Speech by Mr. Yohei Sasakawa
President of The Nippon Foundation
at the Inaugural Ceremony of the Nippon Foundation Fellowships for Asian Public Intellectuals on July 8, 2000
at Nikko Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It is my great pleasure and honor to be with you this morning to celebrate the inauguration of the API Fellowships, and I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all of you who have come to this gathering from various countries and many parts of Malaysia in spite of your busy schedule.
The Nippon Foundation is a private, non-profit, grant-making organization based in Japan. The Foundation was established in 1962 and has provided worldwide grant support for the betterment of human life, the development of human resources, the enhancement of social transformation, and the promotion of mutual understanding and exchange.
In Southeast Asia, we have concentrated on such areas as eliminating communicable diseases like small pox and leprosy, ensuring the safety of maritime transportation across the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, preventing piracy, establishing public welfare programs for disabled people, lending assistance to refugees, and providing educational scholarships for university students under a program called the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund, to name but a few. All these programs are being conducted with the close cooperation and partnership of governments, private organizations, and NGOs in the region.
Today, we stand on the verge of a new century. The 21st century, it's been said, will be the Asian century. The economic crisis in 1997, however, has clearly shown us that there are still vast hurdles to be surmounted. Fortunately, we have witnessed a swift economic recovery in the region, but there still remain quite a few challenging issues to be tackled.
While the growth of the middle class continues, there is also a widening gap between the haves and have-nots. And the so-called digital divide is enlarging between people who can access information technology and those who cannot. The great diversity of race, culture, and religion of the region, and the huge wave of globalization that is sweeping across it have their negative, as well as positive effects, such as conflicts and confrontations among the people in the region. Of course, all of you are quite familiar with these matters.
It goes without saying that there is a great need to mobilize our wisdom and knowledge in order to respond to these challenges. To generate ideas for policy adjustment, there exist at present regional and multinational frameworks of intellectual cooperation that are governmental and non-governmental. Amongst government agencies and private think-tanks, intellectual networks have been created to help with regional policy making.
However, our experience tells us that these effort alone cannot adequately respond to the real need for creative solutions, and for the development of ways and means for the practical implementation of these ideas. We need to create a new type of multi-layered intellectual collaborative framework and network in addition to those that already exist.
Let me be more concrete. We need to cultivate regional intellectual leaders who can transcend national, organizational, social, cultural, and linguistic boundaries, leaders who are able to work in the public sphere, whether governmental or non-governmental. These leaders should be able to contribute globally and regionally by identifying common issues, raising questions, seeking solutions, and presenting proposals for actual implementation. We need to identify these public intellectuals, nurturing them and helping them to organize themselves as a new force to work for the public interest.
Who are these public intellectuals? They are not only academic researchers, but also journalists, writers, educators, administrators, NGO activists, and even creative artists who can share their knowledge and experience toward the betterment of society, people who can influence public opinion in order to help formulate a strong civil society in Asia. It is these people who we encourage to make contributions to our common good.
We need to identify these people from our communities and give them opportunities to learn how these common issues are being tackled in other countries in Asia, so that they might collaboratively and creatively generate solutions. We Asians need to know each other better. It is important therefore to provide greater opportunities for people in this region to discover more about each other.
Today, we are gathered here together to inaugurate the Nippon Foundation Fellowships for Asian Public Intellectuals. This new program aims to nurture both experienced and inexperienced public intellectuals who will work now and for the Asia of the 21st century. And, I trust that the new discoveries, the new knowledge, new ideas, new ways of tackling universal problems these intellectuals discover will be voiced by them, not only within the region but throughout the world where similar problems exist. This will be Asia's contribution to the world.
As we are just starting the API Fellowships, we should bear in mind that we cannot look for immediate results or expect that all problems will be solved overnight. Nonetheless, this is a historic moment, and I invite you all to join me in celebrating the initiation of this new program. We hope that the program will formulate a new network of people who have a strong potential to generate change.
I heard that in Indonesia and Malaysia, there is a saying, "Sedikit-sedikit lama-lama jadi bukit" meaning "A handful becomes a mountain." I sincerely hope that this small handful we place here together will grow into a mountain.
Finally, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the people here who are representing the Partner Institutions, as well as the other people who are not present but have supported and helped to make this program a reality. Again, as a saying in this region goes, "Berat sama dijunjung dan ringan sama dijinjing" meaning, "if it is heavy we'll carry it together, if it is light we'll dangle it together."
May this program then become our shared future asset. Let us shoulder the burden together, as we courageously march into the future.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.
SPEECH OF PROFESSOR DATUK DR. ANUWAR ALI,
AT THE LAUNCHING OF THE ASIAN PUBLIC INTELLECTUALS FELLOWSHIP PROGRAMME (API FELLOWSHIP)
AT THE NIKKO HOTEL, KUALA LUMPUR
ON SATURDAY, 8TH JULY 2000
Yang Berbahagia Tan Sri Dato' Musa Hitam
Pengerusi Suruhanjaya Hak Asasi Manusia Malaysia
Yang Berbahagia Encik Yohei Sasakawa
Presiden Nippon Foundation
Tuan-tuan Yang Terutama Para Perwakilan Diplomatik ke Malaysia
Yang Berbahagia Prof. Ishak Shari
Pengarah IKMAS, UKM
Para Wakil institusi-institusi luar negara dalam API Fellowships Programme
Para tetamu terhormat
Tuan-tuan dan puan-puan yang dihormati
1. Terlebih dahulu, bagi pihak Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, saya ingin mengucapkan selamat datang dan salam sejahtera kepada YBhg. Tan Sri Dato' Musa Hitam, kepada Encik Yohei Sasakawa, kepada tuan-tuan yang terutama para perwakilan diplomatik ke Malaysia, para wakil dari Indonesia, Jepun, Filipina dan Thailand, serta kepada tuan-tuan dan puan-puan para hadirin sekalian. Kepada para tetamu yang datang dari luar negara, saya secara khusus ingin mengalu-alukan kehadiran tuan-tuan dan puan-puan ke Malaysia dan ke majlis ini. Saya mengharapkan majlis pelancaran "Asian Public Intellectuals Fellowships" tajaan Nippon Foundation ini akan membuahkan hasil yang baik.
Tuan-tuan dan puan-puan sekalian. Izinkan saya untuk meneruskan ucapan ini
dalam bahasa Inggeris.
Your excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
2. On behalf of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), it gives me great pleasure to welcome all of you, especially Your Excellencies Members of the Diplomatic Corps, as well as our other foreign guests from Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand to this morning's auspicious occasion - the launching of the Asian Public Intellectuals (API) Fellowships Programme funded by the Nippon Foundation. In particular, I would like to express our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to both Yang Berbahagia Tan Sri Dato' Musa Hitam, our former Deputy Prime Minister, and currently Chairman of the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, and Mr Yohei Sasakawa, President of the Nippon Foundation, for your presence at this meeting. To Tan Sri Musa, I would like to mention an additional word of thanks for consenting to deliver the Public Lecture on the role of Asian public intellectuals, and to the President of the Nippon Foundation, a big thank you for your initiative in introducing and fully funding this programme.
