Français   |  

Subscribe to the whole site

Home > English > Website archives > Globalization, resistance, immigration > Highlights of the Seventh Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF-7)

Highlights of the Seventh Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF-7)

Monday 4 May 2009, by Tina EBRO and Maris dela CRUZ

The Asia-Europe People’s Forum 7 with the theme “For Social and Ecological Justice” took place in Beijing between the 13th and 15th October 2008. Since the venue was China, there were intrinsic limitations and challenges that emerged from the very outset of its preparatory phase. Nonetheless, AEPF-7 turned out to be a hugely successful event and a number of Asia-Europe observers considered it as ’historic’.

It was the biggest NGO conference ever to take place in China since the NGO women’s Conference in 1995. It was also the first of its kind to focus on Europe-Asia relations and issues.


Crucial to the People’s Forum was the involvement of over 500 participants from 40 countries, most of whom were from organizations that are active in the global justice movement.

Over 200 from China, the majority from organisations that are part of the China NGO Network for International Exchanges (CNIE) but also a range of grassroots organisations and NGOs based in Beijing and Hong Kong.

Over 200 from other parts of Asia who are representatives of key regional issue-based formations or NGOs and important national networks in Asia, e.g. human rights, peace and security, labour, migrants, trade, debt, women, water, ecology.

Examples of these prominent regional networks and NGOs are: Jubilee South-Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development, Forum Asia, Action Aid, Bank Information Center, Focus on the Global South, NGO Forum on ADB, Committee on Asian Women, DAWN-Southeast Asia, Doctors Without Border, Non-violence International Southeast Asia, Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives, Migrant Forum Asia, International Committee of Women, International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development, Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, Globalization Monitor, and International Center for Health Equity.

Over 100 from the European Union from 18 member states, mainly representatives of key Euro-wide issue-based networks and development institutions that are mostly focusing on Asia.

Examples of these networks are: International Peace Bureau, One World Action, Asia House, Transnational Institute, 11.11.11, Oxfam, Pax Romana, World Peace Council, Euro-Burma Center, Eurodad, No to Bases, Clean Clothes Campaign, ATTAC, Institute for Globalisation Studies & Social Movements, Council of Europe, European Youth Forum, Observatori del deute en la Globalització ODG, Corporate Europe Observatory, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Commission for Filipino Migrant Workers, European Network against Arms Trade, Seattle to Brussels Network, Friends of the Earth, Europe solidaire sans frontiers, Disabled People International, FIAN, Women in Development Europe, Ecologistas en Accion, Carbon Trade Watch, StateWatch, War on Want, Solidar and UNISON.

There were a number of present and former Members of Parliament, policy-makers, and state advisers (Malaysia, UK, Finland, Philippines, India, Romania, Spain, Pakistan, Vietnam, Greece, Italy) who attended and most of whom AEPF can closely work with in the future as the focus for the activities after the forum will be a ’People’s Agenda for Parliamentarians’.

There were prominent development activist- scholars who served as speakers/ resource persons for the plenaries, workshops, side events and strategy meetings. Among them were Walden Bello, Boris Kagarlitsky, Charles Santiago, Heidi Hautala, Dot Keet, Luciana Castellini, Achin Vanaik, Ben Hayes, Brid Brennan, Athanacius Pafilis, Koen de Feyter, Pierre Rousset, Johannes Schmidt, Ramon Duran, Anu and Kamal Chenoy, Hillary Wainwright, Farooq Tariq, Seema Mustafa, Pushpa Bhave, Tran Dac Loi, Christa Wichterich, Ruth Manorama and Rodney Bicherstaffe.

Plenaries and Workshops

The participants had a lively and fruitful interaction in three Roundtable Plenaries on ’Peace and Security,’ ’Social and Economic Rights, and Environmental Justice’ and ’Participatory Democracy and Human Rights’ and in 30 workshops.

Most participants expressed that there was a high quality of exchanges and debates, which can also be attributed to the excellent speakers/ major resource persons from Asia, Europe, as well as from China (from top academes, institutions and think-tanks) and to the key campaigners who actively contributed to the discussions.

Moreover, a significant outcome of the workshops was the report of a number of workshop linkpersons that participating organisations resolved to pursue further exchanges and intitiatives after AEPF-7. These are the Workshops on Religious Fundamentalism, Alternative Regionalism and People-centered Political Parties & Social Movements.

