Jubilee: A Dream or a Reality?
A Hong Kong Chinese Woman's Perspective
Hong Kong Christian Institute
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus proclaimed his vision of God's
"The spirit of the Lord is upon me
Because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor
-[the year of Jubilee freedom]"
The concept of Jubilee is drawn from the Book of
Leviticus in which a year of Jubilee is celebrated every 50 years. It is a specific time
in the life of the people in which God expected justice to be restored to all those who
had experienced injustice. It is a time in which God would set right the wrongs of the
previous decades. It is the year that the slaves were to be set free, the debts of the
poor were to be forgiven, the land was to be returned to its original owners, and the land
was to be given rest (Lev. 25). In the Jubilee year, we are reminded once again that God
is a God of justice and that God does not forget the poor and the oppressed.
The invitation of Jubilee for all Christians, as
well as people of other faiths and others who share the vision and commitment of the
movement, is a challenge and a call to a spiritual awakening. It challenges us to examine
how our individual and corporate lifestyles have broken our relationship with God, with
each other, with God's Creation, and even with ourselves. It challenges us to make a
direct and dynamic link between our talk of faith with our walk of faith and to engage
ourselves in a ministry of joint discipleship with the poor and oppressed people in our
communities and in the wider world. It urges us to return to the original wholeness of
God's Creation. The wholeness of God can be described as the image of God that has to be
reflected individually and collectively by God's whole Creation. We as individuals cannot
become whole without at the same time helping others to become whole. God's Jubilee
discards the individualistic notion of personal salvation because there cannot be
liberation if the community does not survive. Our fate is bound together as one totality
In my presentation today, I will try to share with
you how I do theology in light of my reflection of the present distorted reality of our
world, particularly the reality of the crucified people of the Third World, and to urge my
sisters and brothers of the First World to encounter the suffering poor face to face, to
encounter the suffering Jesus face to face, so that we will be awakened from the sleep of
our inhumanity and will choose to seek God's will and God's reality by bringing back the
truth of life which manifests itself clearly in the Jubilee passages of the Bible.
As a theologian, I see that my role is to seek out God's will and to
bring this will into the reality of this world. Therefore, to me, Jubilee is not a dream;
it should be the reality that all Christians strive to bring about together. The following
presentation will adopt the methodology of Latin America's basic Christian communities as
its guiding principle, which is to see the distorted reality of the present world, to
judge and analyze the present situation through the eyes of the suffering Jesus, and to
act with compassion and hope. These three movements are not isolated; instead, they are
interwoven like a hermeneutical spiral. Thus, it is not an ideology of methodology;
rather, it is an ongoing process of conscientization-critical reflection on action-within
the faith community.
What has gone wrong with the reality of our world today?
As an Asian, Hong Kong Chinese woman, I will first
outline some significant events and trends that have taken place in Hong Kong, mainland
China, and Asia in general and an analysis of the cause of the problems. While the year of
Jubilee primarily concerns itself with debt, the injustices of today's global economy are
products of foreign investment, trade, and the policies of multilateral institutions, such
as the World Bank, IMF, and WTO, as well as debt. Thus, my comments will not be confined
to the issue of debt alone but will also touch on these other factors that contribute to
the enslavement of the world's poor. My information is based on my personal collection of
materials from many Asian regional NGOs, movement activists, theologians, and
Will Disneyland Save Hong Kong?
The Asian economic crisis that erupted in 1997 not
only took most of the world by surprise, but it also forced the leaders of countries like
Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea as well as Hong Kong to seek
alternative models of economic development. It is, indeed, an extreme irony that the most
dramatic impact of the crisis has occurred in the very countries that were held up by
economists and First World government officials as models for other developing countries
in the region and the world to follow.
However, what is most unfortunate is that many Asian governments,
instead of seeking to determine the real cause of the crisis, have continued to lead Asia
on a path of development that will further intensify urban and rural poverty,
unemployment, environmental exploitation, and cultural imperialism. One illustration of
this mindset is the decision of the Hong Kong government within the past year to spend
HK$230 billion or US$ 29.5 billion to build a Disneyland in Hong Kong (on average, it will
cost each citizen HK$3,000 or US$385-roughly a month's pay for the poor in Hong Kong). The
government believes that this is the best way to create more jobs, attract tourists, and
secure Hong Kong's economic prosperity.
Disneyland, however, is a clear illustration of the
phenomenon of globalization. As we all know, globalization is not a neutral phenomenon.
From a grassroots movement point of view, globalization has been closely related to
"neo-colonialism," an economic model rooted in economic domination, cultural
aggression, and political imperialism. Disneyland, as a large transnational corporation,
produces films, music and videos, clothes, toys, children's story books, etc. Although its
headquarters is located in the United States, the company owns more than 15,000 overseas
factories spread all over the world. In Asia alone, its plants are found in China, the
Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Burma, Sri Lanka, India, and Macau.
According to the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee and Asia Monitor Resource
Center's recent research, many of these factories not only pay very low wages to workers,
but they also exploit their work force by demanding long hours of work, no holidays, and
no industrial safety protection nor collective bargaining or union organizing. Thus, the
workers are more easily exposed to exploitation and accidents in the workplace. We can
imagine that, while the children of this country still embrace their lovely Mickey Mouse
in bed, thousands of women workers are sitting in the factory working 15 hours a day and
yet only earn 500 Chinese yuan or roughly US$63 a month. It is easy to see why Disney and
other transnational corporations which employ the same formula are such successful
What is the price that Hong Kong and Chinese people
have to pay for this Disneyland project? According to the analysis that was published by
the local NGO Globalization Monitor, there are at least three problems that this
Disneyland project will impose on Hong Kong (Yip Yum-chun and Si Pang-chuen, Disneyland Is
Not a Happy Garden: 1999). The first is the homogenization of global culture. As Western
transnational corporations are given full access to all other countries of the world, the
cultural transmissions conveyed through Western television programs, films, fashion, and
music not only diminish the viability of traditional local cultures and tastes, but they
also hasten the standardization of markets within the Western conceptual framework. What
is more threatening is that these globally distributed entertainment products will make it
more difficult for the local media, families, and teachers to compete for the attention of
the next generation. It will eventually take away the creativity of our children who
originally carry different cultural heritages, talents, and imaginations and will
gradually reduce problem-solving to the solutions found in the West.
