Bing Gong at the Hong Kong WTO Dec 2005

Day 1 from Shanghai

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

I am here in China as a member of a reality tour/delegation sponsored by Global Exchange. We will be spending a few days in Shanghai and Guangzhou before going on to Hong Kong to protest at the World Trade Organization Ministerial December 13-18.

Global Exchange has contracted with WildChina, a travel agency based in Beijing, to arrange meetings with several non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and professors, and they will provide tour guides and interpretation.

It is important for us to pay attention to corporate-driven globalization,
as US workers are losing their jobs, family farmers are being pushed off
the land, and our laws protecting the environment are being weakened.
"If we do not try to understand the larger historical forces moving the
world today, we accede to them" - David Loy, The Great Awakening.

I am interested in making people more aware of the significance of WTO issues, and China as a new emerging global superpower. Each day when I am in China December 5 -19, I will be sending back e-mail reports of my experiences, impressions, and the latest in this round of trade negotiations..


Day 2 from Shanghai

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Our Global Exchange delegation is comprised of a small group of five folks: Chris is a curriculum designer from Tacoma, Washington and has lived in Cuba for five years. Wanda is a budding activist from Northern New Mexico, who protested against the war in Washington DC, and the experience totally has changed her. Darlene is a young person from El Paso, Texas, a director of religious formation for her Catholic parrish, and her parents lost their jobs because of globalization. Valerie is our group leader, and she is co-ordinator of Global Exchange’s anti-sweat shop campaign. And myself, here to see the new China after my first visit in 1987 and to protest at the Hong Kong WTO Ministerial next week.

Our tour guides are Claire and Merri. Claire is lively beautiful young woman with Beijing-based WildChina Travel Agency, originally from Wuhan, Hunan Province. She told of a harrowing experience she had hiking in the Three Gorges area of the Yangtze River. She wanted to see it before it became inundated by a huge dam project that will displace millions of people. Merri is our local Shanghai guide, born in Shanghai. During the Cultural Revolution, a period of turmoil and chaos from 1966 to 1976, she was like most people in China uprooted and lived in North of China. They both said they enjoyed working as tour guides, having a lot of freedom and not being tied down at a desk job. Our tour vehicle is a top of the line Toyota bus that can seat 25 people.

We started out the day by going to visit Roots and Shoots, an international non-governmental organization (NGO), supported by the Jane Goodall Institute They gave an inspiring presentation on the concrete projects that kids from kindergarden to college-age were doing to make the world a better place by caring for the environment, for animals, and for other people. The concept of “recycling” is new in China. There is no culture of conservation. Older generations did not have to worry about recycling because everything was used in former times. By reaching the kids and educating them on the importance of recycling in taking care of the environment, they in turn educate their parents and grandparents. And these kids will someday be in leadership positions and will be able to influence governmental policy. Some of their projects include: programs to recycle printer cartridges and phone books, going to small rural villages in Anhui Province to help alleviate poverty, and improving animal habitat at the zoo.

Then our tour guide took us to a popular authentic (opposed to catering to tourists) restaurant for a delicious lunch. Meals in China are always feasts and Shanghai cuisine is one of my favorites. They have the greatest dumplings.
After lunch, we went to the Shanghai Urban Planning Center, one of many ultra modern buildings in this dynamic, sprawling metropolis of more than 20 million people. The architecture is spectacular and very avant-garde.

I am astounded by the tremendous changes and growth here since my visit in 1987. Shanghai was originally one of five treaty ports opened to foreign colonial powers in the 19th century, a gateway for Western influence to the rest of China. It sometimes is called the “Paris of Asia,” and probably larger than New York City and its boroughs. They have a visionary plan to make Shanghai an international hub for trade by 2020, and be a model for other major Chinese cites in ensuring a safe natural environment, a highly efficient economy and a harmonious social structure. Our urban planners should go to Shanghai and take notes. There was a gigantic three-dimensional model of the city that was amazing, and you could get an overview of the entire city. A virtual reality show, 360 degrees around you, took you on a mind-blowing trip showing the future Shanghai, with its planning for new infrastructure and restoration. I am totally impressed with the technological prowess that is evident everywhere – in their computer graphics, their new subway system and their new magnetic suspension trains. As aside fact – China is turning out four times the engineering graduates than the US.

Next on our itinerary was the Shanghai Museum, where we got a taste of traditional Chinese traditional culture – ancient bronze vessels, Neolithic pottery, hand-crafted furniture, and carved jade. There was a wonderful exhibit of indigenous peoples crafts and traditional garments. Claire told us there are 56 ethnic groups in China – the Han people comprising 90% of them and the other 10% in the more remote areas of the country.

After leaving the museum, we took a short walk along the Bund where the great foreign commercial houses and banks built their imposing office buildings in the first half of the 20th century, along the Whangpoo River. It is a museum of architecture of various architectural styles – including French, German and British. They are juxtaposed with the shiny, glitzse new high-rises of Pudong, on the other side of the river, which will be the new global financial center and the direction of new growth in Shanghai. Ten years ago Pudong was farmland.

Then we had dinner with a Fudan University professor of economics. He gave a lecture on the role of NGOs in China, and how they should be promoted to fill the gap between the government and the market economy. Especially, in the case of the environment, because of the environment degradation created by development run amok has left a trail of air pollution and toxic wastes poisoning the water. New environmental NGOs are springing up to deal with these problems the central government and the owners of factories have neglected. After the lecture, we were able to ask questions and had an open and lively discussion about the Chinese economy and China in general.

