Third Asia-Europe Summit (ASEM)

Seoul: a new stage in the struggle against neoliberal globalization

November 2000 by Eric Toussaint

The mobilizations at the 3rd Asia-Europe Summit (ASEM) which met on October 20 and 21, 2000 in Seoul (South Korea), represented a new stage in the struggle against neoliberal globalization. Attending the summit were the heads of state and government of 10 Asiatic countries and the 15 members of the European Union. Prodi, Chirac, Schroeder, Blair and Aznar had made the trip to meet their Asian equivalents so as to finalize trade agreements dominated by the logic of deregulation, the opening up of the markets of the economies of the so called developing countries to the commodities Commodities The goods exchanged on the commodities market, traditionally raw materials such as metals and fuels, and cereals. and capital of the more industrialized countries, the flexibility of labour and complete liberty for all holders of capital.

To oppose this logic, trade unions, student movements and NGOs were also meeting in the Korean capital.

The crisis of 1997-98 which shook the whole of Southeast Asia has had particularly harsh effects in Korea. According to official figures, 1.8 million jobs have been lost (the trade union organizations speak of 2.6 million jobs lost ). In the last three years, the movements of workers and students have reacted to the offensive of the Korean government relaying the demands of the IMF IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.
. The enormous debt of the private enterprises (more than $100 billion) has been largely taken on by the state. The big industrial conglomerates have been profoundly restructured with some of their activities having been sold to foreign multinationals. Collective contracts as well as the labour code have been modified, henceforth authorizing collective dismissals.

In contrast to the mobilization in Prague (September 2000) where the trade union organizations were largely absent, the participation of one of the two main Korean trade union confederations set the tone. The KCTU , with 600,000 members of whom 250,000 are metalworkers, participated in the three alternative forums which took place during the summit and constituted the main force in a demonstration which attracted 12-15,000 people (20,000 according to the local press!), on October 20. This trade union was created under the dictatorship in the 1980s by a political generation of several hundred (indeed thousand) students who went to the big factories to link up with industrial workers and fight the monopoly of representation held by a trade union close to the regime. The leaders of the KCTU are relatively young, between 35 and 50, and place a great emphasis on developing unitary activities between workers’ organizations, students and other social movements. The KCTU was central to the demonstrations in Seoul on October 18-20th.

On October 18 and 19, the ASEM 2000 Forum of the Peoples took place under the rubric “Solidarity and action of the peoples defying globalization”, organized jointly by the trade unions, the NGOs and the European and Asian citizens’ movements. The 25 countries concerned were represented by delegates from the popular and trade union movements. The Koreans had themselves selected the themes and campaigns that they considered as central, like the campaign against the policies of the IMF and 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.

, for the cancellation of the debt, in favour of the Tobin tax Tobin Tax A tax on exchange transactions (all transactions involving conversion of currency), originally proposed in 1972 by the US economist, James Tobin, as a means of stabilizing the international financial system. The idea was taken up by the association[ATTAC and other movements for an alternative globalization, including the CADTM. Their aim is to reduce financial speculation (which was of the order of 1,500 billion dollars a day in 2002) and redistribute the money raised by this tax to those who need it most. International speculators who spend their time changing dollars for yens, then for euros, then dollars again, etc., as they calculate which currency will appreciate and which depreciate, will have to pay a small tax, somewhere between 0.1% and 1%, on each transaction. According to ATTAC, this could raise 100 billion dollars on a global scale. Considered unrealistic by the ruling classes to justify their refusal to adopt it, the meticulous analyses of globalized finance carried out by ATTAC and others has, on the contrary, demonstrated how simple and appropriate such a tax would be.

, for the improvement of working conditions in the multinationals, those in the clothing and toymaking sector in particular, for peace and against rearmament. To represent these campaigns, they had invited from Europe TNI, Attac, the CADTM, the campaign “Clean clothes”, and others. The struggle for the emancipation of women as well as the question of youth occupied a central place. The Confederation International of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU, 120 million affiliates worldwide) was also present.
Dozens of representatives of popular movements from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnama and elsewhere showed the wealth of resistance to neoliberal globalization.
The evening of the 19th constituted the pivot of the mobilization. At the beginning of the evening, several coalitions (PSSP, KOPA...) and the Democratic Party of Labour (15,000 members, 7,500 of them workers according to their sources) had invited Roselyne Vachetta (a member of the European parliament for the LCR), Pierre Rousset (Attac), Mamadou Diouck (Mouvement des sans papiers - France) and Eric Toussaint (CADTM) to speak to a highly charged assembly of 350 students. The struggles in Seattle and Prague were analyzed and after a debate a resolution was adopted in favour of the struggle against neoliberal globalization and structural adjustment Structural Adjustment Economic policies imposed by the IMF in exchange of new loans or the rescheduling of old loans.

Structural Adjustments policies were enforced in the early 1980 to qualify countries for new loans or for debt rescheduling by the IMF and the World Bank. The requested kind of adjustment aims at ensuring that the country can again service its external debt. Structural adjustment usually combines the following elements : devaluation of the national currency (in order to bring down the prices of exported goods and attract strong currencies), rise in interest rates (in order to attract international capital), reduction of public expenditure (’streamlining’ of public services staff, reduction of budgets devoted to education and the health sector, etc.), massive privatisations, reduction of public subsidies to some companies or products, freezing of salaries (to avoid inflation as a consequence of deflation). These SAPs have not only substantially contributed to higher and higher levels of indebtedness in the affected countries ; they have simultaneously led to higher prices (because of a high VAT rate and of the free market prices) and to a dramatic fall in the income of local populations (as a consequence of rising unemployment and of the dismantling of public services, among other factors).

. This meeting was followed by an open air rally in one of the public universities which attracted several thousand students and a delegation of 500 trade union militants from the KCTU as well as 150 foreign guests. The tonality of this rally recalled the best moments of the struggles of the period 1968 - 1976 in Europe: revolutionary songs (the Internationale was sung four times), affirmation of internationalism and opposition to capital, red flags, fists raised... Knowing that any rally of more than three people was forbidden from the moment of the official opening of the ASEM, 2,500 students and workers stayed up all night in the university to try to demonstrate together with the objective of preventing the arrival of the official delegations. The relationship of forces was not favorable because the authorities had mobilized 29,000 riot police. After having demonstrated some hundreds of meters away the demonstration of students and workers had to face police violence and broke up into small groups.

On Saturday afternoon there was another rally of 12-15,000 people (called by the same coalitions and the KCTU) which was followed by a march of several kilometers to the place where the ASEM summit was being held.

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography:
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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