South East Asia

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The countries of South-East Asia have long been held up as an example by the international financial institutes for opening up to international financial and trade flows. However they are still suffering from the consequences of the economic crisis of 1997-1998 and, more fundamentally, from twenty years of capitalist development that has been socially and ecologically blind. It is, nevertheless, thanks to this economic crisis, which has become a political one, that the arguments of the social movements struggling against neoliberal globalization and for the democratization of authoritarian regimes have made greater progress. In the increasingly large mobilizations of people, the « social » themes of the popular movements - employment, an end to privatizations and fairer work conditions - have gradually merged with the themes of the new social movements - the condition of women, the environment and the demands for democratization. The social movements of South-East Asia are also engaged

internationally in campaigns against the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank, as well as in the search for alternatives for progressive development.


In the 1980s, while the United States and Europe were in recession, the Asian region was hailed as “living proof that the market offered a way out of poverty and underdevelopment”. [H.P.Martin and H. Schumann, 1996, p.143] The region’s 1997-98 economic crisis did however bring out the darker side of the « Asian miracle ». As the same authors pointed out, the boom went “hand-in-hand with corruption, political repression massive environmental destruction, and often extreme exploitation of the labour force with no rights”. For decades, the development pattern brought about by capitalism using a neoliberal paradigm and advanced by the phenomenon of globalization was critiqued by ‘voices in the wilderness’ who were basically ignored.

In the Philippines, particularly under the Marcos’ authoritarian regime (1972-1986), the repression of civil liberties and violation of human rights in the rural and urban areas facilitated an atmosphere conducive to the entry of foreign investments. All these however merely contributed to the growth and the strengthening of the communist insurgency in the country. Rebel and other dissident movements not only questioned the policies and programmes of multilateral lending agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, but actively opposed them through military means, i.e., through the New People’s Army (NPA), the military arm of the communist party. Massive demonstrations were also led by various leftwing groups against what they called the Marcos-US-IMF/World Bank dictatorship.

Similar issues and concerns were also raised by many elements of the middle classes and even some sections of the upper classes, already disillusioned with the economic policies of the Marcos government and appalled by the regime’s human rights violations. The combined efforts of all these parallel movements eventually succeeded in overthrowing the Marcos dictatorship through what was billed as the “People Power Revolution” of 1986.

During this period, the other developing capitalist countries of South-East Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand) did not have such vibrant social movements (especially of the left variety) as in the Philippines. One reason was that state control under more “able” dictators such as Suharto, Mahathir and the Thai generals seemed to have been more effective. What seemed to contribute more to the absence of a strong social movement in these countries, however, was the generally improved living conditions of the middle class that ensued, particularly due to high growth rates in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Thus the arguments against capitalist development and exploitation, as brought about by the combination of external forces like the World Bank and the IMF and internal factors such as neoliberal-oriented elites, seemed to have been marginalized in these countries. Thailand for example, became Asia’s ‘Fifth Tiger’ in 1991, with the world’s fastest growing economy between 1985 and1995. [Walden Bello et al, 1998, p. 55]

The country was touted as the World Bank’s model for the international community. Malaysia and Indonesia were not far behind. Together with Thailand, they became known as the “New Asian Tigers”, signifying their entry into the NIC (Newly Industrialized Countries) group. In these countries, there was a growth of the middle classes and the social movements that emerged from it focussed on issues identified with “new social movements” (NSM), e.g. the environment, human rights, women and consumerism.

The concern of the NSMs was that rapid development was a threat to the quality of life due to growing industrial pollution, while there was an absence of gender equality despite the growth in the numbers of working women. These NSM concerns were somehow tolerated by Southeast Asian authoritarian regimes as they did not directly threaten the political leadership, were seemingly devoid of class concerns and did not raise the issue of democratization.