A full list of the workshops is attached. They included

the first workshop in the AEPF on the Rights of People Living with HIV/AIDS. This was also an important workshop in the Chinese context.

An ’historic’ workshop linking a range of organizations including NGOs from inside Myanmar/Burma, as well as representatives of internationals solidarity formations for Myanmar/Burma, i.e. ALTSEAN BURMA Network, ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), Euro-Burma Center, etc. This led to what was considered by both the participants and the organisers as an auspicious and significant contribution to the people’s dialogue with respect to Myanmar/ Burma. The fact that this workshop took place in Beijing has extra significance.

The workshop on human rights brought together key national human rights groups in the ASEAN (from Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam) who were able to discuss the prospects and requirements of building an Asian regional human rights mechanisms. European human rights specialists also shared in the workshop their insights and lessons in this field.

Specific workshops included ones on strategies for conflict prevention; the arms trade; the MDGs, Food Sovereignty and Security; Migrant Labour; Decent Work and Labour Rights and Protection; Social Security; Alternative Energy policies; Climate Change and Ecological Justice; Local Governance: Participatory Democracy; Women’s Political Participation; Protecting Rights of the Disabled; Regional Human Rights Mechanisms in Asia and Europe.

Strategy Meetings for Post-Beijing Initiatives

There were also a wide range of additional meetings and caucuses to strategize on common activities after AEPF-7.

There were Strategy Meetings of the following: Migrant networks (Asia and Europe) , Urban Poor formations (ASEAN), No Bases Network (global), EU-ASEAN FTA Campaign Network, Water Justice Network (Asia-Europe), and Women’s Organisations (Asia, China and Europe). Most of these meetings resulted in the formulation of some resolutions and consolidation of ideas for post-Beijing actions that will be pursued.

The campaign plan of the EU- ASEAN FTA coalition (a major AEPF campaign) for next year was firmed up. In addition, a new inter-regional advocacy towards parliamentarians and policy-makers, “Universalising Social Protection for the Poor in the Period of Crisis”, was planned that will be spearheaded by urban poor coalitions.

Geographical caucuses of Burmese, Indian, Vietnamese and Philippine groups were held and AEPF-7 had provided venue for country-based organizations to discuss urgent issues and develop further cooperation in the future.

A major result of these meetings was the proposals for AEPF expansion in South Asia. Three proposals from India, Pakistan, and Nepal were submitted to the AEPF International Organising Committee (IOC) to expand and activate AEPF committees in these countries and to hold a South Asia caucus in the near future. These proposals are manifestations of the realization by the participants of the importance of AEPF.

Response to the Current Crises

Since AEPF-7 was held soon after the “eruption” of the financial meltdown in the US, the IOC provided a timely response to the present crises that was commended by most of the participants. First, the IOC ensured that the opening speeches of both speakers from Asia and Europe tackled not only the financial/economic crisis, but also the crises of food, energy and climate change. The two speakers showed that the current crises, which is multiple and systemic, threaten the lives of millions who are already poor and suffering across the globe, and posed a compelling challenge to the participants.

In addition, there was a series of nightly debates on the analysis of the financial/economic crisis as well as on possible solutions and alternatives. These rich and animated discussions produced a statement called “The Beijing Declaration” which summed up the key analysis and proposals in addressing the present crises.

Relationship with Chinese Foreign Ministry

The AEPF-7 not only provided venue to build relations with the civil society in China, but it also gave an opportunity to present the people’s issues and concerns of Asia and Europe to the Chinese government through its Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi attended the opening ceremony on Monday 13th and gave an opening keynote speech. He met with other speakers , MPs from Malaysia and Finland and representatives from the AEPF International Organizing Committee and the National Organizing Committee beforehand

The Final Declaration was presented at the Foreign Ministry to Shen YongXiang, Deputy Director-general

The Final Declaration was presented at the ASEF Conference to Ambassador Wang Xuexian, Chinese Senior Official for ASEM

Before AEPF-7, extended and intense negotiations took place both directly with the Chinese Foreign Ministry and indirectly through the National Organizing Committee of the Asia-Europe People’s Forum – the China NGO Network for International Exchanges (CNIE) for the Forum to happen. These continued during the Forum itself on some key issues.