The second problem is the destruction of the
environment and the social life of the local community. The location of the future
Disneyland is on part of one of the most precious green islands in Hong Kong-Lantau
Island-which belongs to all the people of Hong Kong. As you all know, Hong Kong is only a
dot on a map, encompassing only 400 square miles, and yet it accommodates a large
population of up to 6.8 million people. A green island, like Lantau Island, is an enormous
treasure and has to be well-protected for the benefit of the people today and for their
future generations. It is a free gift of God that has been bestowed to the people of Hong
Kong. Now, however, our government is turning part of it into the property of a foreign
enterprise to be used mainly for the profit of the Disney company.
Furthermore, the site of the future Disneyland-Penny's Bay-is on land
on which several small fishing and farming villages were located. Now, because of the new
airport and the Disneyland project, the priorities of the future development of the
territory will be directed at the needs of tourists instead of the local community. The
transformation of part of Lantau Island into Disneyland is like making God's Garden of
Eden into a privatized zoo. In Hong Kong, it is almost an everyday norm to see how our
public space is being transformed into privatized property. Under this new trend of
so-called laissez faire policies, the human relationship is based on consumerism instead
of friendship. God's Creation becomes a commodity rather than a shared resource for us to
appreciate and protect.
The third problem is the marginalization of the poor
and workers. In addition to directly spending HK$230 billion for the Disney project, the
Hong Kong government will also have to expend large sums of public money to construct a
transportation system to get to the park and other facilities. This money represents funds
that will not be available for social welfare, job retraining, and other programs to
alleviate the suffering of the poor during the current economic downturn.
Moreover, the job opportunities that are supposed to
be provided by this new project are, in fact, mainly low-income jobs which usually employ
migrant workers from other parts of Asia and mainland China. This project will primarily
only benefit the company while local workers are forced to face competition with other
migrant workers who are more vulnerable to being exposed to the double exploitation of,
first of all, being a worker and, secondly, of being a migrant worker with little labor
Will WTO Bring Hope to the Poor in China?
After the long process of negotiations between
Chinese officials and the United States as well as the European Union, the world is
expected to pave the way for China's entry into the World Trade Organization early next
year. Under this process of globalization, there are two distinct development trends in
the relation between labor and capital: (1) governments allow capital to dominate the
relationship between labor and capital in developing countries and former socialist
countries; (2) governments use administrative programs to assist capital to develop state
economies. These have created imbalances between capital and labor. Sacrificing labor
rights and interests to help economic development is the tacit policy of many governments.
Although the Chinese government has emphasized that
China's entry into the WTO will definitely benefit the Chinese people, labor activists,
like Cai Chongguo, are deeply concerned about the impact of this accord on Chinese workers
and peasants (Asia Monitor Resource Center, Asian Labor Update 32: September-November
1999). He explains that after China enters the WTO China's agricultural market will be
wide open to U.S. and other transnational corporations. Since the agricultural products of
the United States are 30 percent cheaper than Chinese products, such as corn and wheat,
the very lives of millions of Chinese peasants will be even more at risk than they are at
the present time. He worries that this will only provoke a new mass exodus of peasants off
their land. More than 100 million peasants have already had to abandon their farmlands,
only to be thrust into even more deplorable situations in either the special economic
zones or on the outskirts of large cities where they have no social safety net of any
kind, no jobs, no housing. Moreover, with this new agreement, the state-run enterprises
will be more quickly abandoned, plant closures will increase, and unemployment will rise.
It is even more heartbreaking to hear the Chinese
government say that this is an inevitable "sacrifice" that must be paid so that
China can be a full participant in the global economy. As Cai says, the attitude of the
Chinese authorities is totally unacceptable because, based on the experiences of the past
20 years of economic reform, such reforms, carried out as they are without democracy and
without independent trade unions, only result in the victimization of a large majority of
the workers. While a small minority of people have benefited from reform, the majority of
the population-their conditions of life and work-are far worse now than before. He
concluded that it is no longer possible today to harbor any such illusions in these market
reforms and agreements.
Among all workers, women workers have been the most affected during the
reform of state-run enterprises in China. More than 50 percent of laid-off workers in the
country are women. According to the China Daily report on International Women's Day,
another five million female workers could be sacked this year. (The Chinese government has
recorded 11.9 million unemployed workers as a result of the 1997 reforms of state-owned
firms. By the end of 1999, about 6.5 million sacked workers remained out of work. Many
economists agree that these official figures are conservative.) There are stories told and
retold of hundreds of Chinese women factory workers killed and injured in just the past
few years because of the country's lack of safety codes and regulations. In most cases,
the women workers are locked inside their dormitories that are located in the same
building as the factory's production lines and storage facilities. These three-in-one
factories in which living quarters, the factory, and warehouse are combined in one
building is one of the chief causes of death in China's factory fires.
Another problem that many labor activists point out
is that the consequences of China's economic restructuring have affected more than just
the economic dimensions of life. From the perspective of social relationships, the
original social contract has been broken, and a replacement is being attempted. In the
centrally planned economic system, the State and workers effectively concluded a contract.
As long as workers guaranteed political loyalty and submitted to management, the state
guaranteed cradle-to-grave minimum standards in education, work, income, housing, job
security, medical treatment, and retirement. Constitutional rights and obligations for
citizens, especially those concerning labor, demonstrated the essence of the social
contract and promoted the factory as a kind of family; but under market economic
restructuring, workers are not subject to any protection by the government. Many laid-off
workers are forced to undergo retraining and, told they are masters of their own destiny,
to become accustomed to exclusion from the ranks of government workers.
How Much Does the North Owe to the South?