This was not the case in the Philippines as Filipino social movements upheld the class issue and linked it with NSM issues. These concerns were tied up with the issue of democratization, hand-in-hand with the anti-dictatorship and anti-imperialist struggle. Such linkages only became a major concern in Thailand in May 1992, when there was an attempted coup that was generally opposed by large numbers of Thai people, led by the urban middle class. This ushered in the strengthening of the democratization movement in the country and there seemed to be no turning back for the social movements in pushing further for whatever democratic space was left to be opened.

For Malaysia and Indonesia, however, social movements pushing for democratization became more prominent and visible when the 1997-98 economic crisis hit Asia and gave them the opportunity to raise the issue of democratization. The economic crisis thus engendered a political crisis which witnessed the downfall of Asia’s longest serving strong man, Suharto, and the most serious challenge to Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mohammed Mahathir, paving the way for the further strengthening of social movements in the region. Though these social movements had been struggling for decades against the nature and social consequences of capitalist development in their countries, it was only with the onset of the economic crisis that their views and influence became popular and widely disseminated.

One major concern these social movements have been raising is the issue of globalization as the appropriate path for development. Unlike colonialism or imperialism, globalization as an ‘enemy’ had been quite abstract because of the initial ‘benefits’ and the economic growth brought about by rapid liberalization, privatization and other neoliberal policies. The economic crisis however served to unmask the real nature of globalization.

“Globalized” South-East Asian economies were subjected to the uncertain ‘whims’ of external forces and thus rendered vulnerable to the vagaries of international finance and trade. The issue therefore was that these countries have lost their national ‘sovereignty’ to these external forces. An even harsher reality was that the crisis brought about the collapse of hundreds of companies, mass lay-offs and unemployment and, in the social sphere, an overall deterioration in the lives of all classes of people, depression and even suicides. And, as seen in Indonesia, the economic crisis spawned a political crisis of mass unrest leading to the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

Social movements in South-East Asia followed the Battle of Seattle demonstrations in 1999 with their own protests against the principal agents of globalization - the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It is thus interesting to note, not just the critique of these movements concerning globalization, but also their proposed alternatives.

The first part of this paper will therefore discuss the arguments that the movements employ against globalization. The second part will focus on the strategies they have used in highlighting their disagreements with globalization as an economic policy of their State. The alternatives they present will be examined in the last part of the paper.

The social movements and their critique of globalization

An interesting argument by proponents of globalization is that it will bring about democracy. A globalized society is thought to create economic development, which will result in the emergence of a progressive middle class. This, based on the experience of Western countries, would challenge the authoritarian regimes in the South-East Asian societies.

This seems to have worked only for Thailand. In the case of Indonesia and Malaysia, the ‘economic success’ of their societies gave their respective authoritarian regimes the justification for intensifying repressive policies. Thus, Indonesian and Malaysian social movements questioning such authoritarian rule were dealt with harshly and their spaces for advocacy curtailed. In the case of Thailand, however, economic development did indeed create a middle class, which is thought to have taken the lead in carrying out the democratization process. But, true to its middle-of-the-road character, it only thinks of itself. This is a problem, particularly given the growing disparities between the middle class and the lower classes. Thus, the issues that Thai social movements like the Assembly of the Poor (a network of rural and urban villagers affected by various State and industrial development projects) were focussing on, such as poverty and underdevelopment in the countryside, were basically ignored by the middle class.

It was only after the 1997 economic crisis that the Thai middle class found itself listening to the anti-globalization criticisms of Thai social movements, mainly composed of grassroots organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academic activists, and social critics. During the anti-Asian Development Bank protest actions in Chiang Mai on the occasion of the Bank’s 33rd annual conference in May 2000, the Thai social movements succeeded in securing the sympathy of the middle class.

