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Oleh/By		:	DATO' SERI DR. MAHATHIR BIN MOHAMAD 
Tempat/Venue 	: 	NEW YORK 
Tarikh/Date 	: 	28/09/82 
Tajuk/Title  	: 	THE ASIA SOCIETY, AND THE COUNCIL 
			OF FOREIGN RELATIONS 




Mr. Chairman, Honoured guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to thank
the Council of Foreign Relations and the Asia Society for co-sponsoring
this gathering. This is indeed a great honour for me and I take this
opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts on the subject of
"Regional approach Towards Stability".

2. When the United Nations was formed in 1945, the world felt that an
agency had been found for the resolution of conflicts between nations. The
failure of the League of Nations was forgotten in the euphoria that
greeted the emergence of the United Nations Organisation. In the colonised
territories like the States of the Malay Paninsular, hope was kindled that
freedom and dignity were once again attainable. Such were the expectations
in Malaysia that the most popular political party among the Malays, which
today governs Malaysia as part of a coalition, was named after the United
Nations Organisation. The United Malays National Organisation, of which I
am the current President, drew a lot of inspiration and saw a lot of
similarities between the Malays States and the United Nations as a
concept.

3. In a sense those expectations were justified. We believe that the
Empires of the first half of the 20th Century would not have been broken
up nor new countries created but for the United Nations. Unfortunately the
break-up of the Empires was not to result in real freedom for the emergent
nations. The metropolitan powers were too powerful and too far advanced
for the new nations to establish ralations on equal footing. Indirectly
they continue to dominate their former colonies. As if this is not enough
the old countries of Europe formed an alliance which uses enonomic power
to continue political domination. The United States too was drawn into
this grouping, thus adding strength to the domination of European
countries over their former colonies.

4. The European Economic Community (EEC) is, of course, not a new
idea. Alliances between neighbours have been known throughout the history
of mankind. But the EEC is perhaps the first alliance to focus on economic
cooperation. This is perhaps because the North Atlantic Treaty
Organisation already provides for military cooperation.

5. We see many weaknesses in the EEC. Indeed some say it is a failure. But
a Europe competing with itself would probably be worse off than the
EEC. The EEC as a Regional Grouping can therefore be said to be
successful. In any case Regional Groupings of countries caught on. Thus a
spate of regional groupings was formed in the Caribbean, in Africa, the
Arab countries, Eastern Europe and in Southeast Asia. Now, of course,
South Asia is interested. as a case study and discuss it in the context of
stability through regional grouping. I do not think I will be able to say
much that is not already known, but I cannot possibly know how much you
already know. So if what I say is old hat to you, I must crave your
indulgence.

7. We like to think that when we do something, we know all the objectives
and the consequences. But this is far from the truth. Usually, our
foresight is quite limited and within a short while after we are off on a
supposedly planned course, we will find so many difficulties and so many
unforeseen things that we wonder why we never foresaw these
contigencies. Indeed, sometimes we are reduced to cursing our own
stupidity in embarking on a plan or a course of action. objectives, others
infer all kinds of Machiavellian strategies in the concept of ASEAN that
they tended to believe that the regional grouping has fallen far short of
its target. Thus we find outsiders cynically commenting on the failure of
ASEAN as an economic community, when in fact, economic cooperation was not
a prime objective of the early ASEAN leaders.

9. I would like to say this. ASEAN is not a Machiavellian concept. ASEAN
was conceived as a simple forum to overcome the communications problem
between neighbours who then knew little about each other. The five
countries of ASEAN are ethnically similar, but historically and
politically diverse. Malaysia and Singapore were once ruled by the
British, and that association affected the values, the system of
government and the general outlook. Indonesia was ruled by the Dutch and
again the Dutch mould affected the Indonesians and physically separated
them from their cousins across the Straits of Malacca. The Philippines was
both Spanish and American, and they felt so divorced from the other
countries of Southeast Asia that in the eyes of some people, they could
hardly be considered Southeast Asian. It is the only Christian
(Catholic) country in a region peopled by Muslims and Buddhists. Then, of
course, there is Thailand, the only Southeast Asian country which was not
neighbours was minimal.

10. It can thus be seen that suddenly five historically separated
countries found themselves having to conduct relations not as familiar
neighbours but as suspicious strangers. It would be a miracle if they do
not mess up their relations. And indeed this was what happended
initially. Within a very short space of time, they were in
confrontation. Territorial claims were made and threats uttered. At one
stage, the Sukarno regime actually dropped paratroopers on Malaysian
territory.

11. To cut a long story short, the leaders of these countries decided to
meet each other to thrash out their neighbourhood problems. Despite the
differences, it did not take long for the idea of a neighbourhood
association to be proposed as a forum for solving the usual problems
between neighbours. Thus, we first had ASA or the Association of Southeast
Asia. The proponents involved then were only Malaysia, Thailand and the
Philippines. Singapore was then a part of Malaysia while Thailand was not
a party to the confrontation by President Sukarno. Despite some agreement
on the need for this grouping, ASA never really took off. But
nevertheless, the get-together was found to be useful as a forum for
amicable settlement of the differences between neighbours. Though ASA
failed to achieve the settlement, the concept ramained in the minds of
Southeast Asian leaders. And, finally when the Indonesian donfrontation
ended, the idea of a regional grouping came to the forefront again.

