Hmm. You gotta say at least the WTO meetings themselves are peaceful..
Guest Writer Fergus: The World Trade Organization

Globalize Trade, Globalized Violence, Violence of poverty, and Having the Strength of Convictions to Deal with Consequences

Socio Political Rants

700 people have been brought to the station to be booked, and 200 people remain on Gloucester Road, the stand off has lasted over 11 hours already. I think the police are playing it really restraint, first carrying away the women farmers until most of them left on their own starting around 2am, followed by the men who were willing to leave, leaving the most radical people there until I think they are willing to surrender. I mean these people turned over police cars, they ripped off fences with string, hit police with boards, pushed down concrete barriers, and began to rip off bits of metal rods from fences to attack the police who only had "defensive," orders. There is no question that the police only responded to direct physical charges after hours of attacks. Anyone who is saying that the police charged without provokation is lying and completely unobjective. Not to mention that there is questions if the journalists and spectactors didn't just push a few protesters into the line of attack.

Some people are complaining how can these Korean farmers come to Hong Kong and riot? Well, welcome to the globalized world people. If one can sell cheap subsidized farm goods, or buy exported Kimchee, humans can always move and trade places to where they want to be violent. If we as globalized citizens is willing to inflict the violence of poverty on others, we will have to deal with the violence of property as well. Poverty is violence, it's violence on the body and mind, it causes physical hardships and emotional abuse. A few broken police cars is nothing compared the violence that first world citizens inflict on the poor people in the world every day when we go out and buy a cup of coffee or have a bowl of rice.

What I have to say about all this is. The "real" people involved has my respect. The police has my respect for being completely restraint. I have never seen such a lack of forward attack happen between police and protesters considering how violent it was. The Korean farmers have my respect for having the strength of conviction with following up with what their threats were and dealing with the consequences with honour and respect. They put their bodies and lives at risk, they willingly put themselves out there because they feel they are being hurt by globalization and danced for hours and chanted for hours while surrounded by police in defiance and belief. It is within their culture to act violently in times of great problems, and if we can have American Cultural Imperialism, Hong Kong Movies, well we have to deal with some imported Korean cultural specific protest tactics as well. To be honest there is something noble about eye witnessing human beings walk directly into a line of pepper spray, stay there for minutes before leaving, clean their eyes and return again to be assaulted.

Who don't have my respect is all the spectators who were there just to watch, the whining of a whole lot of activists. I was honestly so disgusted with the on goings of yesterday's protest I left feeling truly embarrassed, and really disillusioned. (Genuine Concerns Turns First World Violent Entertainment.) It was a shame because there were no doubt people who were there who truly believed in fair trade, but there were a lot of impostors and posers, and even more spectators, photographers who were just there for the fun of it. Did they really care? I really hope more of them did than I could ever imagine. But the atmosphere didn't feel like it, when you go to to protest where people believed, there is a feeling that we are all in it together, we believe in the same thing, and yesterday's felt like "Fun in the sun to see Korean Farmers beat drums." I am so appalled by the proceedings, with all these people just standing and staring, far more people standing around than participating in any kind of way not just in terms of the violence but the protests. After finding myself crushed amidst some of the "protesters," spectators and photographers, I thought if people want to watch like this for no particular purpose, they should do it over the TV. They probably have a better view. 

Those people who were there, who did not believe in the issues or had no intention of joining the violence had no right to cheer and jeer sending others to do their vicarious violence and acting out their own inner frustrations.  In fact, even if you did believe in the issues, and supported the farmers, there is something suspect in watching and egging on people who are purposely putting themselves in danger.

And If one choose to be there, one cannot be upset that they are sprayed with water cannons or tear canisters, because they were in a riot zone. What the hell did they expect? If you are there to take photos and watch, have the strength of your convictions to deal with the consequences, which is you might be hurt, and you might have a baton thrown in your face for being there in the wrong place. It's not like the police didn't warn you. They had been warning me personally for four days now. Each time I refused to leave, and trust me, each time I had a conversation with the police, I explained I was well aware of the dangers but this is something I choose. I said to an officer the other day, "Please, let me stay to take photographs, if things happen, I don't expect your protection, I just hope to get some good pictures." I knew it was possible for me to be hurt, I knew that it could get ugly, which was probably the reason so many people were there in the first place. To get good pictures, to see the events themselves. 

Deal with it everyone.

Want a cheap piece of stereo equipment, and 4 cents apples? Good price eggs, and affordable furniture, the downside of being a lucky consumer is sometimes the frustrations and anger of those who are being hurt is violence.

Want to exercises your rights to be able to protest in a public space and watch the proceedings because you support a cause, want to take photographs of just be a thrill seeker, and find yourself amidst tear canisters, pepper spray and riot police, deal with it, no one forced you to be in Wan Chai at the time even if the MTR station is closed. The next one down is ten minutes away.