What was not realized by the middle classes of Thailand and Philippines was that growth did not filter down to the masses. But Philippine social movements have made the point that neoliberalism lacks a redistributive aspect and therefore is no champion of income equality. As noted by its critics, globalization has resulted in the rich countries growing richer and the poor countries growing poorer and within the country itself, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

In the East and South-East Asian countries, both the State-led NIC model and the free market model naturally generate and perpetuate social inequalities even if, as in the Asian capitalist model, rapid growth takes place. Indeed, high growth rates are necessary to allow a rise in absolute incomes without having to undertake the redistribution of wealth.

In the case of Malaysia, a challenge for the advocates of anti-globalization has been Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad himself. Many Malaysian citizens have to ‘thank’ Mahathir a great deal for the economic development he has brought to the country while pursuing neoliberal policies. The economic crisis however also revealed his major defects, such as cronyism and the corruption of his family and friends. Thus, social movements in the country feel that there is a need to continue to pursue reformasi, or advocacy for democratization. The Malaysian anti-globalization movement is therefore split into two factions. One faction feels that globalization, not democracy is the issue. [1] The other faction believes that the anti-globalization movement should work hand-in-hand with the pro-democracy movement. [2]

In Indonesia, the anti-globalization movement seems to be stymied by other pressing problems. It is against a background of political instability, caused by the downfall of Suharto, separatism and violent racial and religious conflicts, that the World Bank and the IMF are seen as the ‘rescuers’ of the Indonesian economy with the much- needed economic loans and financial assistance subject. They are, however, to subject to these institutions’ conditionalities that continue to promote neoliberal solutions to the present economic crisis. The challenge therefore of the anti-globalization movement in this country has been to highlight the severe repercussions that such conditionalities will have on the Indonesian people, particularly the labour and peasant sectors.

Repressive anti-labour policies

The campaign against what are perceived to be socially harsh loan conditionalities affecting the workers is reflected in the anti-ADB campaigns in Thailand . [Dita Sarit, 2001] The movement noted particularly the “reduced bargaining power of the provincial labour force after the ADB intervened to have the government limit the rise in minimum wages”. (Achara Ashayagachat, Bangkok Post, 7 April 2000) Thai NGOs noted, too, that the Bank’s support for the privatization of state enterprises would result into massive lay-offs of State workers. They began to monitor the Bank’s policies in the country more closely after the 1997 economic crisis, when the ADB granted loans with conditionalities designed to reform the structure of the country’s social and economic systems. (Thai Working Group on the ADB’s Impact, Document, 2000)

In Malaysia, labour strikes are forbidden and the immigrant workers that Malaysia desperately needs are also badly treated. Such an issue is a major concern of South-East Asian social movements concerned with migrant labour, which has become highly commodified with its liberalization and the demand for this which is made possible by globalization. Unfortunately, the promise of work and money is accompanied by exploitative practices.

Furthermore, globalization under the region’s conditions has also brought about emerging capitalist societies which « have not so far needed a social security system… because family structures are still largely intact. ‘Our social system is the family’ – such is the usual reply of Asian politicians when asked about provisions for sickness and old age ... » [Martin and Schumann, 1996, pp.149-150]

In the Philippines, it was announced in July 2002 that the Social Security System, the government pension agency for private sector employees, would not have sufficient funds to pay the benefits of retiring employees five years from now. This is the result of bad investments made by its officials under pressure from Estrada, who was president at the time.

The campaign against neoliberal ideology

The social movements have also campaigned against the kind of development envisaged by neoliberalism, the ideology that upholds globalization. As they see it, this perpetuates the exploitation of peoples. The current global anti-capitalist movements, which are supported by the social movements in this region are “directed against the relentless commodification of everything… that the neoliberal hegemony has promoted and Third Way governments simply reinforced”. [Alex Callinicos, 2001, pp. 110-111] Moreover, such commodification has been described as destroying the very culture of South-East Asian societies.