Eventually, the Forum received substantial financial support from the Chinese Foreign Ministry as well as clear encouragement for the Forum to take place and for the range of topics and participants.

Relationship with the European Commission and European Union Delegation

Generous support from External Relations Directorate General and AIDCO, and realised commitment for 101 Asian participants (95 managed to actually attend)

Excellent solidarity and support from Head of EU Delegation and staff in the Philippines

Invitations to Head of Delegation and international Relations in the EU delegation in China

Attendance by representative from EU delegation in China

Planned meetings with EU delegation in China after AEPF7

Limitations and Challenges
Since AEPF-7 was held in Beijing, the IOC had to work with major Chinese NGOs that served as members of the National Organising Committee (NOC). These organisations are close with the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Chinese government itself and are not working closely with independent ngos. While the IOC highly appreciated their competence and hardwork, social commitment and solidarity, there were some differences in perspectives on the issue of civil society development in China and on Tibet, and Myanmar/Burma that resulted in tensions during the preparatory period of AEPF-7.

Among the difficulties experienced by the IOC was that it had to struggle up to the last minute in order to help invited participants (especially the independent Burmese NGOs) get their invitation letters and visas. The IOC also had to negotiate until the first day of the event to ensure participation of autonomous Chinese NGOs in AEPF-7.

The venue was located in a secluded area, thus inaccessible to the media and other local groups. It was 45-minutes away from the city center although still in Beijing. The tight security measure enforced in the venue made the participants uncomfortable and was denounced publicly by some participants (i.e. there was a police security post in front of the hotel that tightly checked every incoming participant)

The Chinese Embassies also invited participants without informing the IOC, and some are representatives of conservative political parties.

There were also observations that in many workshops, the Chinese made sure they controlled the facilitation of the program as well as the report of the workshops. While a number of participants appreciated the participation of excellent Chinese resource persons in the workshops, some had also expressed dissatisfaction to Chinese speakers who merely mouthed state and party positions.

In spite of the problems along the way, the Chinese members of the NOC expressed their willingness and openness to develop cooperation with the Asian and European civil society organisations, and to further promote AEPF issues especially on the areas of social and ecological justice.

Likewise, IOC members and many Asian and European participants expressed their common desire to continue working together with Chinese NGOs and strengthen solidarity ties with social movements in China.

To conclude, AEPF-7 reached a new height in terms of advancing the perspectives and interests of “the people” in Asia-Europe relations, especially in the areas of peace and security, democracy and human rights, and social and economic rights. The event significantly helped in consolidating and expanding AEPF’s network of progressive civil society organisations, in strengthening their existing campaigns, and in solidifying their linkages and working in between the biennial Forums on urgent issues common to both regions.

One very significant achievement of AEPF-7 was that it had responded timely to the present crisis situation. It not only came up with alternative policy proposals, but it had also paved the way for the coming together of sectors such as the poor, human rights and democratisation advocates, as well as the progressive parliamentarians who shall pursue the universalisation of social protection for the poor in the period of crisis.

Though there were issues such as Tibet and Taiwan that were not allowed by the Chinese to be part of the AEPF-7 program, it was a breakthrough that this civil society event could take place in China and take on critical global issues on peace, social and economic justice, democratisation and human rights. Moreover, the Forum provided an opportunity for the Chinese civil society to have exposure on these issues.

On the other hand, the Asian and European civil society learned a lot from the interaction with the Chinese. Also, solidarity linkages between various Chinese NGOs and the Asian and European civil society organisations were forged and there were prospects for further cooperation in the future.

To quote a noted specialist on Asia-Europe relations: “The AEPF remains as the only permanent network linking Asian and Europen movements. It retains, thus a significant function – all the more because Asia is a weak link in European solidarities; and Europe is a weak link (compared with the US !) in Asian solidarities”.

Indeed, for over a decade now, AEPF has remained a rare and valuable vehicle for people’s solidarity and joint actions across the two regions, and for advancing the people’s voice within Asia-Europe relations in the areas of peace and security, socio-economic rights and ecological justice, and democratisation and human rights.

EBRO Tina, dela CRUZ Maris