Since we’ve been here, we’ve seen that China is as capitalistic and entrepreneurial as we are in the US. Given that China is nominally controlled by the Communist Party, Chris asked the professor was “what happened to communism in China?” And the professor replied with a famous saying by Deng Xiaoping: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches the mouse.” The Chinese are very pragmatic, and they have evolved their own way to economic development. In contrast to the collapse of the Soviet Union, where Russia went directly from a socialist economy to a market economy overnight and the ensuing chaos, China has taken a more gradual way. The professor told us that the central government has given provincial and local leaders more authority to open up to a market economy, a more decentralized approach.

I expressed my concerns over global warming, of how the automotive industry is still making gas-guzzling SUV’s, and how in Japan, Toyota and Honda are making hybrids. Soon China also will be able make their own cars. In 1987, you saw few cars and hordes of bicycles. Now, Shanghai has traffic congestion and freeways to rival our own, but you see that bicycles are still a primary way to get around. What will happen to the planet if and when people in China have the same percentage of car ownership as we do? I asked the professor if there was any movement in the direction of making hybrid vehicles and sustainable energy sources. He replied that he didn’t think that there was any concerted effort toward this direction.

I told him that workers in the US are seeing China as a threat to their jobs, as factories are being moved to China. Like most proponents of globalization, he said that “there will be winners and losers” in the process, but in the long run consumers would benefit from lower prices and market will make companies more efficient. Workers all over the world are being pitted against each other on “the race to the bottom.” I said I hoped we could find a win-win solution so that there would be no losers. 

Day 3 from Shanghai

Thursday, December 8, 2005

A young lively woman, named Jean, from Suzhou joins our delegation this morning. She will be our guide today as we all hop into our Toyota bus and head out of Shanghai. Suzhou is about 60 miles west of Shanghai. At 8 am, traffic is heavy going out of the city to the new six-lane freeway east. In the past few years, China has been building new infrastructure to accommodate their goal of being an international hub of trade by 2020 – freeways to the interior to transport goods, a deep-water port that can load and unload hundreds of ships, bridges to cross waterways, and a modern giant international airport.

On the freeway, we look out the window and see row upon row of newly built residential high-rise apartments all along the way to Suzhou. I wonder who occupies all these buildings. In 1987, I remember on the trip from Shanghai to Guangzhou, fields of farm land all along the railway. But on our drive today we see only patches of farmland.
After an hour’s drive, we arrive at Suzhou. Most of the buildings along the way our new and there is a lot of new construction going on. We drive past car dealships – Ford, Toyota, GM, Nissan, Cadillac. Fast food outlets are everywhere, especially McDonald’s and KFC. On the street level of tall buildings, there are small store-front businesses selling a diverse assortment of things – food, auto and construction supplies, restaurants, and beauty parlours. We pass by a theme amusement park.

Marco Polo called Suzhou, the “Venice of the Orient”. The ancient and moated city is famed for its gardens and silks and beautiful women. The town is built on a network of interlocking canals whose waters feed the series of renowned classical gardens. Our first stop is one of four famous gardens in Suzhou with a history of over 800 years. We stroll leisurely through the garden, with other tourists, on winding footpaths, a pond in the center, and gardens within gardens, and grotesque rock forms the delegation spends an hour in the garden’s store buying souvenirs and gift, having tea and cappuccinos.

We have lunch at a local restaurant with a sign recommending it by Lonely Planet. We have three different kind of dumplings and assorted dishes, all delicious. I will probably gain 20 pounds on this trip eating feast after feast.
After lunch, we drive to a silk factory open to tourists. We learn each stage of how silk is produced from the moths laying eggs on mulberry leaves. Within a month, the eggs hatch and fat silk worms grow up to 3 or 4 inches. Jean tells us to go ahead and pet the silk worms. Claire tells us she had silk worms pets as a child. Eventually the silk worms form small plump blimp-shaped cocoons, which are sort through for quality by hand and processed into raw silk on big machines. We learn the silk is made into stuffing for bulletproof flak jackets and quilts as well as fabric.

Next we visit a garment factory in a big five-story building. We are met by the plant manager, who takes us on a tour of the factory. On each floor are workshops full of young people at sewing machines assembling garments and cutting material into finished suits, jackets, and pants. The plant manager tell us most of the production is shipped all over the world, but mostly to Japan. Valerie, whose job is to direct Global Exchange’s anti-sweat shop campaign, surveys the efficient operation. Conditions in the plant seem to clean and well ventilated. The plant manager is open to questions. He tells us the young people working are from all over China, usually from the impoverish countryside. They work 8 to 10-hour days six day a week and get a two-week paid vacation to return home to visit their families. There is a lot of turnover and they received health benefits only after five years. They make an average of USD $200 a month, most of which they sent home to support their poor families in the village. They have free room and board, living in company dormitories and eating in the company cafeteria. Valerie observed that there much be a lot of pressure on the young people to do fast quality work, and that’s why there are no older people.

The information we learn at the factory explains a lot of things about China and globalization to me. The people that live in the buildings we saw along the freeway are probably factory workers and their families, and there must be thousands of factories that are shipping low-cost goods bound for Wal-Mart and all over the world. The goods are made with an endless supply of cheap labor from the impoverished rural areas. The migrant workers flock to the east coast to work in these factories in Shanghai, Guangzhou in the south, and special industrial regions, such as Shenzhen, open to foreign investment. China has become the workplace for the consumer market of the developed countries. They are currently making automobiles for their domestic market, and soon for the overseas market. China will also be making computers, airplanes, and heavy industrial goods. Its easy to see why China is dominating force in the global economy.

On my flight to Shanghai, I sat next to a man from Denver and was a salesman for a company that makes parts for tractors. He told me that his company moved their production overseas, and now has two or three plants in China and two in India. One day a farmer in the US called him complaining that he saw a made-in China sticker on his tractor. The farmer wanted to support American-made tractors. The salesman told him nothing is made in America anymore.



