Since information about the WTO protests in Hong Kong this past week was fairly scant in local publications, check out Western media sources such as this, or this (in English) or Chinese reports from Hong Kong such as this or this (may be inaccessible in China) to get a sense of what all those Korean peasants and Third World rabble-rousers are making such a fuss about. (Or you could have gone down there to witness it first hand, as Shanghaiist did.)
The protests started out on the Dec. 12 with some minor scuffles, with the Hong Kong police resorting to pepper sprays, tear gas and water cannons. During the next few days of the conference, the protests were fairly peaceful. One notable and very media-friendly method of protest involved the Korean peasants, who formed the bulk of the protesters, walking three steps and then prostrating themselves on the ground, as if in prayer. They did this for the three hours it took to walk from Victoria Park to the Wanchai protest zone near the Convention Center, where the conference was being held. Things changed on Saturday night, (the conference concluded Sunday). Shanghaiist was present at the “Siege of Wan Chai” on Saturday night, where the scuffles got fairly violent, with protesters using their flag poles as spears and using metal roadblocks as makeshift weapons as they faced off with a battalion of riot police. The area was sealed off, and the subways and public transportation bypassed Wan Chai. The protesters were beating drums and the tension was running high when the police fired pepper spray canisters, which quickly enveloped the protest crowd and sent everyone running. Shanghaiist tried taking some pictures of this moment, but while we were fumbling with the camera, we noticed that our lungs, nasal passages, and eyes were burning, though even that word doesn’t quite do justice to it. It was more like a combination of asphyxiation, nausea, Sichuanese food, and panic.
After running out of the miasma of pepper spray smoke, we saw a lot of people who were in worse shape than we were. People shared what water they had to wash out their eyes and spit out the pepper from their systems. The Koreans decided that they would just occupy the street as long as they possibly could. We left at around 9 pm — according to news reports we heard, over a thousands people were rounded up and taken away on paddy wagons that night and the streets were completely cleared by around 2 am. As of this writing, some of the Korean protesters have been released, and at least 14 are going to face a Hong Kong court on charges related to the violence in Wan Chai. We’d get you more information, but right now the internet is not being too forthcoming in that regard — coincidence? We think not. We confess to not knowing much about what is at stake in this round, other than agricultural tariffs and deals on services, but hats off to the Koreans who were willing to put their bodies on the line for something they believed in. On a final note, we have to say that we were not surprised that news of this was totally blocked in the mainland, but it still ticks us off. This also gives us another perspective on how fragile is this democracy that (some) Hong Kongers aspire to build. We wish them luck.
Your one-stop shop for information about the WTO, from the protests to the conference to the larger issues, is at Simon World. On the aftermath of the protests, you can read the Korean English language press here or the Shanghai Daily. To learn more about the final accord reached at the end of the conference, this will prove a useful summary.
You can check out some pictures we took from Hong Kong here.