3. Although many of you are from other countries, I am sure Malaysia and UKM are no stranger to you, for many must have forged networks and relationships with colleagues from Malaysia, including those from UKM, and have come for several meetings here when finalising the finer details of the API Fellowships. UKM hails this great opportunity to have all of you at this historic function which has an important bearing in terms of the long-term co-operation not only between the relevant institutions from Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, but also those from other Asian countries.
Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen
4. Asia as we are all aware, is not only the world's largest continent, but it is also very diverse. Southeast Asia - the region in Asia where most of the participating institutions in the API Fellowships are located -- is not only a region where the monsoons meet, but also a region where major worldcivilisations such as Chinese, Indian, Muslim/Islamic and Western civilisations meet and interact with the indigenous Malay civilisation, in some ways changing and transforming each other. In this part of the world, we find Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Christianity existing side by side, generally accommodating and also contending with each other.
5. It is also a region whose demography had largely been transformed through transnational migration that occurred during the colonial period, and more recently during the post-independence period of nation-building, rapid economic growth and globalisation. It is also a region which had experienced a common history of western colonialism, with its policy of divide and rule, and which saw the creation of plural societies. The four Southeast Asian countries - Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand - the homes of the participating institutions in this programme -- have many important and complex experiences of ethnic, religious, cultural, intellectual and language interactions and problems in recent decades. Substantial literature has been written about this region, namely about these four countries, and various theories have been put forward regarding its diversity and pluralisms, its history, political and economic systems, and so on.
6. Japan, an important partner in this programme, is more homogenous compared to Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, Japan has its own particular experience of nation-building, modernisation and economic development, and
has established mutually beneficial relationships, especially in the economic sphere, with Southeast Asia. In fact, Japan has developed her own model of economic development that stands apart from the American or the European models. Besides playing her economic role, Japan in recent years has also come forward to offer her contribution in enhancing cultural and educational exchanges. The API Fellowships that will be launched today, is yet another significant example of the role played by a major institution in Japan in promoting co-operation in the educational and intellectual sphere, with Asia in general and Southeast Asia in particular.
7. Regional co-operation, or for that matter, co-operating beyond borders has been made necessary especially in the present age of globalisation. Such co-operation becomes more urgent for Asian nations and institutions given the many problems and common interests that we share. Whilst government-to-government co-operation between Asian nations, especially in the field of investment and trade, has been the norm during the past 30 - 40 years, co-operation at different levels among academic institutions and public intellectuals has been rather ad hoc and not institutionalised.
8. Given these varied backgrounds and experiences of the Asian countries, it is therefore heartening that the API Fellowships for public intellectuals have been established; paving the way, I am sure, for more interaction and sharing of experiences between those directly and directly involved. Comparing the experiences of these countries is not only a worthy academic endeavour but also one which has important policy implications, which bodes well for enhancing regional co-operation and the emergence of a New Asia.
9. Intellectuals, both academic and public, have a special role to play in our society. Given that intellectuals are perceived as spokespersons of their age and conscience of society, they play an important role in society by engaging in critical debates and reflections about the society and its future. Coming as we do from Asia, with numerous development and societal constraints. intellectuals shoulder a heavier responsibility than their counterparts from the developed societies; more so to articulate the aspirations of their peoples and nations.
10. In this way, public intellectuals can contribute most effectively to the
development of their societies as well as to forge collaboration between these countries. Through the API Fellowships programme, namely through dialogues among Asian public intellectuals, new ideas and new ways of looking at problems of our societies can be formulated, so that we have what can be considered as "home-grown theories" to contribute to the academic fraternity and policy circles. I am sure participants in this programme will be breaking new conceptual and theoretical grounds through their research and discourses.
Ladies and gentlemen
11. We in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia are especially happy and proud that our research institute, IKMAS, is selected as the coordinating institution for this programme. We are especially happy with the collaboration and co-operation being established between UKM and all the participating institutions from Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand. This collaboration is a creative synergy which UKM will continue to support and participate in future.
12. In conclusion, allow me to warmly congratulate all of you from the various countries in Asia who have been holding dialogues with each other that eventually gave birth to the API Fellowships, and to the Nippon Foundation and Mr Sasakawa for your philanthropic gesture aimed at bringing Asian public intellectuals together through this programme. I wish this programme every success in this intellectually stimulating endeavour.
Terima kasih - Arigato gozaimas
Tan Sri Dato' Musa Hitam
Former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia
at the Inaugural Ceremony of the Nippon Foundation Fellowships for Asian Public Intellectuals on July 8, 2000
at Nikko Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The Future of Asia
And the Role of Public Intellectuals
Asia's Bright Economic Future
Prior to the rather sudden economic downturn of mid-1997, there was much speculation about the possibility of the balance of economic power shifting to the Far East. Even though this is now regarded by many as a passing fancy, Asia's seemingly rapid recovery, while not nearly enough to re-ignite the same euphoric expectations, has made writing the idea off totally almost impossible.
In the past, Japan's economic miracle may have been considered an aberration not to be replicated elsewhere. But then the newly industrializing economies, the NICs - South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore - proved the rule, that is, nations outside that of the West have the capacity to repeat Japan's success.
On the heels of the NICs came countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and, not too long ago, Indonesia, countries that were mimicking the economic growth game and winning to varying degrees. China's economic liberalisation in the last quarter of the twentieth century is proving to be yet another Asian country that will go Japan's way and if she does, she will definitely be the economic powerhouse of the 21st century. Her demographic size alone will guarantee an enviable rate of growth in the near to medium term. Should it be sustainable, China will rapidly become the world's largest homogenous market economy.
Added to this is India's promising move out of its socialist economic programmes that have, thus far, hindered the world's largest democracy from becoming its richest capitalist nation. If she succeeds in nurturing the development of the K-economy - as epitomised by her IT multi-millionaires - India will propel herself to the forefront of the software and content provision frontier.
Asian Values and Human Rights
Asia, to many who do not know her, appears as a motley collection of very disparate nations, with no obvious common link between them.
Asia includes the Middle Eastern countries, the Indian sub-continent, much of Russia, Southeast Asia and the Far East. As such, Asians can be Arabs, Indians, Chinese, Malays, Mongolian, Japanese, Indonesian, Thai and much else. Asian pluralism, in short, is multi-layered: ethnicity, nationality, religion and political leanings. Despite this, there has been, in recent years, talk of Asian values, almost monolithic in conception, contrasted against an assumed monolith of Western values, quite in a similar vein to Huntington's "Clash of Civilisations".
Among Asian leaders' Singapore's former Prime Minister has loudly acclaimed the positive contributions that so-called Asian values have made to Asia's economic success, values that he interprets as manifesting itself in, among others, authoritarian governance. It is authoritarian governance, he argues, that ensures economic development, hence, Asia's success. Authoritarian governance has also been benignly defined, by certain Southeast Asian leaders, as freedom tempered with responsibility. Soekarno, Indonesia's first President unabashedly termed it "guided democracy".
