Please contact us if you would like to receive DAGAinfo via eMail


13 June 2000
No. 106

In this issue:
    Dangerous Liaisons: Progressives, the Right, and the Anti-China Trade Campaign
  2. NEWS in Brief
    Burma - Junta, Not Suu Kyi, Bars Progress
    Burma - ILO attacks Burma forced labour
    Indonesia - Without Debt Cancelation, Indonesia Will Sink
  3. Urgent APPEALS
    Thailand - solidarity with the Thai Kriang Durable Textile workers


1. FEATURE - top

Dangerous Liaisons: Progressives, the Right, and the Anti-China Trade Campaign

by Walden Bello and Anuradha Mittal*
May 2000


Like the United States, China is a country that is full of contradictions. It is certainly not a country that can be summed up as "a rogue nation that decorates itself with human rights abuses as if they were medals of honor."[1] This characterization by AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney joins environmentalist Lester Brown's Cassandra-like warnings about the Chinese people in hitting a new low in the rhetoric of the Yellow Peril tradition in American populist politics. Brown accuses the Chinese of being the biggest threat to the world's food supply because they are climbing up the food chain by becoming meat-eaters.[2]

These claims are disconcerting. At other times, we may choose not to engage their proponents. But not today, when they are being bandied about with studied irresponsibility to reshape the future of relations between the world's most populous nation and the world's most powerful one.

A coalition of forces seeks to deprive China of permanent normal trading relations (PNTR) as a means of obstructing that country's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). We do not approve of the free-trade paradigm that underpins NTR status. We do not support the WTO; we believe, in fact, that it would be a mistake for China to join it. But the real issue in the China debate is not the desirability or undesirability of free trade and the WTO. The real issue is whether the United States has the right to serve as the gatekeeper to international organizations such as the WTO. More broadly, it is whether the United States government can arrogate to itself the right to determine who is and who is not a legitimate member of the international community. The issue is unilateralism--the destabilizing thrust that is Washington's oldest approach to the rest of the world.

The unilateralist anti-China trade campaign enmeshes many progressive groups in the US in an unholy alliance with the right wing that, among other things, advances the Pentagon's grand strategy to contain China. It splits a progressive movement that was in the process of coming together in its most solid alliance in years. It is, to borrow Omar Bradley's characterization of the Korean War, "the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time."

The Real China

To justify US unilateralism vis--vis China, opponents of NTR for China have constructed an image of China that could easily have come out of the pen of Joseph McCarthy.

But what really is China? Since the anti-China lobby has done such a good job telling us about China's bad side, it might be appropriate to begin by showing the other side.

Many in the developing world admire China for being one of the world's most dynamic economies, growing between 7-10 per cent a year over the past decade. Its ability to push a majority of the population living in abject poverty during the Civil War period in the late forties into decent living conditions in five decades is no mean achievement. That economic dynamism cannot be separated from an event that most countries in the global South missed out on: a social revolution in the late forties and early fifties that eliminated the worst inequalities in the distribution of land and income and prepared the country for economic takeoff when market reforms were introduced into the agricultural sector in the late 1970's.

China likewise underlines a reality that many in the North, who are used to living under powerful states that push the rest of the world around, fail to appreciate: this is the critical contribution of a liberation movement that decisively wrests control of the national economy from foreign interests. China is a strong state, born in revolution and steeled in several decades of wars hot and cold. Its history of state formation accounts for the difference between China and other countries of the South, like Thailand, Brazil, Nigeria, and South Korea. In this it is similar to that other country forged in revolution, Vietnam.

Foreign investors can force many other governments to dilute their investment rules to accommodate them. That is something they find difficult to do in China and Vietnam, which are prepared to impose a thousand and one restrictions to make sure that foreign capital indeed contributes to development, from creating jobs to actually transferring technology.

The Pentagon can get its way in the Philippines, Korea, and even Japan. These are, in many ways, vassal states. In contrast, it is very careful when it comes to dealing with China and Vietnam, both of whom taught the US that bullying doesn't pay during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, respectively.

Respect is what China and Vietnam gets from transnationals and Northern governments. Respect is what most of our governments in the global South don't get. When it comes to pursuing national interests, what separates China and Vietnam from most of our countries are successful revolutionary nationalist movements that got institutionalized into no-nonsense states.

What is the "Case" against China?

Of course, China has problems when it comes to issues such as its development model, the environment, workers rights, human rights and democracy. But here the record is much more complex than the picture painted by many US NGO's.

- The model of development of outward-oriented growth built on exports to developed country markets of labor-intensive products is no scheme to destroy organized labor thought up by an evil regime. This is the model that has been prescribed for over two decades by the World Bank and other Western-dominated development institutions for the developing countries. When China joined the World Bank in the early eighties, this was the path to development recommended by the officials and experts of that institution.

Through the strategic manipulation of aid, loans, and the granting of the stamp of approval for entry into world capital markets, the Bank pushed export-oriented, labor-intensive manufacturing and discouraged countries from following domestic-market-oriented growth based on rising wages and incomes. In this connection, it must be pointed out that World Bank policies vis--vis China and the Third World were simply extensions of policies in the US, Britain, and other countries in the North, where the Keynesian or Social Democratic path based on rising wages and incomes was foreclosed by the anti-labor, pro-capitalist neoliberal policies of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and their ideological allies.