In Thailand, this issue had been raised by social movements as far back as the 1960s when capitalist development was perceived to have brought about changing norms and values and the accelerating rate of urban crimes, prostitution and drug addiction, among others. [Suthy Prasatset, 1984, p. 116] Thus, this period saw the condemnation of the ‘Americanization’ of Thailand and the pursuit of material wealth, as expressed by social critic Sulak Sivaraksa. [Pasuk Pongpaichit and Chris Baker, 1995, p.385] Thai NGOs, too, saw the contrasts between the capitalist culture and the village culture and called for the government to separate the economy from outside pressure through a ‘nationalist economic policy of greater self reliance’.”

Linking ‘new social movement’ issues to the labour movement

Anti-capitalist movements have also linked issues identified with ‘new social movement’ concerns such as the liberation of women and the protection and preservation of the environment, with those of the traditional labour movements. [Alex Callinicos, 2001, pp. 115-116] They can, for example, associate the bread-and-butter issues of the latter with the issues of women and environment. In the case of women’s concerns, globalization has facilitated the migration of women workers from South-East Asia to work as domestics in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan, as well as in Europe and the Middle East and, in the case of the Filipino women, as entertainers and prostitutes in Japan. Numerous cases have been reported of physical and sexual abuse by employers.

The trafficking and prostituting of women and children in the region has been the major concern of movements like ECPAT, which have concentrated their advocacy work on this issue. Women have been forced to migrate abroad because of the impoverished situation of their home countries. They have made big sacrifices to leave their families, husbands and children in the hope of earning money to send back home. In the case of the Philippines, overseas remittances are a major foreign exchange earner.

Environment issues, on the other hand, were initially identified as a middle class problem. But the social movements have also shown that it is the lower class that suffers most from them. The Ormoc tragedy in Southern Philippines, whereby flash floods caused by massive deforestation, drowned hundreds of Filipinos and destroyed homes and property belonging to the lower classes is only one example of an environmental tragedy in which the masses are hardest hit.

Some of the environmental NGOs in the region have come to the conclusion that defending the environment means challenging capitalism. In Thailand, for example, the market, the business sector and State policies have created two ecological catastrophes: massive deforestation and very serious water pollution. These have badly affected the agricultural communities, where most of the poor in South-East Asia live, and they have been responsible for severe crises in agriculture.

The « anti-globalization » strategies of South-East Asian social movements

Globalization has therefore exacerbated the material inequalities that threaten social cohesion. This has given impetus to citizens’ movements, who want to define their basic democratic rights and strengthen social solidarity. [Martin and Schumann, 1996, pp. 149-150] However, while addressing the problem at the national and local level, social movements have also realized that an international campaign is just as important. They have herefore been active in organizing yearly mobilizations against the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and annual meetings of the Asian Development Bank. On the more organizational side of the struggle, they have come together in regional gatherings like the People’s Plan for the 21st Century (PP21) movement, which held a major meeting in Bangkok in 1993 lasting over two weeks. There were more than 500 participants, representing social movements and NGOs from many Asian countries.

The campaign against IMF and World Bank conditionalities

After the 1997 economic crisis, the anti-globalization social movements have also been campaigning actively against the conditionalities imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in return for economic restructuring loan packages. In Thailand, for example, much of the anger of Thai social movements is directed at the IMF and the WB which, with their heavy-handed prescriptions for trade and investment liberalization, are considered responsible for the distorted growth of the country’s economy and their failure to foresee its eventual collapse in 1997-98. [Walden Bello et al, 1998, p. 41]

Together with those of the IMF and the World Bank, the ADB’s loan conditionalities have also been seen as partly responsible for increasing poverty and fostering under-development in the country. Despite its Poverty Reduction Strategy,its initiatives have been described, not as reducing poverty but promoting “the rapid integration of local and national economic activities into the global market economy… leading to the impoverishment of people in Asia and the Pacific.” [Shalmali Guttal, 2000, p.5] Other loan conditions imposed by the ADB are the privatization of social services like schools and hospitals and the imposition of a water tax.

