13 April 1998

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Leekpai admitted that during the rapid economic growth the Thais became too complacent. In the good times, they forgot many important truths and neglected many important tasks which caused the present trouble. While Thailand created wealth it also forgot to create competitiveness nor did it seriously tackle bureaucratic inefficiency, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability.

He appeared to have also pledged more democracy and freedom.

Anwar is the keynote speaker at The Asia Crisis: Economic and Political Implications, which also features, among others, Teh Kok Peng, deputy managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Lawrence Summers, Deputy Secretary of the United States Treasury, Jospeh Stiglitz, chief economist World Bank and Guillermo Qrtiz, governor of the Central Bank of Mexico.

Anwar joins a long procession of world leaders who had addressed the council in its 75 years of existence (as old asTime Magazine). However, here, I shall name only recent speakers: Madeleine Albright, CNN founder Ted Turner, Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian chief Yasser Arafat - who gave conflicting visions of peace - Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Henry Kissinger and a hundred others.

The Council on Foreign Relations is actually a unique membership organisation and think tank that tries to educate its members and Americans about international relations and diplomacy and, I suppose, also infects the Americans at large as to how to serve the United States with ideas for a better and safer world with less duplicity and double standards.

The business dinner discussion will be moderated by Laura D'Andrea Tycoon, professor of economics at the University o California, berkley, which iI will visit later in the month to see Malaysian students there and discuss with some scholars and administrators interested in Asean, and Malaysia in particular.

This is an excellent opportunity for Anwar to overwhelm these experienced practitioners in foreign affair and hard-nosed tycoons. What he says and, more importantly, how he does it in a three-minute opening remark he is allotted with to give his assessment of what is happening in Asean, East Asia and Malaysia, will set the tone of the discussion.

Whether we like it or not Anwar's words will be measured with that of Leekpai's and our commitment against Thailand's. Our problems are quite different from that of our of neighbor We will not need IMF aid because the Malaysian foreign debt is relatively small.

We are spared from having to swallow the bitter pills prescribed by the IMF. However, one problem remains: a relatively big internal debt and the fear - by foreign analysts - that the non-performing loan ratio of our banks is expected to peak at about 20% by the end of the year.

This is something people would only speak of privately in January and February. Time will tell and I, very much, hope the fear is misplaced.

Anwar is well thought of by American leaders and the media, and has a good press. He is viewed as almost certain as the next voice of Malaysia after Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and as a leader in a revived Asia.

His programmes both in New York and Washington D.C. are very tight: meetings starting with breakfasts, luncheons and dinners.

He is scheduled to meet Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general bankers, financiers, the editor of Wall Street Journal, Dr Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Vice President A1 Gore, Michel Camdessus of IMF and Wolfensohn of the World Bank, Robert Rubin his counterpart in the United States, and good friend William Cohen, the Secretary of Defense, followed by lunch.

Anwar will barely have time to rest except on Monday afternoon and evening where nothing official has been scheduled. Anwar's fast track in the United States is not unexpected.

As a student leader Anwar was provocative and combative to get people to listen to him. But now as his stature grows and his wings spread out, he develops an enviable self-discipline and has become conciliatory, polished and less belligerent.

I shall be at the luncheon to see for myself to observe, gauge, even talk to other guests, to find out whether Anwar matches his American admirers expectation articulate, confident, artful, a good barterer, a moderate who is resolved to overcome the Malaysian economic meltdown instead of blaming everyone.

I know Anwar can do it with a bit of preparation albeit it will be much more than the preparation he usually does for his budget speech.

Here is a piece of unsolicited advice: whatever you do, tone down your rhetoric. Action and increased trade exports in particular, would help the economy and our image to recover faster. However, do not be chastened either!

Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )

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