Day 4 from Shanghai

Friday, December 9, 2005

This morning we visited the YMCA in Shanghai. We met with its director, who gave us a talk on the projects they are working on. With all the new construction going on and factories here, migrant workers from rural farms are flocking to Shanghai for work. They and their families are often in need of services. Often their kids lack education and the YMCA has a project to help them. Another is to bring about more awareness of HIV/AID. He felt it was important to develop confidence in youth, so that they will be more socially responsible.

Next we spend a hour in Shanghai’s Old Town and is now a thriving shopping mall, featuring traditional Chinese crafts and goods. I stop and buy a gift for my grandson and have a café mocha at the Starbuck’s. Vendors sell fish food for people to feed the carp in the large pond surrounding the Yuyuan Garden Teahouse that I had visited in 1987. I take photos of kids throwing the food to the fish. The Christmas spirit is everywhere, Santa Claus and Christmas trees. It appears Christianity has survived and is thriving in Shanghai.

After lunch, we drive over to Pudong, across the Whangpu River that meanders through the heart of the city, 15 years ago Pudong was farmland, now towering skyscrapers have sprouted up everywhere, and a new international airport is being developed. We take a high-speed elevator up the 1,536-foot tall Pearl Tower. Much like Seattle’s Space Needle, it a landmark symbol of this unbelievable mega metropolis. We are treated to a bird’s eye view of Shanghai, both old and new, spanning as far as the eye can see. One has to see it to believe what going on here – the tremendous growth and development that has happened practically overnight. From this perspective, Chris and I ponder over China, with its 1.3 billion population (one fifth of the folks on this planet), as a dominant world player in the global economy and what it bodes for the world. Chris has many questions. What is the source of the investment funds for this booming development here? What agreements are made for loans and what is the cost to China? How much of taxes to the government goes back to the people for education, social and medical services? And how much to private business? It appears there is a growing middle class able to buy all the consumer products in the stores and many obviously own cars. I remark that globalization is so complex that it’s hard for an ordinary person to wrap their brain around it. You need to be a lawyer, able to interpret and understand the arcane trade rules of the WTO.

Afterwards, we move on to the Shanghai Historical Museum, with life-size wax figures in many different dioramas telling the story of Shanghai – of its growth from a small fishing village on China’s central eastern coast, to large port city, to the occupation of foreign powers, and to China’s independent. Many of the dioramas depict the poor native Chinese living in hovels during the foreign occupation juxtaposed with the opulent mansions in the French and British quarters of the city. You can see in Merri, our tour guide, how proud she is of the new modern Shanghai, and the new emerging China having risen up and thrown off its shackles. They seem to be going ahead no stopping them. But many are realizing the growth has come at a great price to the environment. China has eight of the world's 10 most polluted cities, and asthma and other respiratory diseases are rife. The recent toxic spill that is endangering the drinking water of Harbin in the north is an example of the pollution to their water.

We have dinner in a private room at a luxurious hotel restaurant. It’s way over the top, ostentatious with gold everything. The staff people are all costumed elegantly. I go to the bathroom, and there is an attendant who opens the door for me. When I finish and wash my hands, he immediately has paper towels for me, and opens the door for me when I leave. The food is supposed to be artistic creations, but to me a bit gaudy if I can use the word. There was a green and white rice pudding on a plate in the form of yin and yang. Wanda says the folks at the travel agency made the reservations for us here must a stereotypical views of Americans and what they like. I actually felt very uncomfortable there.

Joining us for dinner is a lawyer with a NGO, Grassroots Community, which got a grant from the Microsoft Foundation. They are running a program to teach underprivileged people learn computer skills. They help workers in legal suits against their employers and provide consultation on the environment. I asked him how he felt about China’s entry into the WTO. He replied he had strong reservations about it because if China lets the yuan fluctuate (now the yuan is pegged with the US dollars allowing Chinese exports to be cheaper) there could be a great deal of instability. He said China is a new member of the WTO and doesn’t have enough experience yet to have confidence that things will work out well for them. Also on the issue of intellectual property rights, if China signs on most of the profits will go to transnational corporations and they will lose some of their sovereignty.



Day 6 from Guangzhou

Saturday, December 10, 2005

I received an email last night about the massacre of several protesters at a fishing village in Guangdong Province. This is very disturbing and alerts us to the fact that there could be violence at the Hong Kong WTO Ministerial. We decide to stay together while we are there near the protests and away from the main action.

“The level of the violence this week had been unusual, but protests are becoming common. By the central government’s own account of the unrest in China, 3.6 million people took part in 74,000 "mass incidents" last year, an increase of more than 20% on 2003. As in Dongzhou, most of these demonstrations were about property and pollution.”(Guardian UK) How long will the Communist Party be able to keep the lid on the unrest? This, unfortunately, may be the only way democracy will come to China.

We took a two-hour flight to Guangzhou this morning. Guangzhou is the capital of Guangdong Province in South China. At one point in history it was the only port open to foreigners in China. Many of the Chinese who first came to the US were Cantonese. (Canton was the European name for Guangzhou) In a way it was a kind of homecoming for me. My father was born and raised in a small village, only two hours by car from Guangzhou. And my mother came from Foshan, a city next to Guangzhou. Hong Kong is only a short way away by rail. In 1987, I visited an aunt in the family village, but she has since pass away, and I have no close relatives in the village anymore.

Cantonese is spoken here in the south. Claire, our WildChina tour guide who comes from Hunan Province in central China, speaks “putonghua” (Mandarin – China’s official language) and says she cannot understand Cantonese. But most Cantonese speak “putonghua”. But all Chinese have the same written language, and often communicate by writing the Chinese characters. Hearing Cantonese spoken here brings me back to my childhood. Its musical quality is so familiar to me hearing it spoken at home growing up, although I never learned to speak it.