The same issue is also highlighted in the Philippines. Social movements have campaigned against the privatization of NAPOCOR, the country’s state-owned power generating company, because of fear that it would increase the price of electricity. The ADB, however, has insisted on this condition before releasing special power-related bank loans to the government.

In Indonesia, the 1997-98 economic crisis was of such gigantic proportions that it precipitated massive social unrest by students and workers that eventually led to the downfall of the Suharto regime in 1998. The crisis also reduced the country to a mendicant, literally begging for foreign loans. The IMF and the World Bank have taken advantage of this and imposed very stringent conditionalities which are opposed by Indonesian social movements.

Linking up with international « anti-globalization » movements

Another major strategy of South-East Asian social movements is to link up with the anti-globalization movements in other regions of the world. Thus, Philippine anti-globalization movements were present in the Battle of Seattle in 1999, which marked the beginning of the wave of anti-capitalist protests. They were also present in the ones that followed, organized to coincide with meetings of the IMF, the World Bank, the G8, UNCTAD and APEC at Washington, Prague, Bangkok and Seoul.

For example, anti-globalization activists waged protest actions during the meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) held in Bangkok in February 1999. A highlight of the protest was when American activist Robert Naiman, whose NGO represents bakers against globalization, threw a cream pie in the face of outgoing IMF chief Michel Camdessus.

Already in 1995, the Manila People’s Forum on APEC (MPFA) had been set up to protest the meeting of leaders of Asian and Pacific countries that comprise the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. APEC, which includes the US, Japan, China, Canada and most Asian and South American countries bordering the Pacific, had set the goal of fast-track trade and investment liberalization. The MPFA brought together more than 500 social movement and NGO participants from APEC member countries and, in a parallel effort, the International Conference Against Imperialist Globalization was organized by mainly left-leaning Filipino groups. When participants of both initiatives were joined by thousands of local activists from various social classes and sectors and attempted to stage a caravan to the site of the APEC meeting, the government mobilized military troops to block the road leading to the meeting site.

The regional « anti-globalization » movements

The linking up of South-East Asian social movements with other anti-globalization movements in the region goes back well over a decade. In 1988, for example, there was a concerted effort among NGOs in the region, including the Asian NGO Coalition (ANGOC) to systematically question ADB projects in the region. Together with the Environmental Policy Institute (now Friends of the Earth-US), ANGOC criticized ADB’s badly-designed and destructive projects. They also deplored the absence of dialogue on policy reforms and stressed the need for greater transparency and public accountability.

The strategy of engaging multilateral financial institutions (MFIs) has however been rejected recently by other South-East Asian groups and scholars. For instance, the eminent radical intellectual Walden Bello, who also heads a leftwing political party in the Philippines, sees engagement as a divisive manoeuvre by the MFIs to separate so-called ‘reasonable’ NGOs from the ‘unreasonable’ ones. He considers the NGO Committee on the World Bank, for example, as a way of legitimizing the Bank and neutralizing significant sections of the NGO community. As an alternative, and given the “fundamental dysfunctionality” of the MFIs, it is proposed to "abolish them and create totally new institutions" [Walden Bello, 2000]

Regional NGOs with significant South-East Asian constituencies have also been continually campaigning against globalization and its inimical effects on Asian peoples and societies. The Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives (ARENA), a network of prominent Asian scholar activists, fosters exchange among progressive intellectuals in the region and attempts to formulate alternative development perspectives to counter corporate-led globalization.

The high-profile Focus on the Global South, led by Walden Bello, works out of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok and has been prominent in research, publication, networking and advocacy work. The Asian Migrant Center (AMC) focusses on the plight of workers, particularly migrant contract workers. The Asia Monitor Resource Center (AMRC) started as a TNC-monitoring group but is now labour-oriented. The Bangkok-based Asian Cultural Forum for Development (ACFOD) deals with human rights and social issues. The Asian Students Association (also in Bangkok) and the Manila-based International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS) are concerned with youth and student issues.