I didn't know police was supposed to "warn" us before they set those things off until the press started asking, so don't tell me anyone else did either. So complaining about them didn't is just retrospective whining because something that one didn't expect to happen didn't. Deal with it people. I don't believe anyone who was there was thinking, "Well, I will stay because if the police was to set off tear gas canisters they would warn me first and of course those few seconds in between would allow me enough time to run for cover." Nobody thought that, they were there because they didn't want to tear themselves away from the all the excitement. So I really can't stand any of the complaints coming through the radio or on my blog. For someone who has been in a small minor riot compared to this one in London, I can tell you that unlike the last time, where really there was no warning before the police and rioters attacked each other, this time we knew things were going down. How? Well by the time the water cannons were taken out, and the canisters thrown, there has been minor violence and threats of escalations for five days already. Didn't we know?

As Tze Ming just wrote to me:

For the people whose livelihoods are on the line, confronting the authorities is not a game.  IF YOU ARE IN a direct charge-on-cops maneouvre you have no moral high ground to take a water-hose like anything less than friggin' Gandhi.  If it's line-of-cops vs Korean phalanx... the contact point is basically a war zone, and everyone should know what they're there for, and take it seriously.

It's a show of weakness and inability to face up to the consequences of events that were unfolding in the most obvious way to expect to be treated with kids gloves by the police at a time like that. It's even more ridiculous because it seems farm subsidies will be ended in 2010 for the talks that is happening. The discussions that were so concerning the people who were protesting, and turned violence was ALWAYS on the table, and in fact there was a huge win. It will all be ended in five years time, and then all the anti-farm subsidizing people can start to feel sorry for the small farmers in the US and Europe for losing their livelihoods as well. Maybe globalize trade sucks for many but  if there wasn't any of that, Hong Kong people can just starve and die of thirst because you know what? Everything we ingest in this city has something to do with import trade, nearly every cent in this city people have earned has to do with export. Without it, we can eat fish that isn't enough to sustain our population and we would be as poor as some African nation who cannot feed it's own people because there isn't enough land. We don't have enough land here, we cannot feed ourselves without globalization.

 

I have never in my life felt like a "conservative," where by I feel that those who are fighting against the status quo for the most part do not understand the issues, that they will not take up the responsibilities of what might happen, and what is happening as we live.

I still believe in fair trade, but it seems to be after this week that the only way to get it to happen is to iron out the inequalities within the context of the WTO and not dismantle it as without organization, as there really needs a space to discuss trade issues without the use of violence. For there is absolutely no way to limit or overlook what is happening without legally binding documents in the first place. Especially after watching the events, it's obvious to me that I don't believe in the NGOs so much or the ability of the people to police themselves in any kind of positive way. I am all for negotiation in a controlled context. Gosh, if I didn't know it existed, I would probably call for an international organization where countries sat down and talked about trade issues in an open non violence manner just about now, what do you say? Oh, wait..

What's really turned me off to the whole anti-WTO movement is not even the violence as I said, taking in all the thousands of contextual accounts, it's probably understandable, but the refusal to really get into the nitty gritty of the trade talks by those who are against it. The issues they bring up are real, and cause for concern, but my experience of it which has not been mediated through the media but my personal experience just seems far too emotional for me, it makes no sense. It seems that people want to fight the WTO instead of sending in better equipt legal teams for poorer nations to make sure the agreements don't only work in the G8's favor, or help implement more sustainable economy. The way they go about "protecting" the rights of the poor seems practically selfish in the "Don't take their land away," mentality that equals the first world "Don't make our farmers poor," mentality, which they are pointing fingers and calling selfish isn't so inspiring at all.

I don't think in the long run it would help countries to close themselves up, as there are few countries in the world which are truly self sufficient in a post-industrial age. Each place needs oil and food, each place needs expertize and investment. We do need to focus on fair trade and make sure the Least Developed Nations get aid, but that was also on the table. We need to make the nations and corporations take responsibility for their actions and work towards a socially just economic system but not end world trade.

I am sorry but that this is how I feel and I don't know if it's right. But all I can say is no matter what, how I feel is a complete failure of the Anti-WTO movement in being unable to express themselves in any logical way. I have been reading, thinking and talking, in the epicenter of the events this week. I went in with an open mind, and already came with it the politics of social justice, and in the end I came away with not much positive to say. It's completely sad because I have always had a sense that something must be done with the situation of inequalities in the world, and through the events of the week, no one who is supposedly "supporting" the interests of the marginalized population been able to get through their ideas of how to improve the situation in a logical, well planned and executable way. I understand the farmers are unhappy with the trade subsidies, I understand it needs to be addressed, but I don't see how that can happen outside of the existence of the WTO. And really I am tired of hearing activists blame the press as nearly all the information I have gotten of their side is from the press and if there was any thing missing, or they felt was not being explained, all that was needed to tell me, it could have been done so very easily, as I was standing right there, ready to listen.