Guangzhou is a large city with a population of 10 million people, It has a completely different feel to it than Shanghai. Whereas Shanghai is cosmopolitan, Guangzhou is provincial. Whereas Shanghai is new and glitzy, Guangzhou is dingy. Shanghai has a temperate climate, whereas Guangzhou is tropical.

After checking in at our hotel, we go to the Xi Guan Old House built in the Qing dynasty. It is a grand mansion and we get an inside view of the household of a wealthy Chinese family, with its altar to the exalted ancestors and traditional furniture.

Later our delegation meets with three young women representatives from Lighthouse Plan, an NGO that is comprised of volunteers who go out to the poor rural areas to educate youth out of the goodness of the hearts. They try to convince kids to continue their education to broaden their perspectives, and they speak to the parents to allow their children to go to school. The volunteers are mostly college students, who volunteer during their school breaks to build a bridge between the cities and the rural areas, closing the increasing economic and cultural gap between them.

We tell them we are going to Hong Kong to protest the WTO, and we have a debate on globalization. Darlene tells them that she has personal experience with the effects of globalization after NAFTA. Both her mother and father worked in a garment factory in El Paso, Texas and earned decent wages. The factory moved to Mexico, and her parents lost their jobs. Later the factory moved to China for even lower labor costs.

From Virginia, the co-director of Lighthouse Plan, we hear the Chinese side of the globalization. When a foreign manufacturer, such as Proctor & Gamble, starts a factory in China, they are able to bring cheaper soap and cosmetics for consumers on the market. Chinese workers are paid more in these foreign-owned factories, and the foreign investment benefits the development of the country. Valerie, Global Exchange’s anti-sweat shop campaign coordinator, replies, using the example of Wal-Mart, that these foreign factories may put smaller factories out of business. But that makes for more efficiency in the marketplace, counters Virginia. Although there are state-sponsored unions, workers are not able to form their own unions to negotiate for higher wages and benefits.

They ask for advice on how they might improve their work. Chris suggests that they set goals for each project and try to evaluate their success, keep it simple and not do more projects than they can handle - quality not quantity. We suggest they link up with Roots and Shoots, the NGO we met in Shanghai, to build solidarity between them. Wanda tells them how inspiring their work is, using only volunteers. We part with exchanging gifts and the promise to continue the debate. Our meetings with NGO’s here in China have been very heartwarming, allowing us to have person-to-person contact and to share our mutual desire for peace in the world.



Day 7 from Guangzhou

Sunday, December 11, 2005

After breakfast, we begin our day going to Renmin Gong Yuan (The Peoples’ Park). It’s Sunday and the park is full of people enjoying their day off - strolling about or engaged in various activities. There are many trees sheltering the park like a giant arbor. It’s like a shared, common backyard. There is a real sense of community.

The local people make use of the park a lot because their small apartments are cramped and stuffy. Because there are so many people, they live in high-rise apartments. Most of the people in the park are retired people. The retirement age in China is 50 years old. They retire earlier than in our country to make room for younger people.

There are people practicing T’ai Chi Ch’uan, Chigong, playing badminton. Finding a small space, I do my Chigong exercises and Tai Chi. There are small ensembles playing traditional Chinese music, and another singing Cantonese Opera. And people sit on small stools enjoying the music and the opera. There are groups of men gathered about discussing politics. I walk around the park soaking in the sights, watching the people at leisure, enjoying themselves. The group is scheduled to move on to another site, but the group enjoys being here so much that we decide to stay another hour.

One of the most astonishing sights in the park is a large area where couples are dancing, and a few men dance unselfconsciously by themselves to music broadcast over a loudspeaker. The scene looks like a ballroom. They dance to waltzes and sambas and rumba, tangos and romantic Chinese love songs. I find myself very moved by this really sweet scene. Chris, Darlene and Wanda are asked to dance with them. Chris dances with a man in his 70’s. They dance gracefully to a lively Latin beat, and Chris has a hard time keeping up with him. It is a beautiful metaphor. If only our two countries could dance together – working cooperatively for our common human goals.

Times seem to be good in China, at least for now in the two cities we’ve visited, especially for people in the cities along industrial coastal cities of the east. (However, there is a huge economic and cultural gap between these cities and the impoverished rural areas of the interior.) People seem much more prosperous since 1987 when I was here last. They’ve had to endure so much suffering and hardships during the tumultuous history of the past century – the Japanese invasion, civil war ending with the victory of the Communist Party in 1949, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. Now is a moment in time they are savoring.

We move on to the Chen Family Pavilion, a huge complex of buildings and courtyards in the traditional Chinese architectural style. It is a popular tourist attraction with several shops with high quality arts and crafts. While there, I encounter several American couples with newly adopted Chinese baby girls.

In the afternoon, I take some down time and go back our hotel to rest. The rest of the group goes to meet with representatives from the Women and Gender Study Center at Sun Yat-sen University. Their primary function is to research conditions of workers and submit reports to the government, hoping to influence policy, as well as representing workers in disputes with employers.

In the evening, I rejoin the group for dinner and we meet with Dr. Liu Kaiming. He founded the Institute of Contemporary Observation (ICO), an NGO concerned with helping migrant workers and empowering them, and teaching companies to be socially responsible. Dr. Liu is an energetic passionate man with a vision of a growing powerful labor movement in China capable of changing the society. Wanda says he could be the Hugh Chavez of China.