- True, development in China has been accompanied by much environmental destruction and must be criticized. But what many American environmentalists forget is that the model of double-digit GDP growth based on resource-intensive, waste-intensive, toxic-intensive production and unrestrained levels of consumption is one that China and other developing countries have been encouraged to copy from the North, where it continues to be the dominant paradigm. Again, the World Bank and the whole Western neoclassical economics establishment, which has equated development with unchecked levels of consumption, must bear a central part of the blame.

Northern environmentalists love to portray China as representing the biggest future threat to the global environment. They assume that China will simply emulate the unrestrained consumer-is-king model of the US and the North. What they forget to mention is that per capita consumption in China is currently just one tenth of that of developed countries.[3] What they decline to point out is that the US, with five per cent of the world's population, is currently the biggest single source of global climate change, accounting as it does for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. As the Center for Science and Environment (CSE) points out, the carbon emission level of one US citizen in 1996 was equal to that of 19 Indians, 30 Pakistanis, 17 Maldivians, 49 Sri Lankans, 107 Bangladeshis, 134 Bhutanese, or 269 Nepalis.[4]

When it comes to food consumption, Lester Brown's picture of Chinese meat eaters and milk consumers destabilizing food supply is simply ethnocentric, racist, and wrong. According to FAO data, China's consumption of meat in 1992-94 was 33kg per capita and this is expected to rise to 60kg per capita in 2020. In contrast, the comparable figures for developed countries was 76kg per capita in 1992-94, rising to 83kg in 2020. When it comes to milk, China's consumption was 7 kg per capita in 1992-94, rising marginally to 12 kg in 2020. Per capita consumption in developed countries, in contrast was 195kg and declining only marginally to 189kg in 2020.[5]

The message of these two sets of figures is unambiguous: the unchecked consumption levels in the United States and other Northern countries continue to be the main destabilizer of the global environment.

- True, China is no workers' paradise. Yet it is simplistic to say that workers have no rights, or that the government has, in the manner of a pimp, delivered its workers to transnationals to exploit. There are unions; indeed, China has the biggest trade union confederation in the world, with 100 million members. Granted, this confederation is closely linked with the government. But this is also the case in Malaysia, Singapore, Mexico, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and many other countries. The Chinese trade unions are not independent from government, but they ensure that workers' demands and concerns are not ignored by government. If the Chinese government were anti-worker, as AFL-CIO propaganda would have it, it would have dramatically reduced its state enterprise sector by now. It is precisely concern about the future of the hundreds of millions of workers in state enterprises that has made the government resist the prescription to radically dismantle the state enterprise sector coming from Chinese neoliberal economists, foreign investors, the business press, and the US government--all of whom are guided by a narrow efficiency/profitability criterion, and are completely insensitive to the sensitivity to employment issues of the government.

The fact is that workers in China probably have greater protection and access to government than industrial workers who live in right-to-work states (where non-union shops are encouraged by law) in the United States. If there is a government that must be targeted by the AFL-CIO for being anti-labor, it must be its own government, which, in collusion with business, has stripped labor of so many of its traditional legal protections and rights that the proportion of US workers unionized is down to only 13% of the work force!

- True, there is much to be done in terms of bringing genuine democracy and greater respect for human rights in China. And certainly, actions like the Tienanmen massacre and the repression of political dissidents must be condemned, in much the same way that Amnesty International severely criticizes the United States for relying on mass incarceration as a principal mechanism of social control.[6] But this is not a repressive regime devoid of legitimacy like the Burmese military junta.

As in the United States and other countries, there is a lot of grumbling about government, but this cannot be said to indicate lack of legitimacy on the part of the government. Again and again, foreign observers in China note that while there might be disaffection, there is widespread acceptance of the legitimacy of the government.

Monopolization of decision making by the Communist Party at the regional and national level is still the case, but relatively free elections now take place in many of the country's rural villages in an effort to deconcentrate power from Beijing to better deal with rural economic problems, according to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who is otherwise quite critical of the Chinese leadership.[7]

Indeed, lack of Western-style multiparty systems and periodic competitive elections does not mean that the government is not responsive to people. The Communist Party is all too aware of the fact that its continuing in power is dependent on popular legitimacy. This legitimacy in turn depends on convincing the masses that it is doing an adequate job its fulfilling four goals: safeguarding national sovereignty, avoiding political instability, raising people's standard of living, and maintaining the rough tradition of equality inherited from the period of classical socialism. The drama of recent Chinese history has been the way the party has tried to stay in power by balancing these four concerns of the population. This balancing act has been achieved, Asia expert Chalmers Johnson writes, via an "ideological shift from an all-embracing communism to an all-embracing nationalism [that has] helped to hold Chinese society together, giving it a certain intellectual and emotional energy and stability under the intense pressures of economic transformation."[8]

- As for demand for democratic participation, this is certainly growing and should be strongly supported by people outside China. But it is wishful thinking to claim that US-style forms of democratic expression have become the overwhelming demand of the population. While one might not agree with all the points he makes, a more accurate portrayal of the state of things than that given by the anti-China lobby is provided by the English political philosopher John Gray in his classic work False Dawn:

China's current regime is undoubtedly transitional, but rather than moving towards "democratic capitalism," it is evolving from the western, Soviet institutions of the past into a modern state more suited to Chinese traditions, needs, and circumstances.

Liberal democracy is not on the historical agenda for China. It is very doubtful if the one-child policy, which even at present is often circumvented, could survive a transition to liberal democracy. Yet, as China's present rulers rightly believe, an effective population policy is indispensable if scarcity of resources is not to lead to ecological catastrophe and political crisis.