12. It can be seen that it was not economic cooperation that was the
motive behind the formation of ASEAN. Certainly, it was not a strategic
concept designed to make the five ASEAN nations an economic and political
entity which will overawe its neighbours and present a mutual front in the
international fora. ASEAN is simply a fairly adhoc solution to a
communications problem between neighbours who were strangers to each
other. But once it was formed, much more was expected of it than was ever
in the minds of the founders. It is this expectation that makes ASEAN seem
to fall short of its objective. On the other hand, looked at from the
limited aims of the founders, it is a success.

13. Now let us examine the achievements of ASEAN. When I was asked to
deliver the key-note speech at a forum on the Pacific Basin in Bali, I
emphasised the need to know each other better before real cooperation can
take place. With the formation of ASEAN, the strangers who peopled the
neighbouring countries of Southeast Asia began to know each other
well. Certainly the leaders became very friendly with one another. In fact
one of the characteristics of ASEAN meetings is that most of the work and
the process of reaching consensus are achieved during informal
get-togethers of ministers in the absence of their official advisers.

14. When people are that close to each other, they cannot but learn from
each other. It is an acknowledged fact that the ASEAN five have achieved
remarkable progress in a world where economic growth has become very
limited. This achievement in terms of economic growth is not an
accident. It is made possible by the the policies followed by the ASEAN
nations, policies which were devised through learning from each other the
formula for success. At one time prior to ASEAN, there were countries of
Southeast Asia which were tempted to be ultra-nationalistic
economically. Foreign holdings were forcibly nationalised. But learning
from the other ASEAN countries that such was not the route to prosperity,
nationalisation was dropped. All the ASEAN countries are now believers in
free trade and free enterprise. Foreign capital is welcome by
all. Incentives for investments are common. Joint-ventures are popular. On
the other hand, Indonesia taught the new Southeast Asian oil-producing
countries how to bargain with foreign oil companies.

15. Clearly the first and greatest achievement of ASEAN is the exchange of
mutual experience and administrative know-how which have led to economic
growth and stability. To-day the ASEAN five are prosperous and stable -
relative to the rest of the world and certainly relative to the newly
independent countries elsewhere.

16. But all these are not noticed or at least are not regarded as ASEAN
achievements. In the eyes of foreigners in particular, ASEAN has failed
because it has not been able to set up a common market. But as I have
explained earlier, a common market was not what ASEAN leaders had in mind
when they decided to form the grouping. It was only after the group was
formed that people began to talk of on ASEAN common market. The reason is
that people immediately think of the EEC when they see such a
grouping. For a lot of people, next to security, economic power is the
only reason for a grouping of neighbours. Foreign businessmen see in a
grouping of countries a solution to the problem of dealing with many
countries, each with its own laws and peculiarities. How much more simple
it will be for them if they can gain entry into a five-nation market
through one country that they are familiar with. And so they watch
hopefully for evidence that the customs barriers between the ASEAN
countries would be brought down. But although thousands of items have now
been accorded preferential tariffs, a real breakdown of customs barriers
has not taken place. ASEAN is therefore a failure in the eyes of these
people.

17. But local business people entertain different ideas. The ASEAN member
with a small domestic market like Singapore would like to remove tariff
barriers. But the Indonesian businessmen and the government would like to
retain the potential of a 150 million population for themselves. So would
Thailand and the Philippines, each with a population of about 45
million. Malaysia is neither here nor there. With a population of only 14+
million, it still manages to have the biggest passenger car market among
the ASEAN five. It is comparatively a more affluement market.

18. For the local business people and the governments of ASEAN countries,
there is no great hurry to lift tariff barriers. The economic strength of
each country must be built up first before they open the flood-gates. It
is hoped that at such a time, the flow will not be in one direction
only. The benefits must be mutual.

19. In many ways, therefore, it can be said that ASEAN as a regional
grouping is a success. Certainly it has brought prosperity and
stability. There remains the threat to stability from non-member
neighbours. But ASEAN has shown that although it is not a military
grouping, it can coordinate its policies so as to deter the kind of
adventures that countries standing alone and economically troubled
attract.

20. Among the kind of cooperation that is designed by ASEAN to ward off
threats is the concept of a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality or
ZOPFAN. This concept requires the cooperation of the big powers. That
cooperation is not really forthcoming, but each of the big powers is not
willing to say that they disapprove of peace or of freedom or of
neutrality in Southeast Asia. In a sort of negative way, ZOPFAN is
working.

21. For the purpose of security, the ASEAN countries depend The capacity
of ASEAN countries to do this no doubt contributes to the dampening of
external pressures and threats.

22. In the case of ASEAN, it can be said that regional grouping has had
positive results in terms of economic cooperation itself. It depends more
upon the willingness to know and understand each other and, accepting the
shortcomings, to work within the constraints. No grand design should be
tried purely because it sounds good or it had worked elsewhere.

Thank you.

 



 


 











 
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