Day 8 from Hong Kong

Monday, December 12, 2005

We leave for Hong Kong this morning by rail. We say goodbye to Claire, our WildChina tour guide, who has been so wonderful to us and become a dear friend to us in the short time that we spent together. We threaten to kidnap her and take her with us. She jokingly holds out her hands to surrender to us, wishing she could. We part with heavy hearts, knowing we will miss her.

Jack, our Guangzhou guide, takes us to the railway station to see us off. He tells us how much he has learned about the plight of the migrant workers visiting the NGOs with us, and that he will try to help them in any way he can. The other guides, Claire and Merri, also said how much they learned with us and from us. There was a lot of intimate sharing of the personal details of our lives. We got a sense of what life is like under Communist Party rule from them, and they learned a lot about Americans and our society.

After two hours, we arrive in Hong Kong and check into our hotel. It is in Kowloon on southeastern tip of the Chinese mainland. Across Victoria Harbor is Hong Kong Island. The greater Hong Kong Area also encompasses the New Territories and many of the outlying islands with a population of around 7 million. In 1997 Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule after 150 years of British control. Most of the people desire Hong Kong to become a genuine democracy but are a minority in the legislature. It is a very special situation, the relationship between Hong Kong and the central government is still evolving. Life seems to have continued here as before. There is greater freedom of speech in Hong Kong compared with the mainland.

We take the Metro, Hong Kong’s modern subway system, to Hong Kong Island. The group splits up. Valerie, Darlene and Chris go to a forum on “Improving Labor Rights in China” near the convention center where the WTO Ministerial is being held. Wanda and I take the Metro to Victoria Park, where the many delegations that have come to Hong Kong to protest the WTO have booths and tents. Many of the forums discussing the diverse issues involving the WTO and rallies will be held here. There not much going on at Victoria Park so Wanda and I decide to go the Labor Rights forum.
China’s economic boom has come at a price. This is the dark side of “the Chinese miracle.” As China has become the factory for the world, it has been on the backs of the low-paid workers who are denied the freedom to organize independent trade unions. They work in sweatshop conditions, exploited and expendable, often treated inhumanely. We hear the testimony of a woman worker, who said her employers beat her. Working conditions are often deplorable, with health and safety violations and long working hours. Recently, workers at a factory that produces batteries for export have been diagnosed with high levels of cadmium poisoning. The workers have since stated that they have not received proper treatment and have not been adequately compensated. When they complained, the factory management ordered their security staff to physically attacked them.

One of the speakers at the forum is Han Dong Fang, a well-known dissident and human rights activist banned from returning to the mainland. He says: “Investors are always looking for cheaper labor. In China they find workers who are stripped of all dignity, and they have no bargaining power. That’s what makes the labor so cheap. If the workers were able to negotiate with the investors, they could obtain a decent level of pay.”

In the evening, I attend a forum on “Militarism and Neo-Liberalism: A Two-headed Monster.” The US has military bases all over the world to maintain America’s superpower status and empire. Wars have been fought in the name of transnational corporations imposing the neo-liberal agenda - “free trade”, privatization, and market access. All we need do is look at the war in Iraq. As soon as the US forces took control, Iraq was opened up to American corporations to work on reconstruction projects, and everything was privatized. To paraphrase a quote by Thomas Friedman, columnist for the NY Times, on how American economic hegemony in the world is maintain by the American military: “there would be no McDonald outlets in the world without McDonald-Douglas.”



Day 9 from Hong Kong

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The day begins with a rally at Victoria Park, a very large park a mile away from the Hong Kong Convention Center where the WTO trade ministers from 149 countries are meeting. There are rousing speeches. I learn four words in Cantonese: “Kong Yee Sai Mau” – down with the WTO. There are many contingents of Korean farmers with different colored scarves, probably from different areas of South Korea. At the Cancun WTO Ministerial, a Korean farmer killed himself and galvanized the protesters there – demonstrating that the WTO policies kill farmers’ livelihoods. The police here are preparing for violent encounters with them, remove trash containers and anything that can be thrown along the march route. Many businesses have closed and have been boarded up in anticipation of vandalism.

It reminds me of the Seattle WTO Ministerial in 1999, where a coalition of labor, environmental, and social justice groups came together to derail the talks. The protesters are from all over Asia – Taiwan, the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. They are here to disrupt the talks again. It has been said that no agreement is better than a bad agreement since they impact their lives and livelihoods. The march is festive and vibrant. The sound of drums fills the air and adds drama. I won’t spend anytime here describing the march since you can view my photos on my blog.

The march winds through the business areas of Causeway Bay and Wan Chai to the Convention Center. The end of the march is near the Convention Center on the docks overlooking Victoria Harbor and Kowloon on the other side. There the marchers sit down and listen to speeches and youth groups singing. At one point 100 Korean farmers strip, put on bright orange life preservers, and dive into the harbor attempting to swim to the Convention Center. They are met and picked up out of the water by Hong Kong Police patrol boats. At the same time Korean farmers attempt to break through a phalanx of police armed with clubs and protective equipment. They charge the police, and the police push them back, shooting pepper spray on them. Some have carried a platform of wood with a colorful casket and it is set on fire. A few of the Korean get bashed, but no one is seriously injured. They surge back and forth, and it ends in a standoff and eventually the protesters disperse. I have to commend the Hong Police for maintaining their composure in the face of such a volitile situation.



Day 10 from Hong Kong

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Wherever the World Trade Organization meets – Seattle in 1999 and Cancun in 2003 (Doha, Qatar in 2001 did not allow protesters) – it is met with vigorous protests because of the neo-liberal corporate-driven agenda it promotes. This agenda includes liberalization of trade and privatization of services – education, water distribution, healthcare, and banking - that impact the lives of millions of peasants, farmers, workers, and urban poor all over the world. They have promised increase growth and decreased poverty. But after 10 years, people can see that it is a failed model – the gap between rich and poor has widen, jobs and livelihoods have been lost, displacement and hunger the norm in developing countries. Those who benefit the most are those at the top – the business elites.