Popular memories of the collapse of the state and national defenselessness between the world wars are such that any experiment with political liberalization which appears to carry the risk of near-anarchy of post-Soviet Russia will be regarded with suspicion or horror by the majority of Chinese. Few view the break-up of the state other than a supreme evil. The present regime has a potent source of popular legitimacy in the fact that so far it has staved off that disaster.[9]

The Anti-China Trade Campaign: Wrong and Dangerous

It is against this complex backdrop of a country struggling for development under a political system, which, while not democratic along Western lines, is nevertheless legitimate, and which realizes that its continuing legitimacy depends on its ability to deliver economic growth that one must view the recent debate in the US over the granting of Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) to China.

PNTR is the standard tariff treatment that the United States gives nearly all its trading partners, with the exception of China, Afghanistan, Serbia-Montenegro, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam. Granting of PNTR is seen as a key step in China's full accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) since the 1994 Marrakesh Agreement establishing the WTO requires members to extend NTR to other WTO members mutually and without conditions. This is the reason that the fight over PNTR is so significant, in that it is integrally linked to China's full accession to the WTO.

Organized labor is at the center of a motley coalition that is against granting PNTR to China. This coalition includes right wing groups and personalities like Pat Buchanan, the old anti-China lobby linked to the anti-communist Kuomintang Party in Taiwan, protectionist US business groups, and some environmentalist, human rights, and citizens' rights groups. The intention of this right-left coalition is to be able to use trade sanctions to influence China's economic and political behavior as well as to make it difficult for China to enter the WTO.

There are fundamental problems with the position of this alliance, many of whose members are, without doubt, acting out of the best intentions.

First of all, the anti-China trade campaign is essentially another manifestation of American unilateralism. Like many in the anti-PNTR coalition, we do not uphold the free-trade paradigm that underpins the NTR. Like many of them, we do not think that China will benefit from WTO membership. But what is at issue here is not the desirability or non-desirability of the free trade paradigm and the WTO in advancing people's welfare. What is at issue here is Washington's unilateral moves to determine who is to be a legitimate member of the international economic community--in this case, who is qualified to join and enjoy full membership rights in the WTO.

This decision of whether or not China can join the WTO is one that must be determined by China and the 137 member-countries of the WTO, without one power exercising effective veto power over this process. To subject this process to a special bilateral agreement with the United States that is highly conditional on the acceding country's future behavior falls smack into the tradition of unilateralism.

One reason the anti-China trade campaign is particularly disturbing is that it comes on the heels of a series of recent unilateralist acts, the most prominent of which have been Washington's cruise missile attacks on alleged terrorist targets in the Sudan and Afghanistan in August 1998, its bombing of Iraq in December 1998, and the US-instigated 12-week NATO bombardment of Kosovo in 1999. In all three cases, the US refused to seek UN sanction or approval but chose to act without international legal restraints. Serving as the gatekeeper for China's integration into the global economic community is the economic correlate of Washington's military unilateralism.

Second, the anti-China trade campaign reeks of double standards. A great number of countries would be deprived of PNTR status were the same standards sought from China applied to them, including Singapore (where government controls the labor movement), Mexico (where labor is also under the thumb of government), Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states (where women are systematically relegated by law and custom to second-class status as citizens), Pakistan (where a military dictatorship reigns), Brunei (where democratic rights are non-existent), to name just a few US allies. What is the logic and moral basis for singling out China when there are scores of other regimes that are, in fact, so much more insensitive to the political, economic, and social needs of their citizenries?

Third, the campaign is marked by what the great Senator J. William Fulbright denounced as the dark side of the American spirit that led to the Vietnam debacle--that is, "the morality of absolute self-assurance fired by the crusading spirit."[10] It draws emotional energy not so much from genuine concerns for human and democratic rights in China but from the knee-jerk emotional ensemble of anti-communism that continues to plague the US public despite the end of the Cold War. When one progressive organizer says that non-passage of the PNTR would inflict defeat on "the brutal, arrogant, corrupt, autocratic, and oligarchic regime in Beijing," the strong language is not unintentional: it is meant to hit the old Cold War buttons to mobilize the old anti-communist, conservative constituency, in the hope of building a right-left populist base that could--somehow--be directed at "progressive" ends.

Fourth, the anti-China trade campaign is intensely hypocritical. As many critics of the campaign have pointed out, the moral right of the US to deny permanent normal trading rights to China on social and environmental grounds is simply nonexistent given its record: the largest prison population in the world, the most state-sponsored executions of any country in the world, the highest income disparities among industrialized countries, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, and quasi-slavery conditions for farm workers.[11]

Fifth, the anti-China trade campaign is intellectually flawed. The issue of labor control in China lies at the core of the campaign, which blames China's government for the low wages that produce the very competitively priced goods that are said to contribute to displacing US industries and workers. This is plain wrong: the relatively low wages in China stem less from wage repression than from the dynamics of economic development. Widespread poverty or low economic growth are the main reasons for the low wages in developing countries. Were the state of unionism the central determinant of wage levels, as the AFL-CIO claims, labor costs in authoritarian China and democratic India, with its formally free trade union movement, would not be equal, as they, in fact, are.

