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.

We 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.

"President 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. I hate
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 in Florida.

"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.

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