At the same time these WTO ministerials are going on, there are forums and teach-ins educating people about what the WTO is up to, and the latest strategies to counter it. When I go to them, I hear inspiring speakers and always learn more about the scope and complexity of the WTO, and its impact on every aspect of our lives. The following is a list of some of the forums that people can attend:

Action and Strategy
Militarism & Neo-Liberalism – Two Headed Monster?
Tourism & the GATS: Implications for Sustainablility in Developing Countries
Become a Trade Lawyer in One Hour or Less: Learn to Decode Tricky Trade Jargon
The GATS Attack: Mode 4 and its Strategic Implications
Free Trade Agreements & the WTO: Complementary Agents of Neoliberalism
Defending Cultural Diversity From the WTO
Defending Public Services: Creating Jobs and Protecting Communities
Another Future: Alternatives to the WTO and the Bretton Woods Institutions
Asian Social Movements Assembly
The Impacts of Neo-Liberal Policy and the Alternative: Food Sovereignty
Making the Links: the Great Unemployment Round
Fish for Sale: How NAMA Negotiations Impact Fishing Communities and the Environment
Impact of 10 Years of WTO: Farmers and the Environment
The WTO and Developing Countries Right to Protect
Alternatives to the WTO and Corporate Globalization
China and Globalization: What to Know about the “New China” and its Importance
for Global Social Justice
The Politics of a Future Flu Pandemic: Neo-liberalism, Drug Companies and 
Corporate Farming
Women take on WTO: Women’s Resistance to the Corporate Hijack of Food and Health
Winners and Losers: Big Business Against Women, Workers and the Environment
GATS Without Brakes – Struggles of People against GATS
Iraq: Ground Zero of Globalization and War
Trade: War By Other Means
Our Challenge & Resistance to Neo-liberal Policy – Another World is Possible! 
Beyond WTO and AoA: Alternative Rules of Agriculture
The Imposition of the Neo-liberal Agenda in the Americas: Free Trade, Militarism and Debt
Building Solidarity Amongst Garment, Farm and Other Migrant Workers from San Francisco 
to Hong Kong

I decide to attend three forums today.

Asian People’s Voices – Impact of WTO on Asian Communities: A Testimony of Experiences
We hear testimonials from farmers, workers, and women from all over Asia. From farmers, the common theme is they cannot compete with subsidized imports - such rice, corn, sugar, and cotton - from the US and the European Union (EU) dumped into their domestic markets because they are lower than their cost of production. Since they can’t make a living on the land, they migrate to the cities in search of work. Many commit suicide. Subsidies are a major bone of contention in the current Hong Kong WTO Ministerial. Developing countries are demanding that the US and the EU cut agricultural subsidies, lower their tariffs and open their markets to their exports. The US and EU have so far refused to do this to any significant degree, so the talks are likely to collapse again as in Cancun in 2003. This would throw the WTO into disarray and question its legitimacy. This might provide space to establish more socially and economically just fair trade alternatives.

HIV/AIDS is an enormous problem in Asian countries. The life-saving anti-viral drugs that people need are so expensive they cannot afford buy them. The drugs are expensive because huge transnational pharmaceutical corporations own the patents, or intellectual property rights, on them. And under a WTO agreement called “Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights” or TRIPS, countries are required to adopt US-style intellectual property laws, such as granting monopoly sales rights to individual patent holders for extended time periods. Asian countries that have signed on to the WTO are banned from buying generic anti-viral drugs from countries such as, Brazil or Argentina, that have the pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity to produce these drugs at very affordable prices. The WTO TRIPS rules have been the subject of a major international fight regarding poor countries’ rights to issue compulsory licenses for these essential medicines.
Many of the testimonials complain about public services that are being privatized. The WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), creates rights for foreign corporations to provide services that were formerly public services provided by the government, in other words being privatized for profit. GATS covers all services including health care, education and utilities such as water, data management, energy, banking, transportation and insurance. When these services are privatized, the rates are increased and poor people can no long afford them. At anti-globalization demonstrations, one of the common slogans is “People Before Profits.”

A woman from Cambodia testifies that young women are forced into the sex trade because of poverty and need access to HIV/AID treatment drugs. They are forced to earn money by their parents. She said scientific experiments are performed on sex workers like they were animals.

A farmer from Thailand testifies the relationship between the farmer and nature has changed. In order to produce cash crops for exports, they are using chemical inputs, fertilizers and pesticides. They are being pushed to buy genetically modified (GMO) seeds from Monsanto. Because Monsanto has inserted a gene in their seed and has a patent on it, farmers are no longer able to save their own seeds to plant, which they have traditionally done. They are locked into returning each year to buy Monsanto seeds. As chemical inputs and seeds are expensive, farmers are going into debt and bondage.

In India, indigenous forest people who depend on the forest for their livelihoods are being impacted as WTO agreements allow foreign corporations to come and cut down trees. These forest lands were formerly the eminent domain of the government.

A woman from the Philippines says that women bear the brunt of poverty caused by WTO policies. They are most affected and carry the burden of because of gender roles. As education costs become higher and higher, poor families can only send their sons to school, so women are not being educated.

It becomes clear that all these problems are not local, but are global problems. People all over the world now are coming together in solidarity to work together against the neo-liberal agenda and global finance. This forum certainly illustrated that fact.