In short, the thesis is one that confronts Western claims for its one truth, that is, democracy, by proposing an alternative which is as capable, if not more so, of achieving the public good. Whereas the West espouses the 'truth' of national prosperity being contingent upon democratic freedoms and the sanctity of human rights, the proponents of Asian values believe in the 'truth' of authority and control as the harbinger of economic growth and wealth. Given that the prevalent governance of the prosperous and prospering nations of Asia is one of varying degrees of authoritarianism, the urge to agree with this perception of Asian values is very tempting.
The Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, however, has countered this notion, rather skillfully I must say.
Professor Sen claims that, intentionally or otherwise, Asian leaders have misinterpreted Asian values. He shows that if authoritarianism is traced back to Confucius, then the enigmatic silence of the Chinese sage has been sorely misunderstood. For, Confucius, while not being averse to "practical caution and tact" is unequivocal about the need to not fear offending the leadership with truthful observations. Confucius said, "When the [good] way prevails in the state, speak boldly and act boldly. When the state has lost the way, act boldly and speak softly." Sen points out, too, that freedom and tolerance are concepts not unknown in the philosophies of India, for which written records are extant.
Professor Sen tells us, too, that the success of the East Asian economies has depended not on the loss of freedoms but rather on economic policies and circumstances. Government policies of Asian economic success stories have been very helpful to growth. Among them are:
Openness to competition
The use of international markets
A high level of literacy and education
Successful land reforms, and
Public provision of incentives for investment, industrialization and exports.
This, he claims, is made manifest by the recent experience of India, which according to him, "shows that what is needed for generating faster economic growth is a friendlier economic climate rather than a harsher political system." India, after all, as was mentioned earlier, since its independence in 1947 was and still is the world's largest practicing democracy, notwithstanding a brief interruption.
Rise of the Neo-liberal Market Economy
Whether modern India proves or disproves the Asian values thesis will not stop countries from wanting economic growth and aspiring to be "fully developed", a phrase that actually defies definition because of shifting frontiers. Many observers are doubtful whether the economic catch-up aspiration of the developing world will ever come to pass, as the robust engine of Western industrial economies is not expected to slow down long enough to allow the development gap to be fully bridged.
However, not so very long ago the world was less single minded in its pursuit of wealth. Countries were more willing to pursue a more holistic goal, believing the greater good to be synonymous with nearer equality. The apparent success of Thatcherite neo-liberal policies in the Great Britain of the 1980's, of free markets and crippled trades unions, discredited such notions of altruism and brought the socialist experiments of Eastern Europe to a sudden end, crashing under the burden of centralised mismanagement. The command economy proved to be one of man's greatest fallacies.
Thatcherism itself, meanwhile, was made attractive in Britain by years of ineffective Keynesian economic policies after an initial success that is better attributed to post-war reconstruction. The rise of unemployment in the second half of the swinging sixties continuing into the seventies and a bloated public sector drove the British electorate into the arms of the "fundamentalist" right. The welfare state shrunk, the private sector grew and for a while Britain basked in promises of ever decreasing taxation. Reaganomics in the USA mirrored Thatcherism closely and America prospered. Asian countries such as Malaysia took to Margaret Thatcher's privatisation and deregulation like ducks to water and also prospered.
Preferential trade agreements between the USA and countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, meanwhile, had meant that they were by this time already thriving free market economies. The final decade of the twentieth century simply meant that capitalism had triumphed. Its almost absolute penetration of the world economy led to the rolling back, even further, of such faintly remembered ideals of government of all the people, for all the people. The globalization of capitalism left economic growth as the only yardstick of a nation's success.
Globalization, although derided by some as merely a fashionable buzzword, is, therefore, a reality. There is now only one shade of globalised capitalism. Where once every country existed in its own disparate splendour, today we are driven by political economic imperatives that have the capacity to universalise in ways that appear to threaten each nation's individual identity.
That there is a more neutral idea of globalization, of a world that is increasingly shrinking in both space and time, is also true. The advent of modern telecommunications made instant communication the world over a bland everyday affair. "Breaking news", a CNN specialty, for instance, is the most obvious manifestation of this perception of globalization often benignly referred to as the 'global village'.
Not that globalization is an entirely new phenomenon. For as long as man have ventured beyond their shores bringing with them their goods, cultural and religious baggage, that is how long this process has been going on. The ensuing battle for markets and souls, however, never quite provoked the same intensity of passionate debate that is now prevalent, in this, the latest round of globalization. What is it that makes this round more provocative of intellectual concern?
The Dynamics of Contemporary Globalization
That globalization has its share of problems is demonstrated in the choice of theme for the UNDP's Human Development Report 1999; entitled "Globalization with a Human Face." A synopsis of the report summarises it thus:
"This year's report argues that globalization is not new, but that the present era of globalization, driven by competitive global markets, is outpacing the governance of markets and the repercussions on people."
Critics accuse Trans National Corporations, the TNCs, the main agents of today's globalization driven by the chase for greater profits and reduced costs, as the main culprit that is causing much adversity. The developing world view them as bringing foreign capital, technology and know-how, the goodies of economic growth. The two - the chase for ever greater margins of profit, on the one hand, and that of insatiable economic growth, on the other - often combine with negative results. This is where the host countries deny their workers a statutory minimum wage to remain competitive, tax breaks for FDIs and total repatriation of profits and subsidised rentals, all these in order to stay attractive. But, it is also recognized that foreign firms are often the best paymasters and expand at much faster rates than local ones because of their deep pockets. They are also conduits for the transfer of technology to developing host countries and research suggests that their presence more often than not results in the upward convergence of environmental standards.
Just as beneficially ambiguous and more harmful than the TNCs are financial institutions such as banks and fund management firms, flushed with money that they move seamlessly across borders to keep what would otherwise be idle capital active, through speculation. Vulnerable developing countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea perceive this kind of speculation as attacks on their sovereignty. In 1997, when the speculation against the Thai Bhat brought several of the regional economies tottering to their knees, it was estimated that the funds available for hedging purposes alone far outstripped the total reserves of the countries under attack.
Financial speculations of this nature further circumscribed the possibilities of stretching national economic risks through such instruments as budget deficits and national borrowings, thus narrowing the options for economic development.
The pervasive neo-liberal global market economy is causing a shift towards business values and the market agenda in all areas of life including education and health. In the area of education it is most readily discernible in the universities. The "corporatisation" of education in Britain and Australia, for instance, is pushing academics towards a regime that is not amenable to research driven by curiosity alone. "Corporatisation" of universities has meant the restructuring of research programmes to accommodate the needs of industry. It has meant, too, that courses are organised to meet market demands. In short, it is argued, scholars are being forced to become entrepreneurs.
In Britain, student welfare is eroded as grants are slowly phased out in favour of study loans, creating a disincentive that is not blunted by increasing employment opportunities, which was the original intention of Margaret Thatcher's economic revisionism of the 1980's.
However, because universities are tasked with the specific objective of encouraging critical thinking within society, academics argue that the shift to market imperatives is threatening to jeopardise the future of this function in particular. As the editors of the book, "Universities and Globalization", put it:
"A major reason we are particularly concerned about the future of universities is that we believe a significant factor in their functioning is to encourage critical thinking within society. They are institutions where broadly based knowledge is supposed to be developed and disseminated widely, for social purposes. If the university is silenced, who will be able to maintain critical judgments within society and speak with a critical voice to the wider community?"
