6 December 1998
I was not altogether dismayed. The realities on the ground - despite, the much maligned
and much misunderstood exchange rate and capital controls, the economic meltdown
and the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister, his
trial and the dwindling reformasi movement - were not as portrayed overseas.
Our country was not a battleground as wished for by critics and bashers.
Few places in the Asean region, except, perhaps, for Singapore and Kuala Lumpur,
which to me hitherto seemed to steer a remarkably steady course through the Asian
economic typhoon, are their old selves. Despite the recession, which has deepened,
and our economic output, which fell by 8.6% in the third quarter compared with last
year, we are peaceful and stable.
imposed capital aid exchange controls only in September, so it is too early to judge
how the controls had affected growth or will affect the last quarter. I am realistic
enough though that a full-fledged recovery is still many months (perhaps, several
years) away. However, barring anymore unexpected big shocks in the world financial
system and anything untoward happening among ourselves, we should be able to withstand
the continuing economic malaise.
If you believe the foreigners and their Malaysian fans, no people would have done
snore to wound themselves than us. We are condemned to be worse off than the Thais,
Indonesians and the Filipinos. However, if the Mahathir-Daim-Mustapha economic strategy
is scrupulously implemented, I believe we could prove these prophets of doom wrong.
It depends on us, really, and the world financial system, which even George Soros,
the rogue speculator, now wants reformed as soon as possible to save the world from
an impending recession.
I was in Kuala Lumpur, Kok Lanas and Hong Kong on holiday recently and I did not
see much visible effects of the Asian economic woes.
On the contrary, I saw many signs of the good life in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Petaling
Jaya, Bangsar, Ampang Hilir and even in Kok Lanas. Both Hong Kong and KL were as
usual chockerblocked with traffic, and weekend (even weekdays) Malaysian and Chinese
revelers packed the dance floors of night clubs and discos. Malaysian karaoke
and dangdut lounges were not empty!
I attended three lavish parties and an auction where I observed with awe women, and
their husbands snapping up diamonds, gold, objects d'art and wines as if there were
no economic contractions, layoffs, bankruptcies, reformasi or political tensions.
After winning a phoney war against President Saddam Hussein, US President Bill Clinton
despatched Vice President Al Gore to lecture us about democracy during the Asia Pacific
(Apec) Summit. Gore duly said that he would be proud to repeat any authoritarian
regime that "democracy and freedom are essential perquisites". Not true.
It was against this backdrop that I gave a talk to 70 international relations majors
of Universiti Malaya on Nov 18th, two days, after Gore's diplomatic gaffe, which
was condemned by all present - except by President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines
- as "unwarranted, impolite, (said at the) wrong place and wrong time".
This was what I said, after I reconstructed it from my notes: "I always thought
that the Asia Pacific Economic forum or Apec is about economic cooperation in the
Asia Pacific region until Albert Gore, the Vice President of the United States, turned
it into a political forum through his megamouth diplomacy.
Clinton's decision to skip (whatever the reasons) the Apec meeting gave Prime Minister
Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad an unshared centre stage!
"In a bipolar world of yesteryears, being embraced by the United States was
a death sentence. Now it is proudly paraded. It would not be wrong for Malaysians
to assume, and, I believe, in the long run, that such a cozy relationship would discredit
the so-called reformation movement. It has opened itself to charges of being supported
and manipulated by a big foreign power with a hidden political and economic agenda.
"As the sole superpower, Washington has appointed itself as Earth's policeman.
It does not advance democracy when its representatives practice megamouth diplomacy
and worst, when they get their facts wrong (which they customarily do). Washington
and its subordinate allies are interfering in the domestic affairs of our country
and that of Asean nations. History has taught us that Washington "suka jaga
tepi kain orang", a meddling bully who practices doublespeak and multiple standards
- different moral and human rights standards for different nations. That is applying
different rules mora strictly to some persons than others.
"Their stooges, dolls or poodles or lapdogs, if you like, get away with murder.
to think this, but I believe Clinton and Gore, would like it if they could treat
Mahathir in the same
manner Washington treated and treats Noriega. In 1989, the United States invaded
Panama to arrest General Manuel Antonio Noriega - the ruling force behind various
Panamanian presidents. He was taken to the US for trial and found guilty and jailed
"Minister of Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz should have challenged
US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright if she could visit Noriega and not Starr
who is not in prison.
"Whatever Mahathir's faults and flaws, at least, let us admit this: We would
not have achieved all the things we now enjoy if not for his dynamic leadership.
Mahathir was democratically elected and his government was legally constituted. Those
who oppose him and the government can remove him and his government during the next
general election which will have to be called, barring any unforeseen circumstances,
by the middle of the year 2000.
"The American incitement has, I think, bolstered Mahathir and the Barisan National.
Clinton and Gore have performed a great service to Malaysian nationalism and patriotism.
Washington has declared an unprecedented and unequivocal open war against us: a belligerent
and unmistakable hostility. American assessment of us is not only wrong but downright
condescending, humiliating and contemptuous, borne out of sheer arrogance, of power
and display of might and stupidity.
New Jersey in early October and Malaysian students at MIT in Boston last July that
Mahathir is no dictator and Malaysia isn't Indonesia. Mahathir is not Suharto and
our tentera are apolitical; they stay clear of politics and business, unlike their
counterparts in Indonesia.