Become a Trade Lawyer in One Hour or Less: Learn to Decode Tricky Trade Jargon
This workshop designed to help non-lawyers interpret trade agreement language. It is taught by Lori Wallach, Director of Global Trade Watch. These agreements have deep and direct impacts on many facets of the daily lives of people everywhere, but the meaning and implications of their terms are often unintelligible. They are written in a technical trade jargon and have extremely precise legal meanings, which can turn on the slight difference of a verb’s tense. They are also only available in English, putting non-native speakers at a disadvantage from the start. The WTO is like an infinitely complex labyrinth, so you need someone with Lori’s expertise to guide you through the complexities. As I attend these forums and workshops, I get another piece of the puzzle, make connections, and get a fuller picture of the WTO.

Some background on globalization by Lori Wallach, Director of Global Trade Watch
“Globalization is a defining phenomenon of our time. The current model, corporate economic globalization, is a version of globalization which is being implemented by a new array of international commercial agreements. While these pacts are called “trade” agreements, today’s international commercial agreements no longer focus solely on traditional trade matters, such as reducing tariffs and quotas. Instead, the main mechanisms of globalization, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), contain a comprehensive set of one-size-fits-all policies to which signatory countries are required to conform their domestic laws and regulations. These pacts prioritize commerce over other goals and values, in part by setting constraints on what environmental, food or product safety, social justice and other policies our national, state and local governments may implement.”

Defending Water Commons
There is a water crisis in the world today. Wars of the future could be over water, as more and more people do not access to water. Water sources are becoming more polluted and undrinkable. Ursula, from Mexico, tells us Mexico could lose up to 65% of its corn growing area due to climate change. Dale Wen reports that China’s water pollution victims are mostly rural. As China becomes the world’s factory, it becomes the world’s dumping ground. 60% of China rivers are polluted. Many people are suffering from cancer and liver problems as a result. Vandana Shiva, one of my anti-globalization heroes, tells the story of how women in India took on Coca Cola because it sucks up the ground water of communities and stop them. There are people’s movements to stop the privatization of water for profit in many developing countries. Water is sacred and a human right. It is part of the public commons and should be protected from being privatized.



Day 11 from Hong Kong - Part 1

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I start the day exploring Yau Ma Tei, the business and residential neighborhood around our hotel. Nathan Road is the major commercial thoroughfare a block away. Strolling off the main drag a few blocks, I find myself in a three-block long wholesale fruit district. Curious, I look at the boxes of fruit to see where they came from. (According to my guide book – “Hong Kong has a very small agricultural base. Only 2.3 % of the total land area is under cultivation and just over 20,400 people – a mere 0.3% of the total population – is engaged in agriculture and fishing. Most food is imported from the mainland.”) I find a microcosm of globalization.

Grapes from the USA
Strawberries from New Zealand
Oranges from Australia
Pomelo from Thailand
Dragon Fruit from Vietnam(a most unusual and exotic fruit like a red papaya with green sprouts on top, indeed looking like a dragon)
Oranges from Taiwan
Apples from Washington State
Papaya from Malaysia
Honeydew Melons from Mexico
Mangoes from the Philippines
Papayas and Pineapples from the Philippines

Down past the wholesale fruit district is the hardware and industrial machinery district, hundreds of street-level small storefront shops selling everything from compressors to nuts and bolts. Most of the streets have high-rise apartment buildings, and have restaurants, stores and shops of all sorts at the street level. There are no tract homes in Hong Kong. Everyone lives in an apartment in a high-rise. Yau Ma Tei is a bustling and busy place. I find myself very much at home with my favorite down-home Cantonese cuisine everywhere – dumplings and noodles shops, dim sum, and congee restaurants.

In the afternoon, I take the metro underground across Victoria Harbor to Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island. The Boys and Girls Club is a major venue for the various workshops and forums being held during the WTO Ministerial. I attend a couple of them.

Impact of 10 Years of WTO: Farmers and the Environment
The moderator opens up the forum stating that in the last 10 years we’ve witnessed farmers committing suicide, biodiversity erosion, and global warming. She gives us some historical background on the destruction to the environment and the world’s peoples by, first of all, colonialism, and the fight for liberation from colonialism.

And then by the US aid program, which led an attempt to bring corporations into post-colonial new countries through these aid programs, which worked to the benefit of the corporations and not to the benefit of the people. This was followed by World Bank projects - dams built in developing countries, and there was a electric power plant built on a fault line in the Philippines. They were built at great cost, not only in terms of the borrowing that had to done, but also in terms of the local development resources used in order to build these projects. No reasonable bank would have funded them because there was no way they could ever be paid back what it cost to build the projects. This created a great deal of debt that brought in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to bail out the developing countries, which wreaked its own destruction on the world, on the environment, on the farmland, and on the people through its conditionalities. In order to receive these loans, the governments were required to divert funds for reforms and social services, and radically changed the economies of the global south in order to make them match the trade system that the northern powers had created.

All these of things were tremendously destructive to these countries, but then came along the trade agreements – the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), and then the World Trade Organization (WTO) which is a neo-colonial attempt, through all kinds of skullduggery, to take control of the resources, the labor, and the economies of the global south in order to benefit the corporations of the north. Whose interest is not, and has never been, in the creation of a real community project, but has been in the creation of a world trade system that will favor large corporations. It benefits those corporations that have the capacity and the capital to operate trans-nationally, and to make huge profits out of this new system. All of these have been enormously destructive.

The hope of the panel is “to bring together all that we have experienced, our joint experiences, in an attempt to deal with this destruction in a different way, so we might leave here with some better understanding on what we might be able to do together to stop this destruction to farmers, to farm land, to biological diversity, to the climate, and to the planet itself and the people on it, as a result of these destructive forces.”