In Malaysia this is a hugely pertinent critique given our push towards being a market player, if not leader, in the area of Information Technology and the so-called K-economy, the knowledge economy. If market dynamics threaten to further muzzle the already wanting development of intellectual skills among our young, then what hope would there be for us to participate effectively in the global village information superhighways and probably by-ways, too.
Asia in the Era of Globalization
Today economic globalization is a fact of life in most of Asia and the recent economic crisis is witness to the vulnerability of newly emerging Asian economies to the vagaries of the market place. Only agile economic management policies stand between speculative attacks and possible economic ruin.
No Asian leader rejects the spread of the free market economy. The reverse is, in fact, true. National leaderships appear to believe that it is possible to ride the back of the economic globalization tiger and win. What they resist is the accompanying clarion call made by the West for political liberalisation. Resistance is then to political globalization, that is, the democratisation of politics, democracy being the new "religion" touted by the West.
That the concept of Asian values is overtly exploited as a defense against the threatened invasion of democracy is proof that political freedoms are indeed circumscribed in most of the emerging Asian economies. For the average citizen, the recent transition from traditional / feudal regimes may make the concept of political freedoms alien and they are, therefore, oblivious to its absence from their lives. Not so the Asian public intellectual, a moral agent, who is acutely aware of the havoc that selective globalization is wreaking.
To the public intellectual, be the person an academic, a mass media professional, an artist, an NGO leader or anyone with the moral authority to shape public opinion and influence society, there is much to do to ensure that the liabilities of globalization are ameliorated. Can market forces be allowed the free rein that it is now demanding of the governments of developing nations?
Role of the Asian Public Intellectual in a Globalizing Asia
The role that has been ascribed to Asian values by some prominent Asian leaders must surely be an indication of where the immediate attention of Asian public intellectuals should be focused. The efforts of Asian public intellectuals need not be unnecessarily dissipated in replicating government initiatives that are already well endowed. Rather, such good minds ought to be put in the service of alternatives that are capable of ensuring the capture of all that is good about globalization so that it is put to use for the enrichment of the Asian peoples. Much has to be done so that human rights, democracy and good governance are not violated willy-nilly where economic growth is used to seduce the electorate or even hold the populations to ransom under threat of intransigent poverty.
Herein lies the calling of the public intellectuals of Asia, one that is already largely manifest. If it were not so, it is unlikely that authoritarianism would be as fashionable as it is today, in Asia. Press control for instance, clearly results in public opinion remaining empathetic towards the idea of growth without dissent. Public opinion is shaped by intellectual discourse and debate - the airing of comments and opinions. Any omission in the press of dissenting intellectual opinions means the exclusion of public intellectuals from what, in most countries with a free press, constitutes the Fourth Estate.
Let me put a word of caution, though. The near absence of protest in many Asian countries does not always reflect an oppressive regime. Indeed, in many of these countries, there is prevalence of self-censorship, be it in the press, at the universities or even the NGOs.
Indeed, in some cases self-censorship has become excessive. Excessive self-censorship has meant that generations of young adults leave universities cowed, culled into obeisance and bereft of intellectual skills. But the global IT age village needs intellectual dexterity to flourish because the brain has overcome the brawn. Modern telecommunications infrastructure alone is not enough. More crucial to the aspiration of IT ascendancy in the region, if not the world, is the intellectual wherewithal. How do developing Asian nations that view democracy as alien and inappropriate hope to overcome this problem when authoritarianism has stunted the development of the thinking process?
Even as long ago as the Sixties, I personally proffered a solution to the Malays, by preaching that they should be "kurang ajar sedikit", that is, for them to be outspoken, brash even. We Asians are often far too retiring in nature, always shying away from confrontation and the Malays are no less so. I urged them to behave as though they are just a little less well bred so that they may question more.
In Malaysia, as much as in other Asian countries, globalization is threatening to impose on public intellectuals a double burden. Firstly, to surmount an over-regulated environment that has slowed, and in some cases regressed, the evolution of our intellectual culture. Secondly, to mitigate the impact of neo-liberal market forces that is retarding intellectual growth even further.
Today's young Malaysians are even more inclined to unquestionably obey. There is a strong sense of regimentation especially in the school system. But then, far too often the blame is put on government "repression". While it may be true that the official policy gives emphasis to market needs, there is none that instructs the teachers and lecturers to diminish the students' thinking capacity. If at all, surely the governments scrambling for economic growth know full well that to be competitive the country's human resource reservoir must be highly skilled - both physically and mentally. Few governments, if any, therefore, would wish the total mental incapacity of their population.
The onus, then, must be on the educator to educate and this entails the development and honing of intellectual skills. Paper qualification alone is no guarantee of an enquiring mind. At the schools and university levels, teachers and lecturers must find ways and means to stimulate enquiry and discourse among their students, not just so that they are employable in the K-economy but also to enable them to be discerning with respect to the globalizing influences that cannot be accepted uncritically.
How the API Fellowship fits in
Intellectuals are, without doubt, an important human resource, more so to a developing country. Although it seems implausible, many are marginalised because of their often-critical inclinations towards official policies. This is a phenomenon that is true of most Asian countries as a result of paternalistic policies - paternalism being the common denominator of most Asian values. As such, most developing countries cannot afford to marginalize those who are, in effect, the engine of development. Despite their criticisms, public intellectuals are, more often than not, constructive with the best interest of the nation at heart.
The API Fellowship, being regional in character, it is hoped, will help cultivate cross-border networking between public intellectuals. It has the potential to open the minds of these public intellectuals to regional variations of the impact of globalization. It will enable intellectual growth within the Asian cultural framework among activists so that their voices will not be lost. Together they can create a critical mass, an intellectual fortress to enable the capture of globalization with an Asian context but appreciative of the pitfalls of parochialism. The Fellowship's cross-border research can produce an understanding of the values, both Asian and otherwise, most constructive to development within globalization - to confront neo-liberal tendencies with Asian ideas far surpassing the benefits of liberal democracy and its attendant economics.
Speech by Prof. Nidhi Eoseewong
Sufferings in Contemporary Society and Collective Intellectual Task
I will venture beyond our common sufferings of human beings as identified by Buddhism to illustrate the sufferings commonly shared among us in contemporary society.
The first major suffering is disparities or inequalities, which are not simply the issues of being rich or poor. The renowned economist, Amatya Sen, stated that disparity is not simply about nominal wealth or poverty. He is more concerned about “entitlement” whereby the inequality of chance among people makes their access to resources vary. He succinctly portrays the concept through his extensive analysis on the issue of starvation. By delving into the concept of “entitlement”, we are able to grasp the concept of disparity better and to understand the growing number of people in the world who are having less entitlement.