Similarly, it is mainly the process of economic growth--the dynamic interaction between the growing productivity of labor, the reduction of the wage-depressing surplus of rural labor, and rising profits--that triggers the rapid rise in wage levels in an economy, as shown in the case of Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore, which had no independent unions and where strikes were illegal during their periods of rapid development.[12]

Saying that the dynamics of development rather than the state of labor organizing is by far the greatest determinant of wage levels is not to say that the organization of labor is inconsequential. Successful organizing has gotten workers a higher level of wages than would be possible were it only the dynamics of economic development that were at work. It is not to argue that labor organizing is not desirable in developing economies. Of course, it is not only desirable but necessary, so that workers can keep more of the value of production for themselves, reduce their exploitation by transnational and state capitalist elites, and gain more control over their conditions of work.

Sixth, the anti-China trade campaign is dishonest. It invokes concern about the rights of Chinese workers and the rights of the Chinese people, but its main objective is to protect American jobs against cheap imports from China. This is cloaking self-interest with altruistic rhetoric. What the campaign should be doing is openly acknowledging that its overriding goal is to protect jobs, which is a legitimate concern and goal. And what it should be working for is not invoking sanctions on human rights grounds, but working out solutions such as managed trade, which would seek to balance the need of American workers to protect their jobs while allowing the market access that allows workers in other countries to keep their jobs and their countries to sustain a certain level of growth while they move to change their development model.[13]

Instead, what the rhetoric of the anti-China trade campaign does is to debase human rights and democratic rights language with its hypocrisy while delegitimizing the objective of protecting jobs--which is a central social and economic right--by concealing it.

Seventh, the anti-China trade campaign is a classic case of blaming the victim. China is not the enemy. Indeed, it is a prisoner of a global system of rules and institutions that allows transnational corporations to take advantage of the differential wage levels of counties at different levels of development to increase their profits, destabilize the global environment by generalizing an export-oriented, high-consumption model of development, and concentrate global income in fewer and fewer hands.

Not granting China PNTR will not affect the functioning of this global system. Not giving China normal trading and investment rights will not harm transnational corporations; they will simply take more seriously the option of moving to Indonesia, Mauritius, or Mexico, where their ability to exact concessions is greater than in China, which can stand up to foreign interests far better than the weak governments of these countries.

What the AFL-CIO and others should be doing is targeting this global system, instead of serving up China as a proxy for it.

A Positive Agenda

The anti-China trade campaign amounts to a Faustian bargain that seeks to buy some space for US organized labor at the expense of real solidarity with workers and progressive worker and environmental movements globally against transnational capital. But by buying into the traditional US imperial response of unilateralism, it will end up eventually eroding the position of progressive labor, environmental, and civil society movements both in the US and throughout the world.

What organized labor and US NGO's should be doing, instead, is articulating a positive agenda aimed at weakening the power of global corporations and multilateral agencies that promote TNC-led globalization.

The first order of business is to not allow the progressive movement to be sandbagged in the pro-permanent normal trade relations, anti-permanent normal trade relations terms of engagement that now frames the debate. While progressives must, for the time being, oppose the more dangerous threat posed by the unilateralists, they should be developing a position on global economic relations that avoids both the free trade paradigm that underlies the PNTR and the unilateralist paradigm of the anti-PNTR forces. The model we propose is managed trade, which allows trading partners to negotiate bilateral and multilateral treaties that address central issues in their relationship--among them, the need to preserve workers jobs in the US with the developing countries' need for market access.

Advocacy of managed trade must, however, be part of a broader campaign for progressive global economic governance. The strategic aim of such a campaign must be the tighter regulation, if not replacement, of the model corporate-led free market development that seeks to do away with social and state restrictions on the mobility of capital at the expense of labor. In its place must be established a system of genuine international cooperation and looser global economic integration that allows countries to follow paths of national and regional development that make the domestic market and regional markets rather than the global market the engine of growth, development, and job creation.

This means support for measures of asset and income redistribution that would create the purchasing power that will make domestic markets viable. It means support for trade measures and capital controls that will give countries more control over their trade and finance so that commodity and capital flows become less disruptive and destabilizing. It means support for regional integration or regional economic union among the developing countries as an alternative to indiscriminate globalization.

A key element in this campaign for a new global economic governance is the abolition of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization that serve as the pillars of the system of corporate-led globalization and their replacement with a pluralistic system of institutions that complement but at the same time check and balance one another, thus giving the developing countries the space to pursue their paths to development.

The IMF, World Bank, and WTO are currently experiencing a severe crisis of legitimacy, following the debacle in Seattle, the April protests in Washington, and the release of the report of the International Financial Institutions Advisory Commission (Meltzer Commission) appointed by the US Congress, which recommends the radical downsizing or transformation of the Bank and Fund.[14] Now is the time for the progressive movement to take the offensive and push for the elimination or radical transformation of these institutions. Yet, here we are, being waylaid from this critical task at this key moment by an all-advised, divisive campaign to isolate the wrong enemy!

Another key thrust of a positive agenda is a coordinated drive by civil society groups in the North and the South to pressure the US, China, and all other governments to ratify and implement all conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and give the ILO more effective authority to monitor, supervise, and adjudicate implementation of these conventions. This campaign must be part of a broader effort to support the formation of genuine labor unions in China, the Southern United States, and elsewhere in a spirit of real workers' solidarity. This, instead of relying on government trade sanctions that are really self-serving rather than meant to support Third World workers, is the route to the creation of really firm ties of solidarity across North-South lines.

