Editor's note: This week, Antiwar.com is on the spot in Hong Kong for
the Sixth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference. This is the
third in a series about the issues surrounding the conference, the people involved,
and the roles played by the U.S. and China in this debate.
Since Tuesday, the Sixth Ministerial has proceeded
more or less according to plan – the delegates remain holed up in the Exhibition
Center facing the harbor, and the protesters remain entrenched at Victoria Park.
No real altercations have occurred involving the infamous Koreans, and, as of
yet, no breakthroughs have been recorded. Another productive round…
trade symposium carries on, ponderously
informing journalists, students, and interested citizens of the intricacies
of trade policy, economic growth, tariffs and subsidies, etc., ad nauseam, and
one begins to understand the wrath of the poor and destitute who view the WTO
as naught but a convoluted mechanism through which the rich continue subjugating
The argument then becomes: reform or abolish? And that this question is on
the table, regardless of whom one asks – a Korean labor activist, Indonesian
farmer, European Parliament member, or an American delegate – speaks volumes
on the successes of the WTO thus far.
The Koreans are all that keep this conference exciting, it seems, with rumors
flying of suicide and a massive rally against the Conference planned for this
Sunday, when the whole city has a day off and migrant workers from the very
countries most heavily represented by the protesters flood the streets.
The Koreans themselves are holed up in Chungking and Mirador Mansions, when
not at Victoria Park demonstrating. These two "mansions" are infamous havens
of destitute and desperate travelers, thieves, and hustlers, and have the cheapest,
funkiest rooms in the city.
The mansions are run by Indians, Pakistanis, and avaricious Hong Kong landlords
with African fiefdoms dotted throughout the 16 floors of each house. It is one
center of the vast Hong Kong underworld, and the Koreans are posted
up into the early hours of the morning. There are Democratic Labor Party
representatives, students who should be taking exams, trade union and peasant
movement representatives, and a large number of farmers as well.
They realized that the image of all protesters was being tarnished by the violent
nature of Korean protests, and the Korean movement moved across the harbor from
the Exhibition Center and Victoria Park itself. Activists in "WTO Kills
Farmers" uniform and face paint sat on Nathan Road in front of the mansions
and attracted crowds, as always, and were shadowed by the police, as always.
The Korean activists made a concerted effort to hand out leaflets on one of
Hong Kong's busiest thoroughfares, Nathan Road, which runs from the pier clear
through to the New Territories. Activists also changed their habit of broadcasting
all speeches in Korean and translated their policies and views on the WTO for
a crowd of several hundred locals just outside of Victoria Park.
They aim to improve the image of the Korean delegation in particular and the
protests in general, informing the public of the woeful successes of the WTO
and reassuring the police that murder and mayhem are not on the agenda.
"We haven't had any problems since Tuesday," said one police officer
with a calming smile. "And we don't expect any problems for Sunday. Everything's
Nearer to the Exhibition Center across the harbor, the police are dressed like
paratroopers, with bags and pouches dangling, Kevlar armor bulging out from
under their military green uniforms.
"We are in this position in case the Korean activists decide to disrupt
the meeting," said one stalwart young recruit. "We will move forward
and secure the area if they do."
Koreans are arguing specifically against the privatization of public services
and the destruction of the domestic rice industry through cheap imports, something
any European can understand. The difference between the plight of the Korean
farmer and the French farmer lies in the social security net existing throughout
Europe and the extent to which the Korean and EU governments implement and adhere
to their agreements.
Korea, unfortunately for the locals, has kept its word. The EU has not yet
given its word, staunchly defending its interests to the point of dragging down
this meeting in Hong Kong into a free-for-all slugging match involving Latin
American, Caribbean, and African banana, sugar, and cotton growers and the EU.
"If you look at the men charging the barricades, at the men jumping into
the sea, they are not young men. They are old men," explained Jens Galschiot,
artist and activist. "I think the attitude
of the Koreans is OK, it is understandable. For them, this meeting decides their
lives, will determine their bread and butter. For me, as a European, I am not
personally affected. I can go home and continue my life."
Bae Joon Beom, a member of Korea's Democratic Labor Party, passes out informational
leaflets outside of Chungking Mansions with his fellow activists and party members.
He fields questions from confused Westerners every five minutes or so.
"We are fighting for the lives of the farmers here, and this is something
that most protesters, most people cannot understand – the organization you see
[with the Korean protest movement], the determination and anger – these are
all reflections of the situation in which Korean farmers find themselves,"
he said. "There is a role for the WTO, but not like this, not at the expense
of the poor and the gain of the rich."
As Bae informs and fumes, suits discuss the legal framework for admission into
the WTO, compliance and economic growth vs. environmental degradation, afterwards
schmoozing and chatting. The frustration and anger people feel toward the only
multilateral framework to date with the potential to put a legal fence around
rampant 21st century globalization will most likely explode into destructive
rage. If this round proceeds as predicted, expect ample talk, little outcome.
If this is the case, beware of media and police there to make sure the world
witnesses the insanity of the protester in the face of reasonable WTO horse-trading:
livelihoods are at stake.
As of 9 p.m. Friday, rumors floated about that the Ministerial will be preparing
a revised and updated version of the previous agreements with progress in a
few fields, if not in the all-important sector of agricultural subsidies, for
presentation at noon Saturday…