ISIS International has its headquarters in Manila and deals with gender and women’s concerns. The Committee for Asian Women (CAW) organizes research studies and conducts seminars on gender issues. The Third World Network started by Martin Khor in Penang is now an international movement with offices in several countries around the world. The Manila-based South-East Asian Resource Institute for Community Education (SEARICE) has been active in international campaigns against biotechnology. Another Manila-based organization is Social Watch Asia, part of the international NGO coalition which monitors implementation by governments of the Copenhagen Social Summit. Greenpeace International has also established a South-East Asian branch in Bangkok.

Church-based regional institutions have also been engaged in advocacy and networking campaigns on behalf of victims of globalization. The Asia Alliance of YMCA’s secretariat, despite the reputation of its national branches for conservatism, has been active in this regard, particularly under the leadership of its two previous Secretaries- General: Tan Chi Kiong and Bart Shaha. The Christian Conference for Asia (CCA), particularly its International Affairs and Youth desks, has been similarly involved in anti-globalization campaigns. The CCA has also spawned two regional NGOs – the Documentation for Action Groups in Asia (DAGA) and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

In terms of strategies, the Klong Dan villagers who are protesting the ADB’s Samut Prakarn Wastewater Management Project (SPWMP) in their community, were greatly aided by the alliance forged among Thai social movements who share similar concerns regarding other ADB projects in their country. They were also considerably strengthened by the support they received from international social movements sharing the same concern. Such experiences of the South-East Asian social movements at the global and regional level form part of the transnationalizaton of NGOs in the South.

Using the international media

Another strategy of the social movements in this region is the use of the global media to highlight their interests. As has been observed:

since the Battle of Seattle in 1999 where one witnessed violent demonstrations against the World Trade Organizations, this has been followed by a series of demonstrations and associated activities against similar meetings of international financial institutions (IFIs), like the ADB, with wide coverage and interest from the mainstream media. [Nurina Widagdo, 2001, p.8]

The NGO Forum on the ADB, a coalition of NGOs and grassroots organization all over Asia, was able to take advantage of the global media during the campaigns against the ADB, as was seen at the conference in Thailand, in May 2000. The Thai social movements, in particular, who were part of this coalition, felt that the media was an important instrument for propagating the anti-ADB campaigns and educating the public.

As noted by a lecturer at Thammasat University, the demonstration got the attention of the global media because it was an international conference. He added that the Thai State could do nothing except ignore the demonstrations. [Kasian Tejapira, 2000] A Thai anti-globalization activist was cited in The Nation as saying : “the media has communicated our message to the Thai public and the rest of the world about the negative impact of the ADB’s loan policy on the Thai people”. [Kamol Sukin, 2000]

Alternatives to global capitalism

The social movements have not only been criticizing globalization, neoliberalism and other current characteristics of capitalism, they have also been active in re-defining them. As the director of Focus on the Global South has remarked :

While regional elites have battled to defend the direction of Asia-Pacific development along free-market lines or along the lines of state-assisted capitalism, many NGOs, people’s movements, and progressive academics have, over the last few years, evolved a powerful critique of both approaches. Both models – state-led NIC and neoliberal – intrinsically are ecologically destructive and unsustainable. [Walden Bello, 1997]

Contrary to the views being promoted by the apologists of neoliberalism, social movements do not view globalization in black and white terms. Like other movements in the world, they defend a more socially and environmentally inspired global policy through a profound democratization of the decision-making structures in the world economy. They call for the decentralization of economic decision-making to communities, regions or ecological zones, and turning national planning into a bottom-up process.