Today many Asian people realize that neo-colonialism
is not a slogan. It can be defined as political independence with increasing economic
dependence, especially on the former colonial power. With the recent neo-liberal
orientation of the world economy, the South has seen, even more rapidly than the North, a
process of denationalization of its economy, which is more and more controlled by
multinational enterprises. Meanwhile, the flow of financial capital from the South to the
North has grown in a number of ways. The expatriate companies based in the imperial
country continue to operate as before, to extract profits and remit them to the
New processes, however, have also taken place. Among them, mechanisms
of price fixing, especially of the products of the South; the repatriation of profits; the
coupling of interest rates in the South with those in the North, especially for short-term
investments; the export of capital to tax havens; and debt service often almost equivalent
to export incomes are the primary examples. In 1999, the service of the debt alone cost
the South US$200 billion. During that same year, foreign aid totaled US$50 billion. It has
been calculated that the flow of capital from the South to the North is three or four
times the amount of the flow from the North to the South.
Meanwhile, the policies of the World Bank and
International Monetary Fund have pressured local economies to integrate themselves into
the existing neo-liberal framework and to promote the accumulation of capital. Because of
the lack of an effective monitoring system, however, the debt has been accumulated without
any responsible accountability.
Take, for instance, the example of Indonesia. "During the New
Order period," says J. A. Winters, "the World Bank provided $30 billion in loans
to the Indonesian government; but because of the existing culture of corruption, 30
percent of the aid was misappropriated. Finance has come to mean stealing and the
accumulation of wealth through the public fund without control" (Winters 1999: 90).
Winters describes this phenomenon as "criminal debt." For more than 30 years,
the World Bank continued to give loans to Indonesia, he says, even when it knew that a
large amount of the money was stolen (Winters 1999: 124). Therefore, there is enough
reason for Indonesia to demand a cancellation of all, or at least part of, that criminal
Consequently, based on the case of Indonesia, whose story is not
unique, questions should be asked about how the debts were incurred in the first place as
loans have been proffered by greedy lenders to corrupt dictators who have spent money
irresponsibly or in the oppression of their own people.
Moreover, based on the analysis of Southern campaigners involved with
the Jubilee movement, there is even a question about whether there is any debt to be
repaid. Rather, they claim, the question should be asked whether the North is willing to
pay the debt that it owes the South through centuries of colonialism in which countries in
the Southern Hemisphere saw their natural resources extracted and exported at a fraction
of their worth through the use of vastly underpaid labor exploited to accomplish this
task. As Fr. Tissa Balasuriya of Sri Lanka and others in their statement "Remaking
Memory, Reclaiming What Is Ours" explain, "The damages caused to Third World
people by the North are more serious than we can imagine. If we had to calculate
compensation for the unpaid labor, for grabbed land, for usurious loans, for war damages,
for slavery, for genocide, for unequal exchanges, we would never end the calculation, not
to mention the interest. This debt cannot be paid in full-neither morally, nor materially.
Human suffering and such violations of human rights cannot be expressed in figures."
The authors emphasize though that "the question of compensation cannot be avoided. It
is a matter of justice." The statement lists three kinds of compensation-moral
compensation, material compensation, and cultural compensation. In order to promote the
demand for compensation, they have proposed the creation of a global People's Tribunal on
debt to the South.
Likewise, some Asian advocates of the Jubilee movement do not demand
relief from the North but restitution and reparations for the profound economic, social,
political, cultural, and environmental damages wrought upon their countries and peoples
through centuries of debt-related colonization and neo-colonization. They also call for
actions to produce fundamental changes in today's dominant global capitalist system and
for the creation of alternative people-centered socio-economic and political systems.
Jubilee: A Dream or a Reality?
When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea
Philippi, he asked his disciples two questions. The first question was, "Who do
people say that the Son of Man is?" to which they replied, "Some say John the
Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." Then
Jesus asked the second question, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter
answered: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
Following Jesus' methodology, my theological
question here then concerns not whether but how does Jubilee become a reality of life? To
me, these two questions represent two different levels of meaning. The first question
stays on the level of merely an academic pursuit or an objective analysis while the second
question is a real theological question, for it involves personal commitment or a faith
How Jubilee becomes a reality of life implies three
theological meanings. The first meaning is that, as Christians, we must use a lens of
faith to see Jubilee as a reality of God and, therefore, a reality of life. It is a deeply
spiritual challenge which requires our radical faith in God-a God who is life, a God who
defends the poor, a God of liberation and resurrection, a God of justice and hope. In
contrast to God's reality, the existing reality of poverty and suffering is the most
vigorous denial of God's will. Therefore, the second meaning of our theological question
is to name the evils that obstruct God's will, that is, in what ways does this sinful
reality destroy the beauty and harmony of God's Creation, an investigation that requires
us to dig into both the structural and spiritual nature of human sin. The third meaning is
to take action to recover God's justice and to seek reconciliation. This implies not only
the eradication of sin but also the forgiveness of the sinners, and yet, only when the
crucified peoples are prepared to offer forgiveness and to move all humanity to struggle
against the sinful reality can reconciliation be possible. Again, these three levels of
theological meaning echo the guiding principle of the hermeneutical spiral of see, judge,
What is the reality of God though? From the Biblical
passage of Lev. 25:5-12, we see clearly that God is not an abstract concept of the divine;
rather, God is the connecting power of relationality. It is God's desire to call us to
return to the reality of life-a totality of life. Only when we understand the survival of
the entire Creation can we appreciate the wholeness of God's sacred reality, that is, our
respect for Nature's integrity and our pursuit of human justice are interconnected.
In naming the evils of today's world, the first evil
which I want to point out is the culture of domination which, in fact, is embedded in our
Christian ideologies. Rita Nakashima Brock points out that the Father God who comes to
symbolize male dominance has legitimized the power of the Church to subordinate women to
male authorities. Furthermore, many ecofeminists recognize that violence against the
vulnerability of Creation, the rape of the Earth, and the negligence of the rights of
future generations are all part of the general structure of inequality and subjugation
that are found in forms of sexism, patriachalism, heterosexism, colonialism,
neo-colonialism, racism, classism, and hierachicalism as well as cultural imperialism. I
agree with feminist theologian Rosemary R. Ruether that "there can be no liberation
for women and no solution to the ecological aims within a society whose fundamental model
of relationships continues to be one of domination" (Rosemary Radford Ruether,
NewWoman/New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation: 1975).
