Socialist Worker

Protests shake up WTO in Hong Kong

by Fergus Alexander in Hong Kong
Issue No. 1982

South Korean farmers join demonstrations at the WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong (Pic: Jess Hurd/

South Korean farmers join demonstrations at the WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong (Pic: Jess Hurd/

The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) ministerial meeting in Hong Kong before Christmas saw massive protests each day that the delegates met, with thousands joining every day.

Around 3,000 South Korean farmers and trade unionists made up the largest force in the protests, but they were joined by large groups from La Via Campesina (the international peasant movement), migrant workers and a growing number of Hong Kong residents.

Initially media stories about violence frightened many Hong Kong residents away from the protests, but they gradually warmed to the anti-WTO struggle. By the end of the week parcels of food, water, clothes and money were pouring in.

The demonstrations started with an act of defiance by the Korean farmers. Around 100 jumped into Victoria Harbour and swam towards the conference centre showing that nothing would stop them in their quest to shut down the ministerial meeting.

At the same time as the demonstrations there were numerous meetings and discussions happening around the protest zone.

One of the main debates was over how our actions could encourage the participation of people from mainland China.

This couldn’t have been more appropriate as that very week saw the biggest crackdown on the mainland since Tiananmen Square in 1989, with up to 20 being killed when the village of Dongzhou in Guangdong was brutally raided by armed police.

On the Saturday of the summit the protests escalated as a concerted attempt was made to shut the WTO.

Faced by lines of police the demonstrators tried to push their way into the conference centre. They but were met by vicious attacks by the police who used pepper spray, riot shields and batons to beat them back.

At one point the police used a water cannon and fire extinguishers against the demonstration. Then without warning three rounds of tear gas were fired into the crowd melting it back away from the police lines.

Another five rounds were later fired at the remaining protesters until all were cordoned off on a main road.

Surrounded by riot police, we were held for hours, until at around 2.30am the police came in and arrested around 900 South Koreans.

Only those without a South Korean passport were allowed to leave unarrested. Among those arrested were a 13 year old boy and seven members of Socialist Worker’s South Korean sister organisation, All Together.

The next day a large demonstration took place, again in defiance of the police.

A large contingent of Hong Kong people, condemning the police violence, led a breakaway march to the police headquarters shouting for the resignation of the police chief Dick Lee Ming Kwai.

Most of the 1,000 detainees were soon released by the police, but the Hong Kong government sent 14 demonstrators to court on 19 December, charging them with unlawful assembly. These people include 11 Koreans, one Taiwanese, one Japanese and one mainland Chinese.

On 23 December all the detainees were released on bail. All the charged protesters started a hunger strike on Wednesday 4 January demanding the charges should be dropped.

The anti-WTO protests have had a huge effect in Hong Kong and in China more generally.

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