As the experience of the struggles against the Asian Development Bank has shown, pressure from NGOs in the region led to a more systematic and open dialogue with the Bank and member governments. NGOs were invited to attend the ADB Annual Board of Governors Meetings where they engaged in major lobbying activities that challenged the Bank’s overall development priorities based on a centralized economic growth model. They also called for greater public accountability, transparency and participation in the Bank’s processes. [Antonio Quizon and Violeta Perez-Corral, 1995, p.2]

There is a proposal for the NGOs and social movements to be the third pillar of the political economic system to balance state and business. Such views were actually threshed out even before the 1997 economic crisis during NGO consultations, such as the People’s Forum in 1991. For the participants of this Forum, the regional organizations promoting corporate-led globalization must be challenged at the regional level and by parallel, region-wide initiatives by social movements. They are pressing for:

the elaboration of a progressive regional alternative to both the APEC free-trade idea and East Asian Economic Growth (EAEG). It was also pointed out that both Japan and the United States should be excluded, for one of the key purposes of such a bloc is precisely to change the power relationship between the weaker countries and the economic superpowers. [Bello, 1997, p. 158]

Regional alliances of social movements and NGOs should address the problems created by globalization and present them as the main agenda of social change. This entails rejecting the agenda of neoliberalism and replacing it with a people’s agenda :

Rather than beginning with bringing down barriers to inter-corporate or intra-corporate trade, an alternative strategy for regional integration could begin by addressing the pressing cross-border problems that undercut the welfare of people and the environment. One such problem is posed by multinational corporations that pit one country against another by threatening to move their operations to a country with lower labour costs and a less strict enforcement of environmental laws. [Walden Bello, 1997, p. 159]

In confronting the above issue, social movements can push for region-wide solutions that protect the civil and political rights of the working class and ensure their economic well being. As has been remarked:

The creation of a common regional environmental code with tight standards, and a common labour code with guarantee of labour organizing and decent wage standards, would be an important step in bringing about this people-based regional co-operation. ... Resistance to globalized capitalism has opened up possibilities for new reforms. Practices which are not circumscribed by the territorial state or by the conventional separation of politics from economics. »

[Mark Rupert, 2000, pp.153-154]

In a conference-workshop entitled Integrating Alternative Development Efforts in Asia (IADEA) held in Kerala, India in March 1996, several examples were presented on alternative development practices by South-East Asian communities, assisted by NGOs and social movements. These range from organic and communal farming activities in Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand to alternative trade between Filipino and Japanese NGOs; from community forestry in Indonesia to agricultural planning in rural communities in the Philippines; as well as women’s livelihood and credit projects in Thailand, among others. The workshop was co-sponsored by the Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives (ARENA), the Kerala Science Writers’ Forum (KSSP) and Rural Urban Alternatives (RUA).

Alternative educational practices have also been initiated, notably by the Education for Life Foundation (ELF) in the Philippines, headed by the former rebel priest Edicio de la Torre and, on the regional level, by ARENA which has held two sessions in Bali (1998) and Manila (1999). ELF’s strategy is based in part on Denmark’s folk high school experience.

Other documented alternative and counter-globalization initiatives by communities and NGOs in the region include co-operative development, small-scale power generating projects, microfinancing, local marketing systems, integrated area development, and local governance systems. In Thailand, an alternative currency system was in place among local communities in the Northeast but was shut down by the local government.

While falling short of actually posing a direct challenge to corporate-led globalization, these local efforts nevertheless essentially go against the prevailing paradigm, given their emphasis on local initiatives, production for the local market, people-to-people economic relations and local empowerment.

Some elements of the global power bloc have begun to challenge and reincorporate potentially rebellious subjects within the global liberal vision. In the Philippines, the government has come up with anti-poverty programmes and social movements in the country view these as an opportunity to intervene in the government’s policy for the poor. Anti-poverty programmes, however, are not enough to tackle the problems created by the free market model. Social movements are advocating that priority be given to agriculture and the reinvigoration of the rural society as the centrepiece of the development process, as opposed to the free market’s bias for urban-based industries. There is also a call for appropriate technologies for industries and organic, chemical-free agricultural technology. This is in opposition to the adoption of capital-intensive high technology in industry and chemically intensive technology in agriculture. [Walden Bello, 1997, p.158]


Overall, globalization as the panacea for underdevelopment has been taking a severe beating. South-East Asian anti-globalization movements have realized that their cause is not isolated and were given a boost in November 1999 when a number of them participated in the demonstrations that violently disrupted the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, forcing the declaration of a state of emergency in that city.