The second evil is human greed and individualism
which form the basis for, as well as the outcome of, the world's dominant economic system.
It is very right to quote Gandhi's dictum in this context: "There is enough wealth in
the world to meet everybody's needs, but not to meet one person's greed." The unequal
growth of finance capital has created a casino economy characterized by vulnerability and
insecurity as has been shown by the latest economic crisis in Asia. Following this trend,
our world eventually will reach unsustainable proportions. The moral perversity of
economic liberalism which promotes human progress in terms of competition, efficiency, and
consumerism has been accepted by most people without question. To me, the evilness of the
laissez faire capitalist system and free markets is that it creates class oppression,
destroys the community, and distorts the holistic reality of God and life. One reason why
human greed and individualism have become such dominant traits of human nature is because
there is no love and care in our community. When our society is influenced by the ideology
of the "survival of the fittest," the only survival skill that people learn is
to compete and to beat other people down. Eventually, we will lose our ability to love and
care for each other.
What kind of actions can we take to restore God's
justice and reconciliation? We must first create an ethic of care for community-building.
We must recognize that human beings are not only interrelated; they are also
interdependent beings. Furthermore, we must make the clear connection between our local
problems and the multinational corporate drive for economic and political globalization,
and we must challenge the damage that world trade and foreign investment have done to the
poor and the environment. One strategy to counter globalization is to emphasize local
production for local consumption, to reduce global trade, and yet to build networks with
groups in other countries that seek alternative and sustainable ways of development at the
global level which eventually will benefit the common good of all people. In order to do
this, we have to shift the accepted notion of upward mobility with its vertical concept of
progress into a downward and horizontal model of development. This new model emphasizes
the sharing of resources instead of competition, participation instead of exclusion,
life-energizing work instead of merely profit making activities. This action of faith is
based on our corporate repentance, that is, a return to the reality of God which Jubilee
In terms of responding to global debt, I agree with
the view of the Jubilee South campaign that all of the foreign debt of the South must be
cancelled as it was, in reality, loans to the corrupt elites of the South, not the people
of the South. Moreover, as earlier explained, centuries of colonialism have, if anything,
made the North the debtor region of the world, not the South, for the loans to the South
in the 20th century were built on the foundation of the capital acquired through five
centuries of economic and political exploitation. With the funds that would be used for
debt servicing, governments in Asia and elsewhere in the South must meet the educational,
health, and social welfare needs of their people. Lastly, we must drastically alter the
global economic system so that redistributing wealth, both between countries and within
countries, rather than mere economic growth becomes the driving force of the world
economy. In this way, it is hoped that in 2050 there will no debt for anyone, anywhere, to
As a faith community, our challenge is to discern
the reality of God, to hold and keep faith in the goodness of God. The cross on which God
was placed is the most eloquent proclamation that God loves the crucified people of this
world. On that cross, God's love was nailed. At that point in time, God's love seemed
impotent, yet it was visible and painfully real. It is from this perspective that the
theology of hope can make sense to all of us. To me, hope reflects a trust in the goodness
of a God who listens and responds to our communal lament. Hope requires us to make a
choice between faith and idolatry, to say No to this world's evil and to say Yes to God's
mercy and justice. Without such a dialectic formulation, faith remains abstract and empty.
On the other hand, hope also requires us to have compassion for "the other" who
is larger than the self. Only through our sense of connecting with "the other"
as neighbors-making someone else's pain our very own and allowing that pain to move us to
respond-can we grasp a glimpse of hope for life. To me, this hope is based on our
commitment to enter into the communal lament, to repent, and seek a justice-filled future
together as a community.
[Rose Wu is the director of the Hong Kong Christian Institute, an ecumenical
institution committed to : to interpret the Hong Kong situation to overseas Christians and
to introduce ecumenical activities and thinking to local Christians. The above paper was
presented at the recent Pan Asian American conference of the United Church of Christ.]
Japan's Role in the Economic Integration
of the Two Koreas
***** NEAPS NETWORK SPECIAL REPORT *****
The historic summit held between North and South Korea in June has
raised expectations that the two Koreas will reunify sooner rather than later. Prime
Minister Mori went so far as to compare the summit to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
Unification of the two Koreas is probably still many years off, but the summit may signal
the start of a gradual economic integration of the two Koreas. In the joint declaration
signed by Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il on June 15, the two leaders vaguely pledged to
promote "economic cooperation." However, as with the declaration itself, the
pledge is vague on the precise forms of economic cooperation that will take place. It
remains unclear if North Korea's leaders are prepared to accept Kim Dae-jung's bold offer
of engagement and reform their emaciated economy. If they are, this will be a far greater
task than the two Koreas are capable of handling by themselves. The international
community will be critical in this process, and no government or organization could have a
greater potential impact than Japan. Yet, just as the North's intentions are obscure, it
is also unclear what role Japan will decide to play.
Will a Unified Korea be Japan's Friend or Foe?
Japan is approaching a critical juncture in its relations with the
Korean Peninsula. The extent to which Japan plays an active role in the revitalization of
the North Korean economy and economic integration of the two Koreas will shape the nature
of Japan's relationship with a post-unification Korea. Japan has an opportunity to play a
central role in the resuscitation of the North Korean economy. If Japan fails to live up
to its responsibilities and expectations, Koreans will not soon forget. After all, Koreans
still observe the anniversary of Hideyoshi's invasion of the peninsula--an event that took
place more than 400 years ago.