What are the most basic entitlements that human beings should have? According to Sen, there are four basic entitlements; sufficient food for survival, primary health care and treatment, adequate education to at least make us all literate or otherwise enable us to find jobs, and media or sufficient roles in public spaces. Previously, public spaces might be limited to a village or community, but nowadays it is very significant that we all have access to much wider public spaces through media, which play very vital roles in our lives. These are the bare necessities that human beings should be entitled to, but in reality many of us have no access to them.
It should be noted as well that we should not focus on just economic disparity, or the issue of being rich or poor, but there are many other disparities including inequality in power, politics, culture, legal status, etc.
Taken for granted, we may deem that these sufferings are natural phenomena as they existed even in our ancestral times. This is true to some extent. But the disparity that we pay attention now is the extremeness of the situation that people are left to starve or have no access at all to public spaces. These stark extreme disparities make us all unable to access the four minimum entitlements. There are inequalities among nations, among ethnic groups in a nation, or among members in a family. Therefore, disparities are one of the most raging scourges in contemporary world.
In a supposedly democracy, we find growing inequalities. We have no clues to halt the trend. Let us take a look at some economic figures. In the beginning of the industrial era, the ratio of wealth between industrialized and non-industrialized countries was somewhere around 2:1. At present, this ratio has grown to 30:1. How can democracy help to bridge this gap? Let us take a look at the US economy; the economic disparity was generally deteriorating toward the last decade of 20th century and has continued over to the current century. In 1989, there were 66 billionaires as compared to 31.5 millions people living below poverty line. A decade later, there were 268 American billionaires, whereas the number of people living below poverty line has grown to 34.5 millions. Their poverty line is set at 13,000 USD annual income for a family of three.
There are many Burmese migrants left stranded in Thai society. They cannot return home due to the raging wars. Living in Thailand, they are vulnerable to abuse of security officers. Amidst this desperate situation and abject poverty, it can happen that they rob and kill a student. First time robbers are too afraid and usually do not spare the victim’s life. What are the motives behind such a cold-blooded action? Of course, he has had no relation with the victim before. What has driven him to commit the crime was his hatred toward everything in the world, anything most immediate to him. All disparities have forced many to succumb to the use of violence unavoidably. A crime like this is not committed just by Burmese migrants here, but is typical for people of color in the USA and elsewhere, who all feel rage and find their existence in conflict with the environment around them.
The second suffering is capitalism that is rested on violence. In order to survive, we are forced to use violence. Everyone lives in a system where violence is taken for granted. When the bird flu epidemic happened, the only idea that came to mind, not just here but throughout Asia, was to kill and bury. By doing this mass culling, what did we actually want? Did we really want to halt the spread of the disease or did we simply want to protect the highly commercialized poultry business? The answer is: we want to protect the business of commercialized farming of poultry and egg. Had we been able to keep traditional ways of poultry raising whereby they fed themselves with natural food, this disease would not have happened and spread around so quickly. It was a lie to say that the mass culling was aimed at protecting human lives; it was for the protection of CP company (a big Thai agro-industry company). We waned to maintain the highly commercialized poultry farming business. This was a violence cloaked in the capitalist system. And we seem to take it for granted. No one complained about the burying of millions of live poultries. People did not even care to slit their throats; they stuffed them into sacks and buried them alive. As a Buddhist, killing is not the answer.
The third is the 11 September atrocity that was violent and the reaction to it with was violence as well. The problem was that America reacted with no specific targets. The Americans accused Iraq of possessing weapons of mass destruction and used that claim to justify their attack on them. However, they did not find any of these. It was similar to some people of color in Detroit who randomly shot at the whites with no specific targets. Violence is so deeply ingrained in their society. International laws have been misused to force other countries to do what the other countries did not want to.
Violence creeps into our daily lives. Action movies with bloodshed and mass dying are often popular. Money is used to coerce others to do what we want them to do. Money and gun are compatible to each other and are nowadays widely used to impose our wishes on others, which is very different from traditional society where many indirect and culturally sensitive methods were used to convince people. Violence blinds us from other existing alternatives.
Fortunately, non-violence has become more sophisticated and increasingly used by sectors other than the state. Alternatives to capitalism such as community-based exchange system have been forged in many places including the Bia Kudchoom (local currency) in Yasothorn province and in Latin America. They confront violence from capitalism by returning to the community-based exchange system that goes beyond mere monetary values. Community-based production is an effective way to combat capitalism.
But that is not enough. We also need to forge collective intellectual task to overcome the dominating violence.
The fourth suffering in contemporary society is the failure of democracy. In fact, the origin of democracy is oligarchy, the rule by a handful of elite in Greek society. The system existed in other parts of the world as well including among the nomad tribes in Mongol where the tribal leaders had the powers to set out the ruling system. Even in the reign of Rama IV, whenever he made major decisions, he always had to heed to opinions of elitist families. Until recently, there had been no ruler who held absolute power. Therefore, democracy is derived from oligarchy. The rule is bent for a group of elite to share their power with. Popular democracy only took place about one hundred years ago. However, it has never reached its perfect form. Oligarchic elements permeate everywhere and play much more important roles than the mass. The elite trick the mass into accepting their rule. Therefore, I prefer to call democracies in USA, England, Thailand and elsewhere “oligarchy”
In confronting the increasing demand of the mass to share power, the oligarchy is inflicted with many conflicts and has avoided and suppressed efforts by the mass to monitor and to hold it liable. Election becomes meaningless, and a declining number of people cast their votes. Political parties in many countries do not stand for the will of the mass. Election becomes less distinguishable from self-appointment. Technologies and media have been used to attract votes. Media belongs to business people, and therefore serve their needs, but not of the people. Local administration bodies are too weak due to the little taxes collected. Thus, as they still have to rely on central governments. People also turn away from Tambon Administration Organizations and prefer to seek services from the central government as they are more capable.
Therefore, the power to monitor and regulate the government only exists in the Constitution, but not in reality. That is why I prefer to call democracy “oligarchy” as we are ruled under a handful of elite. Worse, we are now faced with globalization, which even makes the decision making power more remote from the hand of people. Many of major decisions that affect the majority of people in the world are made in New York, Geneva, and elsewhere. These inter-governmental bodies are even more powerful than our own governments. For example, in the World Trade Organization, the notorious “green room” is a group of leading countries that always make decisions and submit them to the plenary meeting for acknowledgement. Representatives from other countries have to accept the pre-made decisions, not to mention us here who live so far away from the center of power.
Genuine popular democracy cannot develop in any nation states. However, people can make use of the globalized world to create our links across borders and across nation states. As such, we can amass enough power to contend globalization.
Those in power maliciously use the notion of nationalism to serve their interest. For example, Thai activists are prohibited from lending our hand to the people from Burma, who take refuge and fight for democracy from here, because such an action has been claimed to derail “national interest”. In fact, the existing relations we have with Burma are not beneficial to the nation as a whole, but only to those who have business with the Burmese elite, and those exploiting slave labour there. It has nothing to do with the interest of the Thai nation. Nationalism is used to prevent across border efforts to further democratization in Burma. It can then be said that nationalism used by the elite is a major obstacle to development of popular democracy.