This social and economic program must be tied to a strategy for protecting the global environment that also eschews sanctions as an approach and puts the emphasis on promoting sustainable development models in place of the export-led, high-consumption development model; pushes the adoption of common environmental codes that prevent transnational firms from pitting one country against another in their search for the zero cost environmental regimes; and promotes an environmental Marshall Plan aimed at transferring appropriate green process and production technologies to China and other developing countries.

Above all, this approach must focus not on attacking China and the South but on strategically changing the production and consumption behavior and levels in the North that are by far the biggest source of environmental destabilization.

Finally, a positive agenda must have as a central element civil society groups in the North working constructively with people's movements in China, the United States, and other countries experiencing democratic deficits to support the expansion of democratic space. While the campaign must be uncompromising in denouncing acts of repression like the Tienanmen Square massacre and Washington's use of mass incarceration as a tool of social control, it must avoid imposing the forms of Western procedural democracy on others and hew to the principle that it is the people in these countries themselves that must take the lead in building democracy according to their rhythm, traditions, and cultures.

Abandoning Unilateralism

The anti-PNTR coalition is an alliance born of opportunism. In its effort to block imports from China, the AFL-CIO is courting the more conservative sectors of the US population, including the Buchananite right wing, by stirring the old Cold War rhetoric. Nothing could be a more repellent image of this sordid project than John Sweeney, James Hoffa, President of the Teamsters, and Pat Buchanan holding hands in the anti-China trade rally on April 12, 2000, with Buchanan promising to make Hoffa his top negotiator of trade, if he won the race for president.

Some environmental groups and citizens groups which have long but unsuccessfully courted labor, have, in turn, endorsed the campaign because they see it as the perfect opportunity to build bridges to the AFL-CIO. What we have, as a result, is an alliance built on the assertion of US unilateralism rather than on the cornerstone of fundamental shared goals of solidarity, equity, and environmental integrity.

This is not a progressive alliance but a right-wing populist alliance in the tradition of the anti-communist Big Government-Big Capital-Big Labor alliance during the Cold War, the labor-capital alliance in the West that produced the Exclusion and Ant-Miscegenation Acts against Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and, more recently, the populist movement that has supported the tightening of racist immigration laws by emphasizing the divide between workers who are citizens and workers who are not, with the latter being deprived of basic political rights.

It is a policy that will, moreover, feed global instability by lending support to the efforts of the US right and the Pentagon to demonize China as The Enemy and resurrect Containment as America's Grand Strategy, this time with China instead of the Soviet Union as the foe in a paradigm designed to advance American strategic hegemony.

As in every other instance of unprincipled unity between the right and some sectors of the progressive movement, progressives will find that it will be the right that will walk away with the movement while they will be left with not even their principles.

It is time to move away from this terribly misguided effort to derail the progressive movement by demonizing China, and to bring us all back to the spirit of Seattle as a movement of citizens of the world against corporate-led globalization and for genuine international cooperation.

End Notes

  1. Quoted in John Gershman, "How to Debate the China Issue without China Bashing," Progressive Response, Vol. 4, No. 17, April 20, 2000.

  2. Lester Brown, Who Will Feed China? (New York: Norton, 1995).

  3. Anil Agarwal, Sunita Narain, and Anju Sharma, eds., Green Politics (New Delhi: Center for Science and Environment, 2000), p. 108.

  4. Ibid., p. 16.

  5. FAO and IMPACT data cited in Simeon Ehui, "Trade and Food Systems in the Developing World," Presentation at Salzburg Seminar, Salzburg, Austria, May 11, 2000.

  6. Amnesty International, Unted States of America: Rights for All (London: amnesty International Publications, 1998).

  7. Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree (New York: Farrar, Straus Giroux, 1999), p. 50.

  8. Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2000), p. 50.

  9. John Gray, False Dawn (New York: New Press, 1998), pp. 189-190.

  10. J. William Fulbright, quoted in Walter McDougall, Promised Land, Crusader State (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), p. 206.

  11. See Anuradha Mittal and Peter Rosset, "The Real Enemy is the WTO, not China," Peaceworks, March 1, 2000; and Jim Smith, "The China Syndrome--or, How to Hijack a Movement," LA Labor News, April 2, 2000.

  12. For the state of the labor movement in these societies in the period of rapid growth, see Walden Bello and Stephanie Rosenfeld, Dragons in Distress: Asia's Miracle Economies in Crisis (San Francisco: Institute for Food and Development Policy, 1990).

  13. For more on managed trade, see, among others, Johnson, p. 174.

  14. Report of the US Congressional International Financial Institution Advisory Commission (Washington: DC, US Congress, Feb. 2000).

*Walden Bello is executive director of Focus on the Global South, a program of research, analysis, and capacity building based in Bangkok; Anuradha Mittal is co-director of the Oakland-based Institute for Food and Development Policy, better known as Food First.


2. NEWS in Brief - top


Junta, Not Suu Kyi, Bars Progress

By Brian Joseph (FEER)

On May 27, 1990, the Burmese people voted overwhelming for democracy, awarding the National League for Democracy 392 of 485 parliamentary seats. The military-backed party won 10. Beaten soundly, the military junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, ignored the results and arrested hundreds of elected NLD representatives. Dozens of others fled to Thailand. To this day, Slorc, renamed the State Peace and Development Council, remains in power and the NLD finds its legitimacy being challenged for no other reason than the passage of time.