Despite all the hugs and handshakes, the summit has not changed my
basic assumption that unification is still in the distant future. In a survey I conducted
last summer of leading Korea watchers from Asia, Europe and the United States, more than
two-thirds predicted that unification was more than ten years away. While a sudden
collapse cannot be completely ruled out, there are no indications that the North faces
Whether the North ultimately experiences a soft or a crash landing,
when the two countries do unify the task of raising North Korea's economy to the level of
the South's will take decades. Thus, the unification process will take the better part of
the next century to complete. Even if it is too soon for Japanese to start looking over
their shoulders, now is the time to chart a course of action for the role Japan will play
in North-South economic integration. That role will impact the extent to which the two
countries remain allies or become adversaries.
The Prospects for Economic Reform in North Korea
The summit raises the same question that arose when the two Koreas
signed the Basic Agreement in 1991: Is the North ready to begin the process of economic
reform and deepen its economic linkages with the South? With his power consolidated but
the economy in shambles, Kim Jong-il seems to have concluded that he has no choice but to
respond positively to President Kim Dae-jung's engagement policy. Kim Jong-il has
surprised most North Korea watchers by meeting three times in the span of a year with
Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-young to discuss economic cooperation projects. Moreover,
Kim's comments during his visit to China in late May suggest that he may be prepared to
"improve" (the North loathes the word "reform") the North Korean
The decision by the North to tentatively accept Kim Dae-jung's overture
does not resolve the fundamental dilemma confronting North Korea's leaders: how to
resuscitate the North Korean economy through expanded outside investment and trade without
jeopardizing their grip on power. Thus, the North's efforts to undertake reform and
economic cooperation are likely to be modest. Even China, often cited as a model for
economic reform in North Korea, is still grappling with privatization more than 20 years
after Deng Xio-ping initiated the reform process.
The economic challenges facing North Korea are daunting. The 1990s was
the lost decade for the North, with the economy shrinking by more than one-third.
According to the latest data from the Bank of Korea, North Korea grew 6.2 percent last
year. However, this figure is highly misleading, as much if not all of the growth is due
to increased unilateral transfers from abroad. More tellingly, exports continued to fall;
1999 exports were only slightly more than one-quarter of 1990 levels. Humanitarian
assistance has at least stopped the economy's bleeding. More importantly, thanks to
foreign donations, the food situation has improved. North Korean leaders can now turn to
the task of reviving the economy. The best-case scenario would be for Kim Jong-il or one
of his subordinates (via a coup) to emerge as the North's equivalent of Park
Chung-hee--the South Korean general-turned-president who led South Korea's rapid economic
development in the 1960s and 1970s. Only time will tell if the North has such a leader.
North-South Economic Cooperation
North and South Korea are poised to turn a new page in their economic
relationship. What began as a trickle of economic exchanges in the late 1980s has become a
river under Kim Dae-jung. Two-way trade (the South Korean government counts some
humanitarian assistance programs as trade) reached an all-time high $333 million in 1999,
nearly doubling since 1992. However, the figure is only one-sixth of trade between
China-Taiwan. The China-Taiwan experience shows that the best insurance policy against
hostilities may be deepening economic linkages. The more the North depends on the South
and the outside world for assistance, the less likely it will be to lash out.
More than 130 companies are doing business in the North, but none has
made a profit yet. The biggest venture to date is the Hyundai Group's tours of the fabled
Mt. Kumgang. 250,000 South Koreans have visited so far, but what really seems to have
gotten the North Korean leadership's attention is the payment Hyundai makes for each
visitor to the North. Hyundai must pay the North $150 million a year in cash. Hyundai's
Mt. Kumgang tours may have paved the way for expanded investment in the North, but they
have also set a troubling precedent. It is undoubtedly gratifying to see large numbers of
South Koreans visiting the North, but the project has hemorrhaged red ink. By some
estimates, Hyundai loses seven won for every one that it takes in. Given Hyundai's
precarious financial situation, it remains to be seen whether it will recoup some or all
of this loss from the government.
Nevertheless, the Mt. Kumgang project can help lay the foundations for
expanded trade and investment. These projects can lead to the establishment of credible
rules and regulations on investment, which are commonly cited as the biggest concern among
potential foreign investors. In addition, since the North's poor infrastructure remains a
formidable barrier to foreign investment, South Korean firms will likely target power
generation and transmission, roads, and telecommunications projects. In manufacturing,
processing on commission trade has proven to be one of the most promising areas of
economic cooperation between North and South Korea over the past decade. The North's low
wages and well educated workforce (not to mention common language) are attractive to South
Korea's low-tech (especially textile) industries. Ultimately, South Korean firms will have
to show that it is possible to make a profit before non-Korean investors will enter in
significant numbers. Thus, private sector investment in the North is likely to be very
modest for the foreseeable future.
One of the first real litmus tests of the North's commitment to
economic engagement will be the location of an industrial park proposed by Hyundai.
Pyongyang has been reluctant to accept Hyundai's choice of Haeju, a location that features
a major port which is close to significant population centers and close to the South.
Should the North instead chose the remote Shineuiju, this would signal that the regime has
concluded that the risks of societal contamination outweigh the potential economic
benefits of outside investment. One of the most encouraging recent developments is Kim
Jong-il's proposal to reestablish rail links between North and South Korea to facilitate
the export of minerals, one of North Korea's only (licit) exports. Ultimately, the public
sector will be the locus of economic interaction with the North.
The Cost of Unification
Even under the most optimistic scenarios, the North will not be able to
narrow the gap in income disparity with the South prior to unification. Economic
integration of the two Koreas will be a long and expensive process. The North's per capita
income in 1999 was only 1/12 that of the South's. In contrast, East German incomes were
roughly 1/3 that of the West's at the time of unification. According to a recent report by
Goldman Sachs, the total cost of unification is likely to be in the trillions of dollars.
Just raising North Korea's infrastructure to international standards has been estimated to
cost $50 billion. At least $10 billion is needed to reconnect North and South Korean rail
lines and establish special economic zones, according to a report by the Samsung Economic
Research Institute. Unfortunately, the South Korean government's North-South Cooperation
Fund has only $400 million available. The role of outside players, and particularly Japan,
will be crucial.