Dale Wen, a panelist with the International Forum on Globalization, spoke about the rural situation in China, using the example of sugarcane production in Guangxi Province. Within 6 months of China joining the WTO, the price for sugar went down 35%, profits were diminished because of the export subsidies by rich countries depressed world sugar prices. So Chinese farmers cannot compete, and get less and less, as their profit margin declined. Although sugar prices did go up after a while, the farmers did not benefit because of the longer supply chain trading globally, with many middle dealers, between the farmers and consumers, taking a cut. This is also true in the US. The farmers only get a small percentage of the final price to consumers. It the big transnational commodity corporations, such as Cargill and Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM), that reap all the profits. And in order to get the same income, Chinese farmers had to put more land into cultivation, which was detrimental to the land.

Mr. Krishan Bir Choudhary, the next panelist from India, told us 700 million people in India depend on agriculture as a way of life. In the ten years that India has been in the WTO, 40,000 farmers have committed suicide because they have lost their livelihoods. Dale says that suicides in China are also a problem. Farmers provide food for society, feeding the world so this is a shame. Through the WTO multinational corporations are trying to control the food supply by having a monopoly in the seed sector. Monsanto has developed genetically modified BT cotton, (BT is a naturally occurring pesticide) and sold the seeds to farmers. But the farmers who planted this seed experienced crop failures, and the company did not pay any compensation.

India use to be self sufficient in the oil seed sector, and now 60% has to be imported. Sheep died when they ate the BT cotton, and farmers have developed skin allergies. Small farmers can’t compete with large mechanized farms. And now Monsanto has a GM seed that self-destructs, so it can’t be planted to grow the next generation of crops. It is called the “terminator” gene, so farmers have to come back to Monsanto each year to buy seed, and thereby capturing the market. Every country should protect their food security and water.

Kamal Nath, India’s trade minister, is quoted: “The Hong Kong meeting is really about 650 million people who live on less than US$1 a day, versus developed countries which pay US$1 billion a day in agricultural subsidies.”

Ursula Oswald, a panelist from Mexico, tells us that after 10 years of signing onto the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), between the US, Canada, and Mexico, the price of corn has gone down 64%, and beans down 46%, because their markets were opened up to subsidized imports. 80% of the rural population lives in poverty. Because women aren’t able to get enough nutrition, babies are born with brain damage. This is a kind of “perverse poverty.”

Like many other countries experiencing global warming and climate change, more land is becoming desert in Northern Mexico and there is less water. Because everything has been privatized Mexico has lost its food security, having to depend on imported food. Mexico has a population of 102 million people, 25% still are poor farmers. Now because they can’t survive by farming, 2 million have left the countryside to live in the cities or go north to attempt to cross the US border illegally. Many have died in the attempt. And now many from Central America and South America also are migrating. There are a lot of slums developing. Mexico City now has a population of 25 million. There are 1.5 million youth who can’t get jobs. These are global problems happening all over the world, in China and India, while the global elites are getting richer. 178 billion dollars is being spent to import food, which could have been spent for infrastructure, the environment and development. The WTO is a very perverse system of world trade.

Vandana Shiva, anti-globalization activist from India, says that agriculture will make or break the WTO. Agricultural is the issue. Nothing will move until agriculture moves, but the US only want agriculture to move in the direction of trade liberalization. Europe has rich landlords and small farmers. But Europe doesn’t have the giant agribusiness corporations. It does not have the Cargill and the Monsanto. It is Cargill, Monsanto, ConAgra and ADM, who are driving the liberalization in agriculture. And Cargill wrote the WTO agreement on agriculture. So the US wants to make Europe the bad guy who is holding up progress in the talks. Since the small farmers have political clout, Europe is not able to go totally down the road of trade liberalization, because they want to protect their small family farms. The problem is free trade and agriculture. “Agriculture is not the kind of thing that can be subjected to these free trade agreements. There is talk of giving more aid to least developed countries so they can join the free trade system. The issue really is: will development be it counted as sovereignty, food sovereignty of farmers, food sovereignty of country, food sufficiency - the right to be able to provide for yourself, or will it be counted as free trade for Cargill so that they can push more farmers off the edge, and push more consumers into lack of freedom about what they eat?”

Industrialized agriculture is non-sustainable because it required so many chemicals, which is destroying the land. It sucks wealth and is a negative system, taking more than it gives. That is why it needs subsidies. There are surpluses because it promotes monoculture. In India we are now working on developing a more sustainable, ecologically diverse agriculture. Small family farms that grow organically and have direct links with the consumer. They have proven to be 3 to 5 times more productive than industrialized farms, and have higher income since they don’t require chemical inputs. This is the way to solve the problem of poverty, not more aid programs.

“We have reached a moment in history where if we join hands for these common principles, the common principle that farming everywhere should be sustainable and ecological - conserving the land, the soil, the water, and the biodiversity - that small farmers everywhere have the right to live, and therefore, all governments, rich or poor, north or south, have a duty to protect small farmers, and trade can only be based on the participation of small farmers as producers, not as destitute, not as beggars, not as dependent which is the way they would like to go with the kind of proposals in WTO. We have reached a moment in history where small farmers of the world can change the world and shape the future. And we should thank the Korean farmers for they have kept the issue clearly stated. And they have carried a huge burden on behalf of all of us. And now is the time to shape agriculture on our terms, and called the bluff on productivity, efficiency, surpluses, income generation and growth. All this work will have to be done on the land, on the ground, in our communities, in our countries. But when we join hands together, there really is a lot we can shape. We are in a moment of deep transformation of our food and agriculture system, and that system has to be based on our own freedom - the right to choose what we grow and how we grow it, the right to choose what we eat, and the ability to say no to genetically modified foods, and the ability to say no to chemicals.”




Source: - Click here for more information