Seattle proved to be an inspiration to social movements all over the world. The London-based World Development Movement documented the intensification of anti-IMF/WB protests in 2001 in 23 poor countries all over the world, which have resulted in the deaths of 76 people and thousands injured and arrested. The report, called “State of Unrest II,” also demonstrated that protests against these institutions and their policies were not limited to privileged students and anarchists from rich countries, as some politicians and the IMF and WB have tried to claim, but led by the world’s poorest peoples.

As C. Fred Bergsten, chief of Washington’s Institute of International Economics, has pointed out, “anti-globalization forces are now in the ascendancy”. [cited in Walden Bello, 2000] In South-East Asia, the lingering effects of the 1997-98 economic crisis, the inability and unwillingness of the region’s ruling elites to break free of the WB-IMF-WTO and US stranglehold over their economic policies and programmes, and the vibrancy of the social movements that challenge the prevailing hegemonic paradigm, will prove crucial in determining and changing the region’s socio-economic, political and cultural landscape.



Bello, Walden. “Fast-track Capitalism, Geoeconomic Competition, and the Sustainable Development. Challenge in East Asia” in Thomas, Caroline and Wilkin, Peter, Globalization and the South. London : MacMillan Press, 1997.

Bello, Walden, Cunningham, Shea and Poh, Li Kheng. A Siamese Tragedy : Development and Disintegration in Modern Thailand. London : Zed Books, 1998

Bello, Walden. « From Melbourne to Prague : the Struggle for a Deglobalized World » speech delivered at events protesting against the World Economic Forum (Davos), in Melbourne, 6-10 September 2000.

Callinicos, Alex. Against the Third Way. London : Polity Press, 2001

Guttal, Shalmali. Creating Poverty: The ADB in Asia. Bangkok : Focus on the Global South, 2000.

Martin, Hans-Peter and Schumann, Harald. The Global Trap: Globalization and the Assault on Democracy and Prosperity. London and New York : Zed Books, 1996

Pongpaichit, Pasuk and Baker, Chris. Thailand: Economy and Politics. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1995

Prasartset, Suthy.“Crisis of the Transnationalization Model of Accumulation: the Thai Case”, in “Transnationalization, the State and the People: the Thailand Case: Part II”, New Asian Visions, Working Papers of the United Nations University Asian Perspectives Project (Southeast Asia), The United Nations University, 1984

Quizon, Antonio B. and Perez-Corral, Violeta. The NGO Campaign on the Asian Development Bank. Manila : Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, 1995

Rupert, Mark. Ideologies of Globalization: Contending Visions of a New World Order. London and New York : Routledge, 2000

Sarit, Dita. Acceptance speech. Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emerging Youth Leader, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Manila, December 2001

Tejapira, Kasian. Interview with an Associate Professor of Political Science. Thammasat University, Bangkok, 18 May 2000

Widagdo, Nurina. “Overview of what is to happen in Hawai”, Washington DC : The Bank Information Center (BIC), 9 March 2001

Additional contributions :

Nguyen Duc, Truyen, Le Vietnam en Transition

Suparaj, Janchitfah, My People (Thailand)

Wahongo, Francis, Indonesia : Escaping from the Brink of a Debacle

Texts prepared for « Mondialisation des Résistances » which can be consulted on the web site of the World Forum for Alternatives,

[1] This idea is to be found among consumer groups like the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP), headed by Martin Khor

[2] The main advocate of this theory is Syed Hussein Ali, a political activist, imprisoned for many years by Mohammed Mahathir