The fifth suffering in contemporary society is related to the environment and natural resources. Originally, the threats to the environment began when the notion of “economism” arose during President Truman era, when the world was divided into “developed”, “developing” and “underdeveloped” blocs. Truman made us believe that there is only one ladder on which these three kinds of nations have to compete to climb up. The benchmark for civilization was reduced to merely economic indicators such as GNP. Economic matters overshadow society, even though they should be just a part of society. Economy is equalized to society. This model of development has been promoted through multilateral organizations including the World Bank to make us all believe that one day we shall climb up the ladder and become something like the USA. Any politician who makes a promise to develop the country like America in six years is always elected.
The reckless exploitation of natural resources thus began. America alone makes the rest of the world poorer as America use its natural resources. It is estimated that every year, people around the world are using resources 20% beyond nature’s carrying capacity. But supposed that everyone could attain the American standard of living, the use of resource would increase more than 400% over nature’s carrying capacity. This is the goal of economism, and if we could really achieve it, I believe, our civilization would not last very long. The world would be ruined.
To tackle the problem of diminishing natural resources, we have to go beyond our traditional development paradigm. We must begin anew like what Schumacher has said that we must start from tackling our fundamental values. For example, we all in different professions may begin from the metaphysical questions like “what is life?”, “how should human beings relate to nature?”, “what is the world?” etc. Therefore, we must change this metaphysical basis of our knowledge before we can rebuild a new set of knowledge. The way to address environmental crisis is not the increasing reliance on technologies or the invention of new substances to replace natural ones. It is a difficult task to change this fundamental basis of our thinking in light of the current situation. We might have to draw on ancient wisdom in religious traditions. For example, in Islam, it is taught that the world is given to us by God. No one is allowed to own it more than others. All of us should have equal share to what has been given from God. An economic theory that starts with these premises will certainly differ from mainstream economics.
The sixth suffering is the notion of individualism. When I was young, people identified themselves by saying “from what village I come from”, “in which temple I was ordained”, “who my relatives are”, etc. This self-identification was made in relation to others. But now, when a superstar is interviewed, he or she hardly refers to even his or her own parents! They simply focus on themselves, their liking, etc. According to Eric Fromm, once we are delivered from the wombs, we are starving of relations with others. It is a joy to relate to others. People nowadays are taught to isolate themselves, to cling on their own identities, which thus become meaningless individual identities. Without linking to others, we find it difficult to find the meaning of our lives. As a result, the rate of suicide in contemporary society is the highest of all time. In some cultures, for example Siamese culture, suicide was unknown. The first Siamese literature that refers to suicide was inspired by “Madam Butterfly”. Before, there was no suicide incident in any of our literature works. The more meaningless we find of our lives, the more we torment our bodies through the use of drugs and other substances. This is an extreme form to express our deep-seated suffering in our hearts due to our highly isolated world.
Lastly, our collective intellectual task sounds good. The question is can we tackle the sufferings based on our existing knowledge or wisdom? There are so many flaws in it. The current knowledge has been generated not to cure the existing problems but to make them even worse. Under this system, we cannot expect students in leading intuitions and schools to help cure anything but rather to exacerbate sufferings. All of us are so specialized in each field that it is impossible to link all skills. Also, existing knowledge makes people powerless and weaker.
Knowledge that will help us truly overcome sufferings must be related to real life as oppose to what has been taught in universities and other leading institutions that is very irrelevant to life. We must reach out to the mass through living and learning from them and not to rely on political theories or pure research. The kind of knowledge we need nowadays has to be generated from our experiences with the people we struggle with. We cannot make ourselves excluded from them.
Prof. Nidhi Eoseewong is a noted historian and social activist based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He initiated the “Mid-Night University” – an alternative education project that provided a forum for people from all walks of life to come together to talk and share. He was the keynote speaker at the International Seminar on “Human Suffering and the Calling for Knowledge” held last 31 March 2005 at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.
Note: This text was transcribed and translated from Prof. Nidhi’s presentation in Thai by Pipob Udomittipong. The English version was edited by Anna Liza Magno. There were some technical problems – lost files and recordings – that this is only part of the actual presentation..
Speech by Professor Prawase Wasi, M.D.
The API Fellowship Presentation Ceremony, March 2005
I have been saying for years that unless we find a new way of thinking, we will never progress - economically, intellectually, etc. The old thinking is pass? that we have to steer away from it.
Many others have said the same thing. Two scholars - Raslow Glove and Peter Russell said that the current civilization is bringing about the biggest catastrophe to mankind and that this same civilization will make us doomed. According to them, what we need is a “consciousness revolution”. His Holiness the Dalai Lama named it a “spiritual revolution”. And Einstein said a long time ago, “We shall need a radical new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive”.
The first person who said to the same effect in Siam was Ajahn Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. People thought that the country was at peace. In 1932, he warned that we were in the midst of a crisis and came out with three resolutions. First, he encouraged all believers to delve into the heart of their own teachings. “If we hinge on to the bark and not the heart of a tree, we are then prone to argue with each other on artificial differences. However, if we delve into the heart of the teachings, we will find they are the same”. Second, he promoted mutual understanding of all religions. And third, he encouraged us to relinquish materialism to attain a new way of thinking, otherwise we shall not survive.
What wisdom do we need? Like Ajahn Nidhi has said, the present kind of education makes things worse. We are taught with a kind of education, which is derived from the word “Shartra” or “weapon”. Without knowing ourselves and our fellow human beings, and even truth, we carry these “weapons” to stab each other. This is what the present kind of education has done to us all.
In my opinion, what we need is “interactive learning through action” that will empower us in our journeys. It is most empowering and enriching that grassroots villagers organize themselves and carry out their own research. Formerly, we only look at professional researchers to undertake these, forgetting that the villagers themselves could be researchers. The villagers are telling us that if the research is done by someone else but them, the findings is of no use. Now, we see a growing movement of villagers who carry out research on their matters that concern them. They realize the importance of the issues and they undertake action to change. They change their production for good and pull themselves out of poverty and indebtedness. Society improved, our minds more blessed and the environment better.
The plans set out by the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) or the government is useless and impractical. Currently, there is a “community master plan development” being carried out in the four regions. Villagers get together as a network and encourage themselves to do more research to develop master plans based on holistic development ideas that include spirituality, economy, family, community, the environment, culture, health, etc. These efforts are now on the rise.
Current education has to be informed by these efforts. The present educational system, be it a school, university, etc., cannot reform by it self. It should be inspired by a new process. I propose that universities link up with grassroots movements and communities. They can learn and support the villagers and at the same time learn to change themselves. This is what we call “interactive learning through action”. In this process, no one is above anyone else. We are equal and there is no set knowledge. Through interactive research, we will attain knowledge.
Another kind of education being discussed is “contemplative education”, which aims to help us understand our own minds. Without seeing through the minds, we cannot change and we will continue to cling on to the same old thinking. As a physician, I know that when we move in the same posture repeatedly, certain parts of the brain will grow. For example, if we wave our hand like this for two weeks continuously, part of the brain that controls such a movement will grow, but the rest gets stagnant. Our brains should grow asymmetrically. Contemplative education will keep the balance in the brain structure.