Rulers who deny the mandate of the people do not derive legitimacy by virtue of the passage of time. Imposing a "statute of limitations," as it were, on the NLD's duty to represent the people who elected the party would indicate otherwise. To put the winners aside in the name of expediency rewards the military for its ruthlessness and punishes the NLD for its steadfastness.

Led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD has called on the international community to support the implementation of the United Nations resolutions on Burma, passed annually since 1992; it supports the use of sanctions to facilitate a tripartite dialogue between the military junta, the NLD and ethnic nationalities. Its message is clear. Yet some observers, including academics, advocacy groups and government officials, have begun to question if diplomatic pressure and support for the opposition will succeed. Implicit in this, and explicit in the regime's own determination to undermine the United States, the European Union and the UN's resolve on Burma, is that the international community should no longer look to Suu Kyi and the NLD as the legitimate leaders of Burma. In short, they are now asking, given the inability of the two parties to reach any compromise and the length of time that has passed since the elections, if it wouldn't be reasonable to begin to cease to dwell on the past.

But this is exactly what the SPDC has hoped for. As long as the international community continues to look to the NLD as the legitimate winners of the 1990 elections, the SPDC will never gain the international legitimacy it so desperately wants. Visible international support for the NLD and the pro-democracy movement, which the NLD has requested, also bolsters the party's efforts to retain support at home. In addition to the more tangible results of international pressure, it provides critical moral support to the people of Burma. The SPDC has therefore gone to great lengths to convince the international community and the people of Burma that the NLD is no longer viable. They have even gone so far as to claim that the election was not a parliamentary election at all but an election to select some of the participants to a constitutional convention. The election is an albatross around the junta's neck.

Another aspect of the SPDC's propaganda is to suggest that the NLD is setting up roadblocks to any serious dialogue. A handful of policymakers and Burma scholars now argue that the NLD is an impediment to change; that its core position is hardline and uncompromising. According to Robert Taylor, vice-chancellor of Buckingham University in Britain, "a number of people" feel that Suu Kyi's stand on principle "makes it very difficult to have a stand on politics." But as the NLD has stated repeatedly, its only precondition to dialogue is that there be no preconditions. They have been accused of being uncompromising for not accepting terms no one would. They have continued to state that they, for example, and not the SPDC, will choose who will represent the NLD in talks. This is neither hardline nor uncompromising.

Efforts to promote democracy in Burma should be based on the 1990 election. To assume that the NLD no longer speaks for the people of Burma is a false assumption. It is the NLD, and not the SPDC, that is the voice of the people. In no other authoritarian country is it so clear who speaks for the democratic opposition. To support a reduction in international pressure on the military junta goes against the express wishes of the NLD. It is neither right nor appropriate to work against their wishes in the name of democracy.

For those who believe that support for the NLD and Suu Kyi is noble but naive, look around. We have stood with many great world leaders who fought long for justice--Nelson Mandela, Kim Dae Jung, Vaclav Havel. It is not time to turn our backs on Burma. There is no shortage of democrats in Burma. What's missing is democracy.

The writer is the programme officer for Asia at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington. He oversees its Burma project


ILO attacks Burma forced labour

The International Labour Organisation has condemned the Burmese military government for its "systematic and widespread" use of forced labour. It says the authorities in Rangoon treat the civilian population as an unlimited pool of unpaid labourers and servants. Trade Unions estimate that more than 800,000 Burmese are forced to work as army porters or workers in construction and agriculture, with little or no pay and in slave-like conditions. The ILO says the political system in Burma, or Myanmar, is based on force and intimidation and the Burmese people are denied democracy and the rule of law.

A commission of enquiry set up by the Geneva-based organisation accuses soldiers of raping or sexually assaulting women in their charge and says other civilians are frequently beaten. The commission found human rights, especially in the workplace, had got worse since the military-backed State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) took over in 1988. More than 250 people testified to the ILO investigators and gave evidence about the pervasive use of compulsory labour imposed by government officials and the military.

'Unwilling workers often murdered'

Large sections of the population are forced to service military camps, maintain the roads and railways and farm the land for little or no pay, according to the report. Those who are unwilling or unfit are beaten, tortured or murdered, it says. Women, children and the elderly are allegedly used as porters and are even sent ahead to check out minefields. The report says non-Burmese ethnic groups such as the Muslim minority, the Rohingyas, who live in the north-western province of Arakan, bear the brunt of much of the forced labour.

The Rangoon regime, which refused access to the inquiry team, said the complaints were based on biased and unfounded allegations by those wishing to denigrate the government. The ILO's allegations will boost supporters of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has long campaigned against the illegitimacy of a regime she says is corrupt.



The dramatic escalation of the war has brought the country t a most decisive conjuncture. We believe that war must end in Peace. Her Excellency, President Chandrika Kumaranatunga Bandaranaike, in her May Day message has stated that "Today the entire nation is confronted with the onerous challenge of ending the war and bring about peace". It is the responsibility of all citizens to join together to find a solution to the conflict and to bring an end to this war once and for all.

We believe that the path to peace is the path of compromise and sacrifice so we may learn to live together as a people and share this beautiful land. If we can find the way to forge the relations that bind us as brothers and sisters of one human family and discover oru true strength and purpose in building a united, independent, democratic and prosperous Sri Lanka, then we would have achieved genuine peace. The language of weapons will then be replaced with the language of discourse, of dialogue and discussion, to reach consensus on building a common future.

