When Asia's leaders pack into London next week to discuss the economic crisis with European Union leaders, few will cast a glance at a collection of pressure groups from around the region meeting to deliver their alternative prescriptions just a few hundred metres away. It seems every major summit anywhere today attracts an alternative meeting. The second Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM 2) will be no exception. As the 10 Asian and 15 EU state leaders meet in the calm of the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre just across the road from Parliament, the non-governmental organisations, including speakers from Hong Kong, will be locked in heated debate at the nearby Royal Commonwealth Society. ASEM 1 was held in Bangkok in 1996 following an EU paper of 1994 designed to counter the growing influence of the United States in the region and form a counter to the growing influence of APEC (the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum). Its remit was to identify three main areas for dialogue between Asia and Europe: economic, political and cultural. The meeting's title - 'Towards a New Asia-Europe Partnership for Greater Growth' - sums up its real direction. An ASEM Business Forum was set up, and the Asia Europe Foundation was established to promote cultural exchanges between think-tanks, people's and cultural groups. Ministerial meetings continued apace and will culminate in the signing of two major documents on investment and trade promotion in London next week. While ASEM 2 will no doubt end in brave words and fudge, the prescriptions being put forward by many of the NGOs at their alternative 'People's Forum' appear naive at best. 'We are concerned ASEM 2 will place too much emphasis on trade liberalisation and deregulation - free-market policies which, we believe, have contributed to the current economic crisis in Asia,' said one of the organisers of the counter venue, Hilary Coulby of the Catholic Institute for International Relations. 'Government leaders must pioneer a new economic model which puts people at its heart.' The aim of the People's Forum is to bring NGOs into the ASEM process, to 'ensure that economic discussions . . . address the impact of policies on ordinary people, human rights and the environment', and to broaden the ASEM agenda to include human rights, the environment and 'people-centred development'. Of course, this will not happen. The EU, for instance, knows it must tread softly on such issues with Asian governments for fear of being seen as too harsh - when trade is up for grabs - compared to the US, and being reminded of its old colonial role in the region. EU leaders are happy to see the organisation exist as a means of maintaining a dialogue and of bolstering economic and financial understanding. They are not about to rock the boat by raising difficult issues with their guests. One British minister will risk going into the lion's den though. Clare Short, the British Secretary of State for International Development, will open the alternative meeting. Ms Short is on the left of the British Government, yet even she is unlikely to go along with the panaceas being prescribed by the People's Forum, for a great deal of it will be taken up with the 'urgent need for an alternative economic model'. The forum is overtly political in nature and targeted overtly at the variety of International Monetary Fund (IMF) packages currently either on offer or being prescribed across the region. More often than not, such attacks on organisations such as the IMF are excuses for some form of protectionism. Indeed, a great deal of the two-day meeting will be taken up with attacks on the IMF's prescriptions for countries such as Indonesia. At least two speakers are planning heated attacks on US economic policy. One speaker plans to accuse the IMF of being not much more than a machinery for the promotion of US trade objectives in the region, with the principal aim of ensuring debtor states get repaid. Another will accuse the US of using Asia's crisis to simply push its own trade and investment interests. This is not far removed from the cliches and accusations of US imperialism that used to echo around the region in the 1970s. Of course, there have been many criticisms of the IMF's approach to ailing economies and it is vital that alternatives are put forward. But NGOs diminish their potential power to influence when their position becomes little more than naivety dressed up as polemic, when their forum becomes in effect a bandwagon for anyone with a grievance against whichever government or regime they wish to target. Typically, one paper will argue that part of the European driving force behind ASEM will be to 'Europeanise' the defence industry in the region with the net effect of destabilising the region militarily. There will, of course, also be much sound argument at this alternative summit, and many serious contributions on democracy, human and especially children's rights. The People's Forum also comes with its own demonstration and vigil outside the Queen Elizabeth II centre, even its own 'Unrepresented People's Alternative State Reception'. But such events feed upon themselves. How many representatives of the People's Forum will actually use the opportunity to get their message across to those within the Queen Elizabeth II centre is not clear.