconsequential and counter-counter hegemonic. It requires an acceptance of being implicated in the world that one seeks to contest and a refusal to let go of the micro-political struggles that constitute and reproduce that world of sovereign capture. In other words, an untimely temporal politics requires "acting counter to our time and thereby acting on our time, and let us hope, for the benefit of a time to come" (Deleuze 1994: xxi) .

A Shifting Horizon

39. Appreciated as an Event the Pacific Rim becomes a political problem instead of a continental space in which politics occur. In the first section of this paper, the diagram of the Event demonstrates how the Pacific Rim is unfolding, normalizing and disciplining political possibilities. This appreciation itself constitutes a political intervention in the Event, however, a political dilemma emerges from this analysis that cannot escape notice. What happens to politics after the Event? Is it possible to do politics in such a way that will not in turn contribute to the expanding logic of the Event? Attempting to explore this question, the second section develops an immanent critique of the first. Proposing that at the heart of the Pacific Rim is a problem that cannot be solved, namely the Ocean, a politics that is "worthy of the Event" is developed. It is argued that such a politics cannot engage in onto-political posturing but instead must generate temporal horizons of becoming. When movement is recognized as the norm (and not the exception), politics ceases to be about whether to move and becomes the problem of how to move. In other words, critical politics learn how movements exceed the logic of other movements by amplifying what forces can become instead of separating other forces from what they can do. On the horizon of future studies, exploring these dynamics in concrete local cases and connecting them within an oceanic archipelago seems necessary if the quest of the Pacific Rim is to wash away like a face in the sand.


Geoffrey Whitehall's areas of teaching and research include critical international politics and contemporary cultural, social and political thought. His articles have appeared in Theory & Event and Millennium: Journal of International Studies. His current research focuses on aesthetics practices in Asia/Pacific politics and the antigenic shifts of sovereignty in the Avian Flu emergency.


I would like to thank Mike Shapiro, Nevzat Soguk, Jon Goldberg-Hiller, Sankaran Krishna, Kathy Ferguson, Warren Magnusson, Eric Ishiwata, Jodi Dean, Paul Passavant, Martin French and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on various drafts of this paper.  

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