We call upon all parties to the conflict to open the doors to thsi dialogue and to set the terms and conditions, the strctures and processes, that will bind them all to seek such a lasting solution. Other nations once rent asunder bu intractable conflict have found the way to overcome division through building respect for difference and have established the foundations of a democratic, pluralist policical order. Those who have stood in the way of building unity by clinging to narrow, exclusive and divisive claims have been rejected by the people.

We call on all parties to the conflict to declare their intencion to work towards a ceasefire and negotiate the terms for implementing it without delay. We propose that the Jaffna Peninsular be declared a no-conflict zone as the first step in such a process of military de-escalation.

We do so since we sincerely believe that this is the only way to put an end to the suffering and destruction and to build the unity of the country and the people.

[This statement was signed by 12 members of the Executive Committee of the Inter Religious Peace Foundation. For more information, plese write to]


Dr. Kim: Without Debt Cancelation, Indonesia Will Sink

[*Translated from The Manado Post, Monday 29 May 2000]

We have now entered the real era of globalization. The domination of the rich and powerful countries over the poor and powerless countries is getting stronger. The IMF, WB, and WTO keep pouring in their money "to help" these poor countries. To soften the psychological impacts and implications, the governments use the word "aid" instead of "loan." Yet, one thing is clear - whether one uses the word "aid" or "loan" one still needs to return the fund within a certain period of time, with interest.

Like a ship, Indonesia is sinking. It is caused by the heavy burden of foreign debt that has been loaded onto this 'ship.' "Therefore, debt cancellation is a must for this country," said Dr. Kim Yong Bock, an activist leader from Korea. Dr. Kim is now the President of a university in South Korea, and is presently in Manado for the People's Forum organised by the CCA-URM.

That very brave statement was given during the press conference held at Bapelkes - Malalayang, on 27th May 2000. Together with his colleague, another activist in Korea, [the Rev.] In Myung Jin, he stated that aid in the form of loan is a form of burden and domination for a developing country like Indonesia. "Indonesians will surely suffer, eaten up by the debt put on their shoulders".

Dr. Kim added, "Indonesia has both the natural and human resources but has not the ability to manage these resources. In the end, Indonesia will have no choice but to get loans from donors. Unfortunately, the money they received from the donors was heavily corrupted by the government. The development and economic progress under the Suharto regime was not based on the local resourses and grassroot community power, but on foreign debt. And the New Order is claimed to be the best way to develop the country, while in actuality, it was an unreal development."

The situation is changing slowly but surely. After the fall of the Suharto regime and the awakening of the "REFORMASI" groups, the political situation has changed. Many activists are advocating for debt cancellation and are urging the government to demand this from the donors. The debt relief and debt cancellation campaign has spread throughout the country; the latest was done by the Anti-Debt Coalition, in Jakarta. "Without debt cancellation, Indonesia will never be able to pay her debts again," Dr. Kim said.

Josef Widyatmadja, the executive secretary of the CCA-URM, stated that the debt cancellation campaign should also identify the people who would benefit the most from such a campaign and who suffers the most if debt cancellation was not pursued. He also cautioned that we need also to question who benefited most from the debt, and that if the people involved in the lobbying and negotiation for debt cancellation benefited or had links with the corrupt debt. "This needs a very careful and serious research," Josef said. "It is time for the people's movements and humanitarians to think seriously on the debt ethics. We need new ethics on debt, particularly when it involves the developed countries and the developing countries. It is important to review the old ethics when it comes to how much the people - who get less benefit - have to pay the debt". The fall of Suharto is a lesson for this country that people power can destroy the walls of tyrants. The Seattle experience is an inspiration and motivation for the people's movement all around the world to continue their struggles to create a just and fairer system.

However, the issues of debt, free market and globalization are not only the concern of governments and business people, but also the concern of ordinary people, and everyone who longs for a fair and just world. "And this struggle goes beyond ethnic and religious boundaries," said Josef closing the press conference.


3. Urgent APPEAL - top

Thailand - solidarity with the Thai Kriang Durable Textile workers

Urgent! We ask your solidarity with the Thai Kriang Durable Textile workers. 1700 workers from the Thai Kriang Durable Textile are occupying the factory after the refusal of management to continue the collective bargaining and negotiation with the Thai Kriang Durable Textile Trade Union. They have been staying in the factory for at least 9 days!

They tried to meet the Labor Minister but workers were blocked from entering the Labor Ministry. And, the management has refused any further negotiation or collective bargaining with the Trade Union.

Recently, gangsters were hired by the company to attack the workers occupying the factory! In the attack, stones and chemical gas were used. Twenty workers were injured and two of them are in serious condition.

About 200 workers will march to the residence of Minister of Labour and Social Welfare on 16 June 2000 to submit their demands.

Please write to the Labor and Social Welfare Minister to request for intervention to provide justice to the workers of Thai Kriang Durable Textile Factory and thereby protect their labor rights.

The Minister
Labor and Social Welfare Ministry
Dindaeng, Bangkok
Tel: 66-2-2810106
Fax: 66-2-2814358


The Thai Kriang Factory is one of the oldest factories founded 40 years ago. 30% of the production is for export to America and Europe. Of the 1888 workers, 1031 are members of the Thai Kriang Durable Textile Trade Union. Most of the workers are middle age women who have been working in the factory for more than 15 years.

