Dr M speaks his mind at the UN

by Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad

The PM's views At the recent UN General Assembly received much support. Although he was greatly acclaimed by the delegates from developing nations, those from the West, of course, thought otherwise, says ABDULLAH AHMAD.

Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad was one of the few remaining outspoken leaders of the developing world to address the 54th United Nations General Assembly. As usual, it was a superb performance, a repeat of his 1990 address.

The Prime Minister delighted many and ruffled the feathers of numerous Western delegates.

Mahathir was given a three-to-five-minute ovation and a very warm reception afterwards.

What he said had struck a chord with the delegates from the Third World who represent the majority of the 188 member nations of the world body.

Mahathir attacked a wide range of subjects.

He dared to say what most of the Third World delegates would only whisper outside the chamber, but were unable or unwilling to do so inside.

The Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan, sparked off the debate in his opening remarks by stating that the protection of civilians caught in the middle of armed conflicts will be the top UN agenda and the challenge in the new millennium.

This caused quite a surprise. Many heads of government thought that it would be interfering with the business of sovereign governments.

Annan's "humanitarian intervention" remarks followed Nato's intervention in Kosovo to save Albanian Kosovars from ethnic cleansing by the Serbs, but were made prior to the UN intervention in East Timor.

It must have dawned on some leaders that "this intervention" may some day be used against them under one pretext or other.

Mahathir has always been acclaimed by the developing nations on the many occasions he has addressed the UN.

As his popularity soars. higher in the Third World he also makes fewer friends in the US, Europe and Australia.

For once he and Paul Keating, former premier of Australia, who had called Mahathir a "recalcitrant", are in complete agreement that Australia's excessive zeal regarding East Timor's self determination had contributed to the present tragedy on the island.

The American "deputy marshall" is Asia Australian premier John Howard, has indeed brought tears and grief to the East Timorese.

His stance has caused great damage to the bilateral relations between Indonesia and Australia, which may take a generation to mend.

Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister's speeches at the UN and elsewhere in New York are never covered by the American media.

The American and Western media have a long-standing antipathy towards him, and partly because of it they are backing Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the alternative coalition parties in the run up of the tenth Malaysian general election.

In what appears to be an elaboration of his remarks to the UNGA, Mahathir said it seemed it was almost a procedure that any liberal democrat who opposed, stirred up or subverted a government which the American or the West did not like (whether it is dictatorial or not) should be given the Nobel peace prize

At the time of writing, the Nobel committee has yet to name the winners of Nobel prizes for peace but it has declared Gunter Grass of Germany the 1999 winner for literature for his novel The Tin Drum.

Published in 1959 it was a devastating commentary on the horror of Nazi Germany.

Grass, according to James Atlas (New York Times, last Sunday), laments the destruction of the Berlin Wall, German unification and the end of collectivist East Germany.

He had declared that America was founded on "stolen land and the. genocide of Indians" and compared the Reagan-era deployment of Pershing missiles in Europe - which helped bring down the wall -.to the Nazi conference that engineered the final solution.

In that respect Grass and Mahathir seem to be in agreement: the demise of Soviet Communism is a major disaster.

The Prime Minister has said that many times, and the last being at UNGA.

"For small countries the demise of the Eastern bloc is a major disaster.

"Now they are exposed to pressures which they cannot resist ... now there would be only one choice for the world and no defection would be possible for the countries, big or small ... no one would be allowed any other political or economic system except what is prescribed by the dominant bloc (US and the European Union)."

People ask me: What about China? I say China should be accorded the respect due to any big power (and an emerging superpower).

We should welcome a stronger and wealthier China on the basis that a poor, insecure and weak China would bring nothing but trouble; I do believe that a powerful China will also be very responsible.

"The US, European Union, Japan, China and Russia are now the dominant powers in the talking-shops here and everywhere.

In the Asean region, because it has money and firepower, Australia has been anointed or baptised as the de facto deputy US Marshall and it is gleefully parading its new status.

The Howard Doctrine is in effect in East Timor whether we like it or not.

Mahathir spoke as forthrightly as a head of government could reasonably do during his busy three-day working visit in Manhattan in late September.

He did not skip over unpleasant issues such as the alleged arsenic poisoning of Anwar or the seeming belligerency of Australian troops in East Timor.

He in fact asked for the reduction of the number of Australians in the multinational International Force For East Timor (Interfet).

He also pleaded for the international financial system to be reviewed to make it a level playing field.

While he was not too enchanted by the prospects of the new millennium, he assured the UN that Malaysia would be a responsible nation.

"It only wished to be .allowed to do things its own way with no interference.

"If I may add, Kuala Lumpur intends to remain the master of its own house at all times."

It does seem to me that in order to be embraced by a certain power it is not important what one has achieved (prosperity, stability, peace and democracy).

What is imperative is where he stands politically and economically.

The Malaysian diplomats, businessmen and others who accompanied Mahathir expressed great satisfaction with his UNGA address.

Whether it was sagacious for Mahathir to say what he expressed is a moot point.

Whatever, he has always been himself confident and never tired of articulating what he believes is right and just anywhere.

No Malaysian needs to apologise that sometimes the Prime Minister, no matter what, has to speak up.

He is up and running, and is always a man of interesting views and thoughts!