By ADRIAN ELY, STEPS Centre member, reports from the Asia-Europe People’s Forum in Beijing

Thirty years ago, the idea that the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF) would be held in China would have been inconceivable, but the fact that civil society organisations from all across Europe, Asia and other areas of the world have come together this week in Beijing shows that the country is undoubtedly undergoing political change alongside its rapid social, economic, technological and environmental upheavals. Photo: AEPF conference / Adrian Ely

This is the seventh time that civil society organisations have gathered at the AEPF to discuss issues of global importance. This year, their aim is to feed into the Asia-Europe Meeting Summit (ASEM) , which will be held in Beijing later this month. Some 500 delegates attended the first session this morning, although it felt like more as we crammed into the conference hall, which heard the Chinese foreign minister and various international guests lay out their visions of the world, and the role of civil society and governments, especially that of China, in addressing current challenges.

I took the opportunity to attend the subsequent morning session on “Development Paradigms: trends and alternatives”, which was presented by Walden Bello (Focus on the Global South), Wolfram Schaffar (University of Hildesheim, Attac Germany), Wu Xingtang (China Centre for Contemporary World Studies), with input from MP Charles Santiago of Malaysia. All seemed to agree that current events in Washington and the financial centres of the world indicated the end of the neo-liberal economic development paradigm, and that the turmoil and impending fallout offered an opportunity for a radical people-centred political agenda to take hold.

There was an optimistic feeling that the discussions over the coming three days could significantly contribute to the main characteristics of the new financial architecture (in which the BRICS economies, it was argued, should play a more central role). According to the speakers, this financial crisis was different from that of the depression in the 1930s, and also the more recent Asian financial crisis – the rise of China and other emerging powers requires a new global approach to financial regulation. The was little debate as to whether the world was at a tipping point, and a large number of speakers were convinced that the coming months and years would inevitably see the rise of an alternative global political, as well as financial, order.

Although unable to attend the whole forum, I’m looking forward to a session on food security and food sovereignty, especially following recent decisions around land reform in China. That session will take place on Wednesday afternoon, shortly before the participants come up with a final declaration of the people’s agenda under the theme “For Social and Ecological Justice!”