In 1993, the Company tried to lay-off union-leader and committee members citing the need for market competitiveness and technological change as the reason for the lay-off. The workers went on strikes and occupied the factory. This eventually developed into a mass labor movement to protest against the lay-off and to defend trade-union's right. The Management was forced to
comply to the worker's demand, the lay- off was postponed and union leader were given back their posts. In 1994, the following year, the Thai Durable Textile company was taken over by the Rakesh Saksena Group. The group was not serious in conducting business but to acquire the company's asset as a guarantee to overdraw money from the Bangkok Bank Commercial. The motive was to speculate in the stock market. With the stock market crashed in 1998 and Rekesh Saksana fled out of the country for embezzlement, the company was brought over in 1999 by Mr.So Denduangdee, a Chinese-Thai origin from Hong Kong. The management's team was changed, the company then pursued the policy of market expansion and workers were asked to contribute fully to the development of production.

Since the new management took over the office, the Company made increase profits, netting 30 million Baht a month to over 100 million Baht this year. To lower the cost of production, those sections of production previously closed down were opened for operation. The company also imported 154 sets of new machines [open-end spinning] to upgrade its production and hiring 400
new young workers. This shows that the Company has been able to revive its business and expand its market. For the past 4 to 5 years, workers and trade union have postponed their demand for the welfare increase to ease the financial situation of the company. During the depth of the economic crisis 1998, workers did not demand any welfare and assisted the company in negotiating for debt reschedule with the Bangkok Bank. Workers even sacrificed their wage increase and asked not to be paid for days such as holidays which they do not work. But when the financial situation, production and sale of the company improved, the workers esteem, after having assessed the standing of the business and the general economic situation and conducted opinion survey among its members, that the company should make greater and just contribution to the workers. After the general meeting of the union on September 12,1999, union's member decided that the trade union should hand demand to the company to negotiate for wage increase, improved working condition and welfare which were postponed for years now. The old negotiated contract between company and trade union would expired on February 18, 2000. Thai Durable Textile factory.

The Thai Durable Textile trade union handed 3 demands.
1. The company should commit in the 3 grades as follows:
- Grade A adjusts to 1 0 Baht/worker/day
- Grade B adjusts to 9 Baht/worker/day
- Grade c adjusts to 8 Baht/worker/day
2. The yearly bonus should be paid to all workers i.e. 2 months
3. The employment and welfare condition which have not been changed should remain the same as before.

The demand are justifiable because many workers have worked with the company for a long time, some as long as 25 years. Many are older women, aged between 35-45 years on the average and 70% of them are married and have children. Moreover, since the last 4 years, women workers did not file any welfare demand with the company. But this year when the union filed the demand before the negotiated contract terminated, the Company made counter-demand and ordered the close down of the production section where members of trade union worked. The Thai Durable Textile's management made counter-demand to the trade union that:

[1] The annual wage increase and bonus payment will be at the discretion of the company
[2] The company would review all employment condition and welfare again
[3] The duration of the employment contract for the year 2000 will be in force for next 3 years

From counter-demand filed against trade union, it shows that the Management has no intention to promote collective bargaining which is an important tool of trade union to protect worker's right and benefits. This is guaranteed under the labor Act of 1975 and a standard practice of international community including the ILO. The company reveals its intention to abuse the right to freely organize and collective bargaining, the destroy labor relation in the factory and trade union. The very act of the employer also disregards humanistic principle and traditional practice of the past which had been a concern stone to achieve peaceful working relation between workers and employer at the Thai Durable Textile Factory. The Company does not take moral consideration that these women workers have families to feed and the fact that during these past years of economic difficulties, the workers have made sacrifices, forgone their demand for wage increase but also to accept wage cut and welfare reduction so that the company can survive the worst economic tides.

The struggle of the Thai Durable Textile workers and their trade union is but to uphold the principle of freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and negotiation.

[1] The employer must respect the collective bargaining as a way to avoid serious labor dispute and conflicts which can turn into violent, national confrontation. This will be no benefit to the country which is slowly regaining the economic growth.

[2] The employer must respect the demands filed by the trade union as this was a consensus drawn from the general meeting of trade union on September 12, 1999. This right has been guaranteed under the Labor Act of 1975.

[3] The employer must not violate the principle of peaceful collective bargaining and take advantage of the situation by closing down working section when union members are employed. The discriminatory practice must be stopped as it violates the Constitution and good labor practice to promote peaceful labor relation in modern factories.

At present, the Thai Durable Textile Trade Union and Workers have tried every means to pursuade owner of the factory and management to open up negotiation to resolve the labor dispute peacefully. The trade union has been working hard to reach agreement in a peaceful way as soon as possible. We hope that those responsible within the government will cooperate in achieving the above objective for workers and society at large.



APRN Conference on Poverty and Financing Development

Date: 21-23 August 2000
Venue: Jakarta, Indonesia

This conference aims to provide forum on the varius aspects of the issue of financial development and financial liberalisations core issues for people's advocacy, education and information affecting all countries in the Asia and the Pacific.

The Asia-Pacific Research Network (APRN) is a network of 23 active and leading research NGOs from 11 countries in the

For more informatin, contact the APRN Secretariat <>



Return HOME



We hope that the materials in this website have been useful to your work and ministry. You are free to reproduce the information on this website in your publications. We only ask that proper credits be given to the writers as well as DAGA/CCA-URM. We will also appreciate it very much that a copy of the publication be mailed to us at the address below:

Documentation for Action Groups in Asia (DAGA):
96 Pak Tin Village Area 2
Mei Tin Road, Shatin, NT
Phone: (852) 2697-1917
Fax: (852) 3017-2377