To a large extent, the fate of North-South economic integration will
depend on the role of non-Korean investment, especially that from Japan. The United States
has been the single largest source of unilateral transfers to North Korea since 1995,
including over $140 million in 1999. However, this was almost exclusively for food aid and
heavy fuel oil for the light water reactor projects as part of the 1994 Agreed Framework.
In recent years the Clinton Administration has had to struggle with Congress for funding
approval in order to fulfill its commitment, so the prospects for increased transfers are
remote. North Korea's "charm offensive" to establish ties with a host of foreign
countries is likely to have only a modest effect on foreign aid inflows. If North Korea is
allowed to join international financial institutions like the World Bank and Asian
Development Bank (a move which Japan and the United States have blocked), several hundred
million dollars a year could be loaned to the North for infrastructure projects. However,
this would still be billions of dollars short of the levels needed to resuscitate the
North Korean economy. Japan, along with China, remains as North Korea's financial lifeline
to the outside world. Korean residents in Japan loyal to the North send hundreds of
millions of dollars a year in cash and goods to the North. However, support for North
Korea has waned in recent years, and transfers to Japan are estimated to be down by as
much as 50%. Little is known about how this money is spent.
The economic package connected to the normalization of relations
between Japan and North Korea represents the single greatest potential stimulus to the
North Korean economy. Not only does Japan have the greatest financial obligation to the
North, it is also likely to possess the most detailed information about North Korea's
infrastructure needs as a result of its colonial experiences on the peninsula. If North
Korea is serious about reviving its economy, it will choose to normalize relations sooner
rather than later. According to a report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service
released in April, estimates of the total Japanese aid package for North Korea range from
$3.4 billion to over $20 billion--enough to begin to address North Korea's infrastructure
The North Korea of today still has a significantly higher per capita
GNP than South Korea in 1965, the year Japan normalized relations with the South. South
Korean President Park Chung- hee was pragmatic enough to recognize the potential role of
Japanese capital and technology transfers in South Korea's economic development and was
able to overcome the Korean people's deep antipathy toward Japan. Japan's $800 million aid
and loan package for South Korea played a critical role in South Korea's rapid economic
development. For example, Pohang Iron and Steel, one of the leading steel producers in the
world today, might not exist were it not for the infusion of Japanese capital in the
1960s. The fact that North Korea asked to have normalization talks resume after a
seven-year hiatus suggests that it may finally be prepared to place pragmatism above
As normalization talks proceed, the challenge will be to tie as much of
the aid package as possible to specific projects rather than outright transfers. Even if
the North accedes to this condition, building up North Korea's infrastructure will be a
daunting task. The Nautilus Institute's Peter Hayes, one of the leading specialists on
North Korea's energy needs, cautions in a recent article, "North Korea simply cannot
absorb much external assistance very quickly." A quick shot in the arm will not solve
North Korea's basic infrastructure needs. Multi-year plans will have to be devised and
strict monitoring requirements put in place.
Economic assistance and cooperation with North Korea stands as one of
the most effective means of overcoming the lingering mistrust between Japan and the two
Koreas. As North and South Korea enter into what will hopefully be an era of
reconciliation and economic cooperation, Japan is in a unique position to facilitate this
process. The challenges are formidable. North Korea will not change overnight and may
still at times resort to biting the hand that attempts to feed it. Several political
obstacles must also be overcome, foremost being the resolution of missing Japanese
citizens believed to be held in North Korea and a reduction of the missile threat posed by
These challenges will require a Japanese government with vision and
leadership. In a country best known for having a "following policy" rather than
a "foreign policy," this will not be easy, especially in light of the weak
coalition government elected last month. Moreover, Japan's own economic malaise and
burgeoning government budget deficit make the thought of providing North Korea with
billions of dollars in economic assistance far from appetizing to many Japanese.
Nevertheless, Japan has an opportunity to help insure that a unified Korea remains Japan's
ally. In addition, if economic engagement with the North is successful, the Japanese
economy stands to reap handsome returns, just as it did in the late 1960s after
normalization of relations with South Korea. If North Korea demonstrates that it is
serious about establishing relations with Japan and takes genuine steps to address
Japanese concerns, the Japanese government should be prepared to respond accordingly.
Bangkok Statement of Understanding on
Peace Process in Sri Lanka
Twenty-eight participants from the civil society from Sri Lanka and
India met in Bangkok, Thailand from 31 August to 2 September for Peace Audit Exercise on
the Sri Lanka Peace Process. This meeting on peace process in Sri Lanka was organized by
the South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR). At the end of the meeting the group agreed
on the following statement of understanding:
We the participants at the Peace Audit Exercise on the Sri Lanka Peace
Process being deeply concerned about the prevailing situation stressed the importance of
greater democratization of the pursuit of peace and the primary role of civil society in
this regard. The concentration of peace process at the highest levels of political
decision-making has restricted the space for wider participation of the people and has
been a key factor in contributing to the lack of progress. This lack of progress in turn
further reinforces militarisation and polarization of society and has lead to the intense
suffering of all the peoples of Sri Lanka, particularly those living in the combat zones.
In recognition of our complete opposition to the war and the crucial
need for a viable civil society agenda for peace, we focused on four themes and identified
courses of action to further the peace process: i). Review of the peace process; ii).
humanitarian issues and the peace and reconciliation process; iii). media and peace
activism and iv). women in conflict and peace making.
We feel that any genuine solution to the problem must include the
Recognition of the diversity and respect for the human rights and
democratic rights of all the peoples of Sri Lanka irrespective of their numerical strength
as communities; taking into consideration the serious deterioration of the democratic
system in Sri Lanka the reform of institutions and processes of governance.
Proposals for devolution and power sharing must instill faith and
confidence in the democratic and non-violent forms of conflict resolution and be just and
comprehensive in addressing the root causes of conflict.
The role of the LTTE must be recognized as integral in any peace
The necessity of a peoples' movement for democratic reform was
considered as an essential component of the peace process.
