Top of Page
|US Vice-President Gore ticks off
Malaysia, the APEC Forum Host
US Vice-President Gore's remark at the dinner speech to the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum on Monday, 16 October 1998 can at best be described as near complete ignorance of circumstances or a deliberate attempt to interfere with Malaysian politics.
First, what did he say? Gore said that among the nations suffering economic crisis, we continue to hear calls for democracy in many languages, people's power, Doi Moi (in Vietnamese) and Reformasi (in Malay). He followed with: "We hear them today - right here, right now - among the brave people of Malaysia". He called for the need to provide citizens with democratic rule in order for them to root out corruption and cronyism.
"Citizens who launch these reforms will help their countries prosper - as investors put their money and their faith in democracy, and pull it out of nations where decisions were rigged, where bloated bureaucracies sustain only themselves without working for the people(emphasis mine)."
"Democratic institutions have not caught up with democratic aspirations. Instead, we find cronyism, corruption and social unrest - adding to the problem of attracting world investment."
So what is wrong with his remarks? Nothing really, particularly if all one has read, are articles published by the Western media. However, his remarks are, as Malaysian Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz put it: "Disgusting. There are narrow-minded people in the world and we have to expect it, but it certainly reflects unabashed intervention into local affairs. .... And I hope I never live to hear another one like that."
Is Rafidah justified in her remarks? Here's the background. The United States has maintained its Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, for many years. The Embassy regularly provides feedback on the situation (economy and politics included) to the U.S. Government. Which means the U.S. Government (and its leaders) cannot be ignorant of the happenings in Malaysia.
Gore's aspersion on Malaysian democracy is downright misplaced. For more details one should read the IMF report on the social reforms introduced by the Malaysian Government, and why the IMF recommended to the developing countries (just prior to the Asian financial crisis) to emulate the Malaysian model for development. The legal framework (rooted from British colonial days) is clear, and no one is above the law. UMNO, the key party within the ruling coalition Government, itself has been taken to court before -- and lost!
Unlike Indonesia, the calls for democracy is not widespread. Several peaceful (and sometimes unlawful) demonstrations were held, attended by a few hundreds to a thousand people, with one voilent outburst. Unlike Indonesia, there has been no riots, no rapes, no fires, and no attacks on police stations. The voice of the few calling for "reformasi" is not the voice of the majority.
Gore needs to understand that democracy does not mean listening to the few, and ignoring the majority. The U.S. Democrats need to define this clearly to Gore. And if indeed these protestors have a case, and represent the majority view, they can always vote in a new government (general election is due in 1999). Gore should not ask them to go to the streets.
The former UMNO Youth leader, Zahid Hamidi, had voiced the call for more transparency, and eradication of "corruption, crony capitalism and nepotism" in Malaysia. In response to that the Government immediately published detailed lists of all privatisation projects, project sponsors and related information. It will take an obtuse mind to configure any nepotism or cronyism in the award of these projects to the project sponsors. And, to answer the question, YES the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur had assess to this disclosure, as it was publicly published in full in local dailies.
Is it fair for Rafidah to call Gore's remarks as "unabashed intervention into local affairs"? Well, it is for you to answer. How would Bill Clinton and the US citizens react if Rafidah called the gun support lobby to go to the streets and riot now, since the U.S. Government is a "bloated bureaucracy which sustains only itself without working for the people"? Or how would President Bill Clinton react if Rafidah visits Kenneth Star on a "probing mission" on the Monica Lewinsky case? Akin to US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's meeting with the wife of Anwar Ibrahim who was sacked from the post of Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister on allegations of sexual misconduct and corruption.
Let's hear Mahathir: "We do not like to interfere in other people's affairs. We hope people will respect us."
How bad is the damage? Well for one, Malaysia is playing the host of the Asia Pacific Economic Nations forum. We have heard the saying: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". A visitor, notwithstanding his stature, has to respect the customs and culture of the host. The delegates and other leaders of the Apec forum have understood this.
And a number of American business sector representatives and Apec participants shuffled over to the Malaysians and practically apologised for the Gore remarks. Some expressed their disgust to Rafidah.
According to Reuters, the White House has later confirmed that Gore's comments reflected the views of U.S. President Bill Clinton.
In conclusion, the Webster's New World Dictionary has this to say:
gore1 n. filth, dung, blood-shed from a wound, esp. when clotted
gore2 vt. gored, goring, to pierce with or with a horn or tusk
gore3 1. a small, triangular piece of land as where two roads diverge 2. a tapering piece of cloth made or inserted in a skirt, sail, etc. to give it fullness
Gore, Albert (Arnold, Jr) 1948 - : vice president of the U.S. (1993- )