In the past, people were preoccupied with the notion of living peacefully together. In agrarian society, human beings put a lot of effort to find ways to live together. Therefore, the culture, religion, education, etc. were geared toward forging peaceful living among human beings. However, in the past 300-400 years, with the advent of science that helps us to think sharply, with utmost clarity, and deeply, this sharpness cut the tie we have had with each other. Like Ajahn Nidhi said, we have become individualistic and have clung on to our mastery. We convert this knowledge into weapons, power, and money to wage war against each other. I think such change takes place in the brain. With the arrival of a new era, a different part of the brain grows. With the instructions of this abnormally growing part of the brain, we cling on to power, self, wealth, etc. The brain keeps growing without proper balance.
One solution is to reconnect with social movements. The more exposure we have with them, the other part of the brain will grow. Contemplative education will encourage us to go deep inside ourselves and to understand our minds. Once we understand our minds better, look deep enough, listen deep enough, we can then be reconnected with nature and truth. But if we allow ourselves to shallow thinking, our actions will be superficial. We will act in haste based on shallow knowledge and will succumb to reductionist approach. Only when we delve deep enough then we can be connected with nature and with the truth - our minds, behaviors, and structures will change. Dealing with the outer structures like democracy is not sufficient as Ajahn Nidhi pointed out. We need to deal with the inner structure, our minds, and get connected with social movements.
Like Ajahn Nidhi has said, we need a process to nurture our wisdom. As a story goes, a blind man grappled different parts of an elephant and then tried to figure what the being was. We cannot abide by this reductionist approach. We need to see the whole body of an elephant instead of seeing different parts of it at different times. The essence of what Ajahn Nidhi has put out was to warn us against clinging on particular parts, but to visualize the whole being of it. If we stick to particular parts, we may be scared to do things, but seeing the whole physicality of it makes us feel more confident.
Thank you very much.
Prof. Prawase Wasi is Professor Emeritus of Medicine at Mahidol University in Thailand and is a former member of the API International Selection Committee. He is a leading Thai intellectual with several national and international awards to his name, including the 1981 Magsaysay Award. He is a medical doctor by training and holds a doctorate degree in human genetics. This is his response to the presentation of Prof. Nidhi Eoseewong.
HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS
RAJA NAZRIN SHAH
CROWN PRINCE OF PERAK, MALAYSIA
4th ASIAN PUBLIC INTELLECTUALS WORKSHOP
REFLECTIONS ON THE HUMAN CONDITIONS:
CHANGE, CONFLICT AND MODERNITY
DATE: 29 NOVEMBER 2005, TIME: 6.00 PM
VENUE: SHANGRI-LA TANJUNG ARU RESORT
KOTA KINABALU, SABAH, MALAYSIA
Building East Asia's Future:
The Challenges We Must Face,
The Responsibilities We Must Bear
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am thankful to God Almighty that with His Grace and Blessings, I am able to be here at this 4th Workshop of Asian Public Intellectuals, and to address this distinguished assembly. This year alone, leaders from Asia have participated and will be participating in many international gatherings. The first East Asia Summit will be held here in Malaysia next month. It will be a platform to envision, discuss and debate precisely what I am about to speak on today – an East Asian Community.
For many years in the first generation after the Second World War, all the states of Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, without exception, were politically and economically failed or quasi-failed states. We were all engulfed by turmoil and war - civil and gruesomely uncivil. On the economic front, we were all at one time or another hopeless economies. Unlike most others in the developing world, however, we were able to make the quantum leap out of the quagmire of conflict, stagnation and poverty. In the second generation after the Second World War, over the last thirty years, the failed and quasi-failed states of East Asia pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and became achieving states. From a failed region, we became, in dramatic terms, a hyper-achieving region.
We became miracle-makers in terms of politics, peace and security. We became miracle-makers in terms of economic growth and prosperity. Great strides were also made - despite flaws and failures - in terms of most human rights and the improvement of our human condition.
I suggest that we now take the great East Asian Miracle forward into a second generation of miracle-making. I suggest that in our second generation as a hyper-achieving region, we in East Asia should work hard and long to create:
an Asian community of friendship and peace,
an Asian community of cooperative prosperity, and
an Asian community of deeply caring societies.
A cooperative Asian community which will be at the core of a remarkable Asian Civilization - a remarkable Asian Civilization which will contribute to the building of a new and much more just, much more humane and much more civilized world order.
Having made the Asian miracle, let us now make the Asian community. The older generation of East Asians have accomplished a heroic feat. The most important challenge facing the present generation of leaders is to successfully build such an Asian community. This is the primary responsibility that the states of East Asia and this generation of East Asians must bear.
In the decades to come, I am confident that from Asia will come a major civilisational contribution. But the twenty first century should not be and will not be "The Asian Century". There will be at least two other points of massive civilisational light : one shining from our east, coming from the northern end of the Americas; one shining from our west, coming from the continent of Europe.
Let me also stress that there is also much virtue in starting small and becoming bigger. There is no virtue in starting big and becoming smaller. We should all take note that excessive ambition is often the enemy of pragmatic accomplishment. What Europe has done Asia cannot achieve for many, many decades to come. Our Asian community will eventually be large and will embrace more than a third of all mankind. It must surely in due time include India and other countries. But at the heart and at the start of this historic venture must be the East Asian states of the ASEAN+3.
Asian Community of Friendship and Peace
Although we should not mimic the European model or take the European road, we must be inspired by what Europe has accomplished with regard to peace and friendship. Whatever the economic and diplomatic accomplishments of the European Community - and here there are grounds for extensive debate -there can be no doubt that a peace miracle has been accomplished in the European continent.
The twentieth century saw two great European civil wars - the First World War and the Second World War, which engulfed the whole world - with rates of slaughter and mass barbarity never before seen in human history. Today, for the first time in quite a few hundred years, a major war between the countries of Europe seems utterly improbable.
We too must build, in Asia, a community of friendship and peace where the probability of a major war seems utterly improbable, where we can get on to other, more productive things. What is the alternative? A cantankerous, conflict-prone life of living on the edges of peace (if we are lucky) and living on the brink of war (if we are not).
We in East Asia must not assume and presume too much. To be sure, we are more at ease and at peace than possibly at any time in the last hundred and fifty years, despite the threats that exist today. But let us not forget the Korean War, the Vietnam War and Indonesian Confrontation. In the post-World War II period, besides the wars in North Korea and South Korea, in North Vietnam and South Vietnam, we have seen civil wars or serious internal violence in China, in Laos, in Cambodia, in Myanmar, in Malaysia, in Indonesia, and in the Philippines. In other words, we have seen international or internal wars in virtually every country or territory in Northeast and Southeast Asia.
In the days ahead, we must push the peace momentum and build the solid community of friendship and peace that is the sine qua non of the economic, social and political progress that we must have.
To do so, we have four basic options:
The first is the option of building peace through hegemony, through an imperium.
The second option is peace through deterrence based on the construction of effective military balances of power.
The third option is the establishment of a Concert of Powers, of a system of Great Power accommodation in the region and Great Power hegemony over the region, of the sort that brought the longest period of peace in Europe in the nineteenth century.