Everything feels like a real shame right now, of what it could have been, how it could have been told as the movement was so failed. I suppose at the very least it's gotten people thinking about the issues of fair trade. I still think it could have been done so much better. I would have been okay if I felt disillusioned about the world in general, or the way the rich nations oppress the poor, but that is not how I feel today. I feel disillusioned because although the story of the world's poor may have hit the front pages, they have been unable to articulate a plan or to the general public in how to fix it, and it seems the only people who truly did anything, who had a plan or discussed the issues in any meaningful way were the people in a trade organization who they were supposedly "against."

Comments

tze ming

Hi Yan. Following on from my email, in the context of the all-encompassing 'Chicken' game that is at the core of the actual negotiations:

I don't think it's for the best to
a) take the 'bring down the WTO' call literally and make that the source of the grand feeling of despair that might strike you amid the chaos of the streets (extravagant opening bargaining positions are common in Hong Kong marketplaces; similar lessons apply to civil and political society);
nor b) think as though the demonstrations, rather than the negotiations themselves, are what gets to 'bring down th[is particular round of] the WTO;
nor c) think that the pro LDC-demonstrators having a more coherent policy-platform en masse would make any difference to the success of the LDC negotiating teams inside the WTO process
nor d) think that the pro LDC-demonstrators don't support the negotiators and observers within the WTO process who are advocating for their rights;
nor e) be too ready to assume that the 2010 offer on farm subsidies is anywhere near a realistic agreement;
nor f) think that if this round collapses over a lack of agreement on the 2010 deadline that it's somehow the fault of the 'movement'. If the LDCs pull out of the round and 'bring down the WTO', it actually shows that the WTO is *working* to the degree that LDC governments can say 'no' to an offer.
nor g) forget the difference between 'bringing down' (ie blocking) one round of the WTO and destroying all current and future systems of global trade negotiations.

After the Cancun round I thought that there might be a morphing of the demonstrator's rhetoric towards 'take over the WTO' or 'democratise the WTO' - but I guess when you've 'brought down' one round, the call gets infectious. The rhetoric might change - we'll see come the next round eh?

tze ming

And before I get accused of fascism, I thought I'd put in the rest of what I wrote to you:

[O]utside of the clash point, the cops shouldn't teargas peaceful protesters, that's that. Cops do not have the right to teargas people for 'jeering' at them. They will do it of course. I mean, this is the WTO, and to be fair, they've seemed about as restrained as I've seen, only judging from MSM reportage. ...But the fact remains - the right to peaceful assembly does not depend on 'not jeering', or 'not being far enough away from people who are taking part in aggressive action over which I have no control'. The right to peaceful assembly also does not depend on being right. You gotta be consistent about this 'rights' stuff... right? There's a difference between expectations and standards.

A Reader

there's a good discussion going on here.

re: the police response, the question seems to be what is appropriate? what is acceptable? you seem to feel that the police were completely justified in all their actions yesterday. can you say with certainty that not a single police officer reacted beyond what was reasonable?

i feel that yes, on the whole, the police were very restrained and THEY HAD EVERY RIGHT TO DEFEND THEMSELVES, but that a few did do too much, such as one officer i personally witnessed stepping out of the defensive line, charging forward at a protester and swinging his baton furiously. (yes, the police were under attack, but i felt that particular response was over the line.)

another example reported and shown by cable tv is a policeman shoving a camera and injuring the camera operator because he didn't want to be filmed. is that ok too?

take a look at this video of Korean police:
http://swtop.no-ip.org/1216korean_police.wmv

do you think their reactions are justified? if we don't stand up and say no to the relatively minor offenses by police we saw yesterday, things could one day end up being just like the actions in the video and someone will probably say, "yeah, they got what they deserved. what did they expect?"

i agree though that people shouldn't egg others on to do violent things which they aren't willing to do themselves. yes, cheering and jeering can be a form of egging people on. but is being only an observer in and of itself bad? i don't think so. after all, that's exactly what a journalist does. observe. not get involved in the action.

as for your disgust at the spectators, weren't you also doing the same thing? if it was noble for you to be an eye witness to these events, why not the other people? if it was OK for you to get right in the face of the officers and farmers and take photographs, why not everyone else? because you are a professional photographer? in this age of blogging and citizen journalism, everyone has the same right to be there as professional photographers and journalists.

one minor point of clarification. some protesters attempted to turn over police vans but they did not succeed in doing so. not that it justifies their actions in any way.

ycjieyang

this is the best article about WTO I read in the blogsphere these days. Indimedia is full of cynicism. I'll never go there.

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