Third party assistance in the peace process was recognized as
necessary and unavoidable in ensuring constructive dialogue between the protagonists and
the role of the UN and international organizations in monitoring human rights violations
and encouraging the peace process was also recognized the peace.
We feel that in defining humanitarian space there is need to go
beyond the stereotype of what constitutes humanitarian assistance - humanitarian
assistance should not only refer to such items as food clothing and shelter but also the
right to access to these means of existence. These have to be seen in the context of the
human rights of the affected persons.
We deplore the weaponisation of the basic means of survival e.g.
food, medicine and shelter and stress the fundamental link between humanitarian issues and
human rights. The justification of the intensity of the conflict cannot be used to deprive
people of their basic rights and to injure the human dignity of all persons. The state
cannot abdicate its obligation to protect and provide for the welfare of all its citizens.
Obligations of the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE as a non-state actor under
international law with regard to this need to be strongly emphasized.
The delivery of relief and humanitarian assistance should be handled
by civilian authorities and agencies supervised by international humanitarian
institutions; there has to be a humanitarian corridor for such supplies supervised by
these international institutions.
The way Tamils are treated by the pass system, the arbitrary
detention of youth, denial of legal redress in their own language, gravely impede the
process of reconciliation. Redress in these areas can and should be the starting point for
The humanitarian plight of the Muslim and Sinhala minorities in the
combat zones needs attention and they should not become a pawn in ethnic politics.
In the context of escalating conflict, a humanitarian corridor should
be created under the supervision of the ICRC or any other neutral organization to assist
the civilian population to move to safe areas.
The role of Indian civil society, in particular, in raising and
providing humanitarian assistance and urging the government of Indian to provide shelter
to the fleeing population of Sri Lanka is of special importance and will go along way in
evolving norms of South Asian solidarity with the victims.
We feel that in understanding media coverage of the conflict,
constraints such as the ethnic divide, the state and non-state media divide, censorship
and self-censorship, as well as the lack of professionalism in the media must be
considered. As means of overcoming these constraints the following recommendations were
made. The use of alternative channels of communication and the crucial need for civil
society peace organizations to develop specific media strategies was emphasized.
Demystification of IT and capacity building of NGO in employing IT in
their lobbying and dissemination programmes.
The creative use of multi media and the dissemination of programmes
promoting peace on radio and TV both private and state owned, was stressed.
Training programmes for sensitizing journalists to issues of social
justice and "what is news" in conflict situations. Better professional training
could be a first step in countering the problem of self-censorship.
The need for a Right to Information law was emphasized. The use of
draconian, emergency and censorship laws to restrict freedom of expression and the right
to information was condemned and their immediate removal was called for. Free access of
journalists to the military zone was also called for.
We feel that women throughout Sri Lanka should be singled out as being
adversely affected by war both directly and indirectly. Women constitute 50 % of the
population, which has been displaced, and the war experience has affected both their
self-perception and the dynamics of gender relationships within communities. In some cases
conflict is forcing the revival of hitherto discarded social practices which undermine
women's autonomy e.g. veiling of Muslim women. The phenomenon of women headed households
has imposed an additional burden on women but it has also opened up ambivalent spaces of
Conflict has forced women to think and act in terms of their
ethnicity and this polarization has made it difficult for civil society women activists to
work together let alone bringing together the women of the various communities.
Whilst there has to be a search for common ground on the basis of
shared experiences and values, there needs to be a plurality of approach in organizing
women from the three communities taking into account the different ground situation in
which they are placed and the specific needs of their respective communities.
Humanitarian relief and economic empowerment, by themselves will not
alleviate the situation of women in conflict: the centrality of political empowerment was
Once more the primacy of democratizing the peace process was
emphasized as an indispensable condition for the participation of women. It will provide
women their due space in society and strengthen their role in the peace building process.
The agony that all the peoples of Sri Lanka are currently enduring
demands a comprehensive and vibrant discourse on democratization on the one hand and
devolution and power sharing on the other. This situation creates an enormous obligation
on civil society and its organizations. It also casts a duty on the civil society in South
Asia to support the Sri Lankans at this crucial hour.
WOMEN WORKERS PROTEST IN FRONT OF
Bangkok 2 September 2000
More than 500 women workers are holding a permanent protest in front of
the Government House of Thailand.
The workers are members of the Thai Kriang Durable Textile Trade Union,
which is affiliated to the Textile Garment and Leather Workers Federation of Thailand and
to the Labor Congress of Thailand.
The Thai Durable company employs 1500 mostly women workers. The workers
have been helping the company during the years of economic crisis by agreeing to no pay
increasess and accepting the loss of their holiday pay.
Now the company is again making profits and has invested in millions of
dollars of new machinery. When the contract expired in February 2000 the workers asked for
a pay increase of US$0.03 cents per day and a two month bonus for all workers.
The company refused to discuss these demands and the workers went on
strike in May and occupied the factory.
On 14 June the company sent plainclothes security guards to attack the
workers assembled in the factory. The security guards were supported by riot police. The
security guards and police eventually cleared the factory and 390 workers were sacked.
The union complained that the attack on the workers was contrary to
Thai labor laws and that the police should prosecute those who assaulted the workers.
On 27 July more than 2000 workers joined a demonstration in front of
Government House to support the textile workers.
On 1 August the Thai Kriang Durable Textile Trade Union set up a
protest in front of Government House, to request government support for their claims.
The workers' protest has been joined by a permanent protest of 3000
peasants, organised by the Assembly of the Poor, who are demanding compensation because
their lands have been submerged by a new dam. They have a log of claims that includes no
more dams on their land and compensation.
The two protests have developed into three very organised and very
disciplined tent cities. But there are rows of riot police standing just two meters from
This protest has united 23 Thai local unions and labor centres in a
major effort of solidarity and support. Unions have provided tents against the monsoon
rain, and donations of money and food. Cultural groups have held performances and labor
activists visit the protest.
The Thai Kriang Durable Textile Trade Union has received messages of
solidarity from two textile trade unions outside Thailand, and they have asked other
unions in the Asia Pacific Region to send their message of solidarity to the workers
assembled outside the Thai Government House.
