Report on Asia at the CADTM World Assembly, Dakar, 13 -16 November 2021

27 January 2022 by CADTM Asie

The report is based on CADTM’s activities in the South Asian region and the contemporary political situation in Asia.

 What is the current social, economic and political situation?

According to Asian Development Bank’s Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2021, the corona-virus pandemic has added as many as 80 million people in developing Asia into extreme poverty in the year 2020. The figures could be much higher considering glaring inequalities in health, education and work. It is important to note that in 2017, some 203 million Asians, or about 5.2% of developing Asia’s population, survived under extreme poverty, defined as less than $1.90 a day. As unemployment rates increased the region also lost about 8% of work hours, affecting poorer households and workers in the informal sector.

Even before the outbreak of the pandemic, the continent faced extreme levels of economic inequality largely exacerbated since neo-liberal policy reforms were implemented in the 1990s. These policies aimed to achieve the privatisation of publicly owned assets, casualisation of labour, regressive tax systems, withdrawal of social security measures, etc. All these have contributed to the channelisation of income and wealth into the hands of an elite few. Between 1987 and 2019, the number of billionaires in Asia skyrocketed from 40 to 768.

The pandemic has caused the situation to deteriorate even further with economic life being severely disrupted. Except for China, all major economies witnessed a sharp fall and even the resumption of consumption in 2021 could not lift the economies to their pre-pandemic level. The World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

estimates that the pandemic and rising economic inequality pushed 140 million additional people into poverty in Asia in 2020, and 8 million more in 2021. New variants alongside higher inequality levels than expected mean these figures are likely to be underestimates. However, by November 2021, the number of billionaires in the Asia Pacific had increased by almost a third on pre-pandemic levels, with their collective wealth growing by 74%.

Picture courtesy : Oxfam

With the growing Chinese expansionist move and counter-hegemonic attempts by India and Japan with the active involvement of the United States and Australia, Asia stands at an important geopolitical juncture. We might witness growing economic and trade wars as major powers attempt to exert their influence in the region. These wars could also extend beyond the continent, viz. in Africa and Latin America. Already large parts of West Asia (Iraq, Syria, Yemen, etc.) and parts of South Asia (Afghanistan) have been devastated by wars resulting in the worst forms of humanitarian disasters including a deep refugee crisis. The growing conflict between Asia’s leading powers has translated to militarization and growing inter-imperialist conflicts.

At the same time, authoritarianism is on the rise all across Asia. While the regimes of India, the Philippines and a few other countries are avowedly right-wing, there are few instances in the continent where governments can declare themselves as truly democratic. The instability in large parts of West Asia and Afghanistan and also most parts of the ex-Soviet republics have contributed to the development of anti-democratic forces. The military coup in Myanmar, crackdown of dissenters in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia; the attack on the Hong Kong protesters are a few of the glaring examples but not the limited ones. The persecution of the minority Uyghurs can provoke a new cycle of political instability in Central Asia.

 Is there a public debt crisis in the offing?

While the debt situation in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Lebanon and a few other countries are glaring, much of Asia including growing economies like Japan, India, South Korea, Singapore and China have seen an exponential increase in their debt. Moreover, the pandemic has contributed to the increase of debt stock Debt stock The total amount of debt all across the region. An issue of concern is the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative which is accused of creating more debt instead of prosperity around the globe.

The situation of private debt is alarming in most countries. Private corporations in India and China lead the pack with alarming indicators that all point towards a debt crisis. The region has witnessed a growth of household debt – micro-credit or otherwise. The peasant debt in India, household debt in South Korea, Sri Lanka, Laos, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan, China and even other advanced economies like Singapore are at staggeringly high levels.

Picture courtesy : The Hindu Businessline

 What are the current major struggles? Are there significant victories or defeats?

The recent victory of Indian farmers against the anti-farmer laws is a shining example of a democratic peoples’ movement. The people of Hong Kong are relentlessly protesting against the Chinese authorities’ attempt to curb human rights and democratic spaces. The people of Kazakhstan thronged the streets in numbers to protest against the growing price rise, and falling living conditions. Thousands are struggling for democracy in Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and in many other countries. The struggle of millions of Afghans, especially women and people of minority ethnic nationalities are important bright spots in the continent.

 Are there struggles against illegitimate debt (whether public or private)?

Overall, there is a little struggle against the public debt except by a few campaigners in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and in a few other countries. However, there are important protests against private debt, most notably in countries like India and Sri Lanka.

  What are the main initiatives launched by the various organizations that are members of the CADTM network?

In the region, the CADTM network is mainly active on the issue of mega infrastructure projects (generating debt and destroying the environment) financed by “development banks” and Chinese investments, on microcredit and peasant debt. Many other issues are also addressed.

The CADTM delegation meets victims of micro credit, Hingurakgoda, Sri Lanka, March 2020

Members of CADTM are actively campaigning against public debt in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, micro-credit debt in Sri Lanka and India.

The work in Asia has resumed in recent years with regular regional meetings since 2017. Groups and individuals in Sri Lanka, linked with CADTM, have played a major role in the fight against microcredit and have raised the issue at the national level, prompting the UN Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Human Rights, Juan Pablo Bahoslavsky, to visit the island nation and inspect the atrocious conditions of predatory lending. CADTM members and associates played an active role in facilitating this visit. The report of Juan Pablo Bahoslavsky, can be found here.

CADTM has contributed to the Sri Lankan women’s struggle - both ideologically and in terms of resources. The 2018 and 2020 regional workshops were attended by a large number of Sri Lankan activists, academics and other members of civil society who shared their experiences with CADTM delegations from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Japan, Belgium, France and Morocco. In 2020, a CADTM delegation visited Jaffna, in the north of the country. This region has been devastated by civil war and has a high number of people in debt (a) due to the war and its damage and (b) due to the impacts of microcredit which has been presented as a solution to rebuild the local economy. In addition to interactions and meetings with local activists, the CADTM delegation visited a number of popular cooperatives that can form the basis and play a major role in rebuilding the local economy.

CADTM members visit Palm Development Co-operative Society, Palai, Jaffna, Sri Lanka, March 2020

In India, CADTM members are active in organising micro-credit victims since the onset of the pandemic. The work has primarily started around Kolkata, in the state of West Bengal, but it is all set to spread out to other parts of the country as the situation improves. The victims, mainly women, are organized under the aegis of Paschim Banga Reen Mukti Samiti.

Women protest against micro-credit, Kolkata, India, January 2021.

 Are there continental initiatives or initiatives concerning several organisations in the same region?

CADTM has been active in the region. The various regional workshops since 2016 are:

CADTM and SAAPE, a South Asian civil society network, launched a call for the cancellation of the debt of South Asian countries. The call was endorsed by more than 100 organizations, including several Asian networks.

Since 2018, CADTM has participated in the Asia Europe People’s Forum (AEPF 12 in Ghent in 2018 and AEPF 13 online in 2021), a biannual conference of people’s movements and civil society organizations from both continents.

Asia Europe Peoples Forum
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