WTO week in Hong Kong

December 12-18, 2005

Monday, December 12

Macau

From the Philippines I flew across the South China Sea to Macau, the former Portuguese colony which reverted to direct Chinese control in 1999.

Macau

This was my first visit, but I wasn't very interested in visiting casinos (Macau's claim to fame.) I rode a city bus directly to the ferry terminal and boarded a Turbojet fast ferry to Hong Kong. I arrived about 9pm and rode the clean and efficient MTR (Mass Transit Railway) to Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon.

Chungking Mansions

Destination: Chunking Mansions, the aging firetrap where I've stayed several times since my first trip to Hong Kong in 1974. The price for a single room at Travelers Hostel is twelve U.S. dollars. It's a dump, but in my opinion a great bargain considering that Hong Kong is one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit.

Chungking Mansions

I checked in, dropped my bag and jumped back on the MTR to go visit Chris Martin, who was staying at Caritas Blancas Hotel up in Jordan.
She was tired from a strenuous week traveling in China, but ready for an action-packed week at the WTO Ministerial here in Hong Kong.


Tuesday, December 13

In the morning I went back to Chris' hotel again and we headed to Victoria Park in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, where a rally was already in progress. There were several thousand people in the park, listening to speeches and music, and networking. Labor, environmental, and social justice activists had come from all over the world, Asia especially - Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand; to protest and try to disrupt the Ministerial meetings.

rally at Victoria Park  Chris Pforr and Chris Martin

march

Next it was time to start the day's march.

We marched through the streets of Hong Kong for about an hour, then arrived at the Cargo Handling Area which had been offered by the city as a rally point for the protestors. It was right across from the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center where the WTO Ministerial was being held.

Chris Martin with Global Exchange trip companions

Chris with two of her Global Exchange trip companions.


Wednesday, December 14.

Chris and I spent most of the day attending WTO-related workshops at the Hong Kong Boys & Girls Club, sponsored by the dynamic NGO Our World is Not for Sale.
In the morning it was "Tourism & the GATS: Implications for Sustainablility in Developing Countries," and in the afternoon "Defending the Water Commons" (water is an increasingly contentious issue in all the world, with many implications for the WTO.)


Thursday, December 15.

I went to three separate events:
1. Visit to the Fair Trade Fair at the HK Trade Exhibition Hall, learning a lot about small cooperative efforts to expand fair trade opportunities, especially for craftspeople and artisans.
2. "Pulling the Rug From Under Their Feet: How the World Bank and IMF Reduce Developing Countries Trade Policy Options"
3. "China and Globalisation: What to Know About the 'New China' and Its Importance for Global Social Justice." This was the most informative event I've ever attended about China. There was a panel discussion with leading China scholars and activists from within China: brilliant, disturbing and even a little hopeful.


Friday, December 16.

Chris Martin and I took the day off from WTO and went for an excursion. We rode a ferry from Hong Kong Island to the south end of nearby Lantau Island, then a bus up into the mountains to the Po Lin Monastery. The monks have created the world's tallest, outdoor seated bronze Buddha.

Po Lin Monastery   seated bronze Buddha

We found a hiking path and walked down the mountain through forest, past small monasteries and simple homes.

hiking path

We walked through a huge apartment complex that appeared to house tens of thousands of people, yet had beautiful gardens and art and playgrounds. In places like this, Hong Kong people have mastered the science and art of jamming six million people into a postage-stamp-sized metropolis in a humanitarian manner.


Saturday, December 17

I again slept in and then rode MTR to Victoria Park where a big march was supposed to start at 2pm. Of course the march didn't start on time, but I enjoyed listening to speeches and music and talking with some of the thousands of demonstrators assembled in the park.

Indonesian women

I hung out with the Indonesians; activists had come from Indonesia for the WTO, and in Hong Kong had recruited many of the 98,000 Indonesian women living and working here as maids (known here as 'domestic helpers') to participate in the rallies and marches.

Indonesians marchers

Finally late in the afternoon the march began. There was no American contingent in the march (or in any other march during the week, for that matter), so I walked with the Indonesians.

We marched through the Wanchai district.

Korean marchers

As we approached the Convention Center, groups of Koreans ran around and through the other demonstrators, searching for weaknesses in the police lines where they might break through. Periodically, they rushed the police, then feinted away and tried somewhere else.

 

It got dark and tensions rose. At a major intersection near the convention center the scene escalated into a battle. I stood on a barrier and watched as about 50 meters way the police used water cannons and pepper spray on the crowds while the Korean demonstrators in turn beat the police with bamboo poles and threw heavy metal street railings at the police lines. The police shot off cannisters of tear gas, creating clouds of burning gas (sorry, I was too busy running to get a picture.)

street battle   street battle
washing eyes

The crowd instantly scattered, yelling and coughing and running to escape the gas. I saw a number of people lying on the ground injured by clubs and poles and tear gas.

Once away from the immediate area of tear gas, we all paused to catch our breath and clean our eyes, and many demonstrators left the area. The Koreans washed their eyes and headed back towards police lines for more battle.

I was torn about what to do next: on the one hand, I strongly disagreed with the Korean strategy of engaging the police in violent confrontation (I'm a tactical pacifist at demonstrations.) At the same time, I had tremendous respect for their commitment, and it seemed somewhat important to support their brave action.
I decided to leave. I went out to dinner with Rurwat, an Indonesian domestic I had met earlier in the day (see Rurwati.) An hour later, we returned to the streets and found the police had expanded their perimeter around the conflicted area and were not in a playful mood. We separated and I returned to my hotel.

(I found out later that about this time a group of 900 mostly-Korean demonstrators broke through police lines but were unable to enter the convention center. Bottled up, they staged a sit-in. The police kept them surrounded and at 3am began arresting them, finally hauling off the last demonstrator to jail the next afternoon.
At least 70 people were injured during the melee, two seriously, including 21 Chinese police and 33 Koreans.)


Sunday, December 18

Dina

In the morning I met up with my friend Dina Larasati for breakfast. Dina is an Indonesian domestic helper who's been working in Hong for about 6 years now, and we met in March 2004 on my way to China. She hadn't heard much about the WTO, and wasn't participating in the protests.

In the afternoon I returned once again to Victoria Park for the planned final rally and march. Today there were many wonderful cultural performances and street theater.
(Here are Balinese dancers and the WTO-SAURUS.)

Balinese dancers   WTO-SAURUS

We went on the last march, a little scared considering what had happened the evening before.

last march   Chris Pforr with Indonesians

There was one more mild face-off with the police lines down at the Cargo Handling Area. But then it got dark and organizers instructed everyone to go home. Whew......a peaceful ending to our last day of protest.

face-off   peaceful ending

Monday, December 19

At breakfast I picked up the South China Morning Post and read that a last minute "deal" had been cut by delegates at the official WTO conference. Bummer! Analysis here

For me, time to leave. I took the fast boat back to Macau and in the afternoon flew home to the Philippines. Chris Martin flew home to the USA. Thank you, Hong Kong.