Jane Kelsey WTO: The Antidote to Fear-Mongering
The Antidote to Fear-Mongering
BULLETIN #2 FROM HONG KONG: 12 December 2005
By Dr Jane Kelsey
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The battle for the hearts and minds of Hong Kong took a turn yesterday when the first mass mobilization against the WTO was a colourful, festive and totally peaceful affair. Local media reports expressed surprise; yet their stories were still refracted against the expectation of violence and continued predictions that it will occur.
Close to 5000 people rallied in Victoria Park and marched through the streets of Causeway Bay and Wan Chai to government buildings in Central Hong Kong, dancing, singing and chanting “Kong Yee Sai Mau” – Stop the WTO’s Corporate Agenda. Curious locals packed the footpaths and over-bridges to watch, many taking photographs. A few joined in.
Migrant women workers led the march, in spite of pressure to stay away, waving masses of purple banners that had lined the grass fields at Victoria Park since the morning. Many other local groups, including the churches, trade unions and students, put the lie to claims that Kong Kong people do not support the call to oppose the WTO. They were joined by thousands of international participants, most visibly from the global farmers group La Via Campesina, the International League of People’s Struggle, the International Confederation of Free Trade Union, women’s organizations, human rights groups and environmental NGOs.
People began gathering in the morning, despite the unseasonable heat. The mood was festive. A massive ‘WTO-saurus’ was paraded around the grounds and carried through the march by migrant women, some wearing traditional dress. Groups of women combined their picnics with blowing up coloured plastic batons. Drums played. Giant orange and red plastic balls painted with slogans were bounced from head to head.
The march culminated with a steep climb and the inevitable speeches. Most poignant, though, was the small but powerful presence of Korean farmers holding vigil for their comrade Lee Kyung Hei, who sacrificed his life during the protests in Cancun in 2003.
Not everything went smoothly. After much prevarication the government had allocated use of Victoria Park for the week’s anti-WTO activities. The park is large, but located several kilometers from the Convention Centre where the WTO meeting will be held. Under Hong Kong law these activities are required to have insurance. No insurance company would provide cover. So the park authorities refused to allow the erection of any structures, initially including a stage. They even blocked entry of part of a sculptural exhibit – reversing their decision once had been taken away.
They also refused permission for a permanent media tent. The Christian Conference Asia, for example, convened its press briefing in the open air, using a megaphone and with their banner draped between trees, to report the conclusion of their conference – that the WTO violates Christian principles of social justice and solidarity and should be dismantled.
Despite these obstacles, the demonstration will be counted as a victory for the critics of the WTO. Another march is timed to coincide with the opening of the Ministerial Conference tomorrow. Numbers of foreign participants will be swollen by more activists and accredited NGOs who have come into town, but it is a working day for the migrants. They are expected to be back in force next Sunday for the final march on what has been declared Migrants Day.
A challenge of strong but peaceful opposition to the WTO has been laid at the feet of the trade ministers. Attention will now turn to events inside the conference. Delegations have begun arriving, fresh from a major wrangle in Geneva where many poorer countries accused WTO Director General Pascal Lamy of dishonest treatment in the text he has forwarded for discussion by the ministers. The activists see it as their task to strengthen the resolve of those governments to stand firm when the MC6 opens tomorrow.
World Trade: Prelude To WTO Round: Jane Kelsey Reports