28 September 1997
Until the voluntary dissolution of the Soviet Union from 1990-91, the Communist power
and the United States dominated the world stage; now Washington is the sole superpower.
The direction of future world history, in my belief, will depend on the shifting
relationship between Washington and Beijing. Recall what Napoleon said about China?
He said: "China? There lies a sleeping Giant. Let him sleep! For when he wakes
he will move the world."
Before I returned to New York after a short visit home, I gave a talk to students
studying international relations at Universiti Malaya's Faculty of Arts on the same
day Li Peng, the Prime Minister of China arrived in Kuala Lumpur for an official
On that Thursday morning (21 Aug), although the topic of my
talk was The United Nations in the Unipolar World, I devoted at the end of
my speech three short paragraphs on China and a decent amount of time it deserved
during questions and answers.
It did not surprise me at all that China stirred keen interest. I was pleased by
the reaction of the students, a lively group of young Malaysians, causing the lecture
period to be extended by a good 40 minutes.
I said: "Lastly, I need to say this. Many people want to know what I think of
China. I do not believe a Chinese imperium or empire will emerge for another half
a century at least. If I were you I will be more worried about our country - as Prime
Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said - becoming an 'alien nation' than
about the Chinese danger.
"I do believe in Beijing's co-existence policy with its neighbours and the world
at large. As we become more mature, Malaysians will share my view about the Chinese
just as I believe the number of people all over the world, who think our planet is
safer with the United Nations than without it, is growing."
Before I left for an another appointment at the Prime Minister's Department, I told
Professor Mohamad Abu Bakar, who chaired the meeting (he invited me over), it had
been a worthwhile visit for me. I believe I did manage to fire the imagination of
those young Malaysians.
Whether one likes it or not China, first under Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and now
Jiang Zemin, who is delicately juggling between free market and Marxism, is awakening,
and it may be sooner than most people think possible. If China successfully implements
"One country two systems", the communist rule and "socialism with
Chinese characteristics" (read expanded free market), the time frame would decidedly
Of the four prime ministers I dealt with, only Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra did not visit
China as prime minister. He did however, visit China in his capacity as president
of Perkim in the eighties. Tun Razak was followed in succession by Tun Hussein Onn
and Dr Mahathir. All went to China as head of government and the ruling party, Umno
and Barisan Nasional.
Richard Nixon, an expert on China, has this to say about the Chinese in his book,
The Real War: "China's present leaders are statesmen with a keen
sense of the world who think in global terms. They are communists. They are also
Chinese. Since Mao's death they have seemed to grow less communist and more Chinese,
less the prisoners of ideology and more pragmatic, less revolutionary and more traditional."
China, asserts Nixon, could become the most powerful nation on earth during the twenty
When North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, the United Nations forces led by the
Americans, assisted the South not only to halt the communist advance, but to drive
the invaders back to the Chinese borders which caused China to enter the war and
together with the North Koreans to capture Seoul. The UN forces regained Seoul, and
an armistice was signed in 1953.
China became a member of the UN in 1971 replacing Taiwan which between 1945 and the
accession of Beijing pretended that it was China. Korea remains divided but both
Koreas are members of the UN.
This is an extract from my talk: "You, as students, teachers or academics and
I, as a politician-cum-diplomat-and-reporter, know it is often wise to leave a few
"So much has been said and written about the UN that maybe there is little to
be gained by what I have to say today. Nonetheless, I would like to share with you
some of my thoughts and observations about the world body.
"When a person talks about the UN two questions arise without fail. First, has
the world body been a disappointment and second, whether it has achieved the aim
of its founders? Depending on one's perspective, the UN has been both a disappointment
as well as a success.
"The United Nations was a success when it stopped the communist aggression in
Korea in the fifties; it failed in a spectacular fashion in Bosnia. The United Nation
was a big disappointment as was the European Union; it only acted after the United
States had taken the lead. The United Nations was a winner in 1963 when it endorsed
the formation of Malaysia, and before that when it sanctioned Indonesia's claim over
Irian Barat or West New Guinea and not long ago, the Desert Storm or the Gulf War.