Please send your message of solidarity to:
Thai Kriang Durable Textile Trade Union
PAK MOON DAM Update
Cabinet yields to demand Assembly of the Poor
ends hunger strike
9 August: The government yesterday bowed to pressure from the Assembly
of the Poor and accepted seven out of the eight recommendations made by a neutral
committee charged with solving their problems.
Government spokesman Akapol Sorasuchart said the cabinet agreed with
seven proposals made by Banthorn On-dam's panel.
The government agreed to:
- Allow locals and NGOs to sit on environmental impact panels.
- Compensate villagers based on actual damage.
- Revamp the National Environmental Committee and allow it to participate in environmental
- Amend the 1992 Environmental Conservation Bill.
- Allow a multilateral committee comprising state agencies, local administrations and NGOs
to manage water resources with the National Water Resource Committee.
- Allow the panel to participate in planning and decision-making.
- Amend forest management laws in line with the constitution.
Mr Akapol said the government disagreed with the recommendation to
revoke the cabinet's June 30, 1998 resolution on land claims verification.
The resolution effectively cancelled two earlier resolutions issued by
the Chavalit administration allowing villagers to live in the forests while their claims
were verified by witnesses. The Chuan cabinet resolution required verification by aerial
Mr Akapol defended the government's resolution, saying the use of
aerial photos would solve the problem of forest encroachment. Copies of that resolution
would be distributed to protesters today, he said.
Assembly of the Poor adviser Wanida Tantiwittayapitak said she had yet
to look into today's proceedings in detail but it appeared the government was only acting
"Last week we got a spoon and this week we got a plate. For
everything we get, we are forced to work extremely hard to pressure the government for it.
I suppose next week we'll get rice."Protesters yesterday ended their 12-day hunger
strike but the assembly was looking ahead to the possibility of settling down outside
Government House for the long haul.
The end of the hunger strike by some 700 protesters was marked by a
ceremony by Phra Paisarn Visalo, a strong proponent of non-violence principles.
The villagers will rest for four days to allow hunger strikers to
recuperate. "After the rest, we will decide on our next move," said Pakdi
Chanthajiad, one of the group's leaders.
Rajani Dhongchai, principal of the Children's Village School in
Kanchanaburi, will today begin teaching 23 village children in a makeshift hut outside
The school, made from bamboo and leaves, is similar to one erected at
Mae Moon Man Yuen I, a temporary village on the banks of the Moon river.
It will have white boards and chairs, but there are no funds yet to
provide lunch, books or toys.
"The unfair development policy has hurt these children. In a way,
it is destroying our nation since the children are our future. I can't let them sit idly
by and do nothing," she said.
NGO STATEMENT ON NATIONAL INSTITUTIONS
AND THE WORLD CONFERENCE AGAINST RACISM, XENOPHOBIA AND RELATED INTOLERANCE
Rotorua, New Zealand, August 2000
The NGOs gathered here welcome the World Conference Against Racism,
Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. The massive problems involved
in discrimination in the Asia Pacific region that needs to find expression during this
World Conference. It can build world consensus to eliminated all forms of racial
discrimination and contribute to mutual understanding and goodwill among the peoples.
In reviewing the preparations for this Conference there are several
matters of concern that the NGOs wish to bring to the notice of this conference. As you
know, the first preparatory committee meeting of the conference was held in May 2000.
Prior to that a consultative meeting was held, at Bellagio, Italy. (This was also attended
by several NGO leaders from various parts of the world.) From this meeting a statement was
issued under the title "The Bellagio Statement". This statement made a
comprehensive set of recommendations for the world conference. Unfortunately, the PrepCom
meeting ignored most of these recommendations and its own statement is one of a very
general nature. If the World Conference on racism is to produce guidelines for the
resolution of conflict related to the themes of the conference then the conference must
look in more details at the actual problems confronted by millions of people throughout
The preparatory work for the conference takes place by way of experts
meetings and regional meetings. The European experts meeting has already been held and a
set of recommendations have been developed. However, we note that although the next
experts meeting is to be held in Bangkok by the end of this month, very few preparations
have taken place. What is more disturbing is that the conference theme has been limited to
migration and the trafficking of women. While we support strongly the inclusion of these
two themes we are worried about the exclusion of many other vital issues related to racism
in the Asia Pacific region - a region in which more than half of the world's population
We specifically wish to draw attention to the following issues:
- Identify specific forms of racism. This Forum should identify specific forms of racism
in the Asia Pacific region and find ways to advise the governments of the region about
- The caste system in South Asia, with specific reference to the Dalits of India (the
former "untouchables"). Two hundred million people of India belong to a category
called the Dalits who have been deprived of all basic human rights for thousands of years.
The Indian Constitution made some attempt to deal with this issue. However, given the
enormity of the problem, such redress has not gone to eradicate this most inhuman form of
discrimination. While apartheid can be considered a partial for of exclusion, the
discrimination of the Dalits constitute complete exclusion. It is time that Asia attends
to its obligation to these people;
- Indigenous people's rights;
- Minority people's rights;
- Migration within and outside of Asia;
- The representation and full involvement of NHRIs at both PrepCom meetings (of the World
Conference Against Racism) and regional meetings and seminars;
- The full participation of NGOs in all PrepCom meetings (of the World Conference Against
Racism) should be ensured;
- Adequate representation of minority and indigenous people;
- We would like Commissions to review the adequacy or otherwise of various forms of
redress used in the past -e.g. affirmative action -- and make recommendations for further
- A much wider consultative process within Asia should take place so as to identify a
specific role for the Forum Secreatariate -- the attention given to this conference so far
has been insufficient and must be addressed;
- The education section of the background paper needs to include anti-racism programmes
specifically for school so that children receive this education from a young age, when
their values and beliefs are most vulnerable to impression.
*[This statement regarding the World Conference Against Racism to
be held in South Africa in August 2001 was drafted by 24 NGOs from Asia Pacific region
that participated in the Asia-Pacific Forum of Human Rights Institutions.]