The fourth option is the peace-through-community option - ensuring a warm and cooperative peace through the strengthening of mutual friendship, mutual trust, mutual consideration and mutual accommodation, within the ambit of a community code of peaceful conduct and the mobilization of peer pressure and community control.
It was not so long ago that "Pax Americana" was spoken of in the fondest of ways, in some parts of East Asia and elsewhere. The Pax Americana, we were told, would guarantee peace in East Asia. Some of its advocates, especially those from outside the region, could not even understand why anyone would have the slightest objection or reservation. When some spoke of a "Pax Nipponica", it didn't sound like such a good idea either. And when some mentioned the very thought of a "Pax Sinica", this approach to regional peace began to sound atrocious.
If hegemonism is intolerable, why not the wonderful balance of power system, touted by just about every Western international relations textbook since Hans Morgenthau? The extreme balance of power approach bows to the ancient Roman dictum: "Si vis pacem para bellum". If you want peace, prepare for war. In other words, if we in East Asia want peace, we must prepare for war. This may not be as ludicrous as it sounds if we were to take a look at some of the arms purchases of some countries in East Asia today.
Less extreme models of the balance of power system call for the counter?balancing of the enemy's military and other power. In many parts of our region, this was the dominant path to peace in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. It remains the dominant approach to peace in the Korean Peninsula and perhaps across the Taiwan Straits.
It is a costly approach because when you prepare for war, war all too often is what you get. Even when it works well, all you achieve is a cold and adversarial peace. It is also a costly approach because the best balance of power system is not really the achievement of a parity of power but the achievement of a preponderance of power by a status quo Power or group of Powers against those who are aggrieved by the status quo or who wish to challenge it. Balance of power systems almost demand an arms race. They are financially enervating or bankrupting systems that arms makers and dealers can be counted upon to love, as they laugh all the way to the bank.
In addition, rigid military balances of check and counter-check divert attention from more important agendas and tend to freeze the status quo, when some accommodation, flexibility and change may be in the long term good of all.
For a period, option three, the idea of a Concert of Powers - a triangular "strategic partnership" between the United States, China and Japan and the management of peace in the region by this merry triumvirate - was strongly touted, especially amongst those who "knew" that a Pax Americana was not possible and a Pax Sinica was to be avoided like the plague. It is a prisoner of power politics groupthink and the natural outcrop of the old European model for making peace. It is hierarchical and anti-democratic. It is patently unachievable. Why, for example, should China agree to a partnership of two versus one? And why should Japan fund and finance the strategic policies of its so-called "partners"?
The classic European Concert of Powers approach would not be able to work in today's Europe. Unlike the Europe of the nineteenth century, in today's world it simply is not possible for a country to be a legitimate policeman for a region such as East Asia, especially if casualties are taboo, and especially if the citizens to be policed simply won't have it.
Some may say that the fourth option - achieving peace through building trust, friendship, consideration, accommodation, a sense of community and a community of interest in peace -- is very idealistic, very laborious and very difficult. Of course it is. It truly is very idealistic, very laborious and very difficult.
But I believe that it is much more realistic than the first three options. It does not require much more work. It is no more difficult than achieving true peace through hegemony, a balance of power, or a Concert of Powers. It is certainly much more productive of the welfare of the people of our region.
Those who say that the community of friends approach is not possible have to explain European success. More pertinent and much closer to home, they will have to explain the success of ASEAN. As so many of our good friends have pointed out a hundred times since ASEAN was born in 1967, ASEAN is at "a crossroads", ASEAN is "in crisis", ASEAN is "a disappointment", ASEAN has been "a dismal failure" in many ways. In 1997-98, it was pointed out ad nauseum, that ASEAN was not able to prevent, still less, to "solve" the Great East Asian Economic Crisis. It is interesting to note that those who said that ASEAN was ipso facto "useless" did not then go on to say that the IMF was "useless", that the World Bank was "useless", that the Asian Development Bank was "useless", that APEC was "useless" and that sliced bread was "useless" -despite the fact that all these things too did not prevent and could not "solve" the Great East Asian Economic Crisis of 1997 and 1998.
ASEAN does not walk the path of the European Union. It has not been able to pull rabbits out of a hat and turn iron into gold. Who knows how long it will be before the ASEAN Economic Community committed to in Bali will come close to reality. AFTA itself remains problematical in many areas. No plain sailing can be expected. Yet, there is no-one who can say that ASEAN has not been a tremendous success in the process of building a community of friendship and peace. Neighbours who have been strangers have been turned into acquaintances. Acquaintances have been turned to comrades. Adversaries have been turned to friends, not overnight, but surprisingly fast.
The new ASEAN members are not so chummy among themselves, or with the old members -- as the old members are with each other. But there is no doubt that despite centuries of disdain, distrust, prejudice, sometimes even animosity, no-one in the entire region of Southeast Asia is preparing or even thinking of going to war against another. A community of friendship and peace has more or less been established.
There is no doubt that as a peace and friendship machine, only the European process has outshone the ASEAN process over the last thirty years. Not bad for a dismal failure. Is such a community - a community of friendship and peace that ASEAN already is today -- impossible in East Asia because of the sheer size of China? In the original ASEAN six, Indonesia was larger than China would be in East Asia - in terms of territory and population. ASEAN succeeded in spite of the single giant because Indonesia was concentrated on modernization, as China is today. ASEAN succeeded because Indonesia was focused on economic transformation, as China is today. Indonesia used ASEAN to lock itself onto a productive track. Is there an analogue and an example here, for others to follow?
The beauty about the community approach to friendship and peace is that it does not require the abrogation of alliances and low intensity balances of power. Countries can and should still have strategic coalitions of the type that do not subvert or destroy the community-building process. It is in keeping with the Asean way and the Asian way, with the core emphasis on process and on patience, on building the solid house of peace one brick at a time.
En passant, let me remind the sceptics that in analysing what can be done over the next twenty years they should bear in mind what we have been able to achieve over the last two decades. Twenty years ago, the Cold War was still on. China's new path was still uncertain and tenuous. Southeast Asia was at daggers drawn. East Asia is today already a very much different place. Southeast Asia has been completely transformed.
It will not be easy but I believe that what we managed to do with Southeast Asia, we can achieve with regard to East Asia -- if we have the commitment and if we can sustain the stamina. The rewards are so great in any case that we must at least give it our best shot over the coming decades.
Asian Community of Cooperative Prosperity
Let me now turn to what I believe must be the second item on our common agenda: the creation of an Asian community of cooperative prosperity. Let us be clear. The primary work for prosperity must begin at home. There are many things that need to be done that only we ourselves can do. Just as peace begins at home, so does prosperity. But in the days ahead we must begin to cooperate actively and aggressively on the economic front.
Already, today, a highly integrated East Asian regional economy is flourishing. In terms of intra-regional trade, only the European Union and NAFTA are more economically integrated. What has been remarkable is that unlike so many other parts of the world, where governments have burst blood vessels trying to integrate their economies and have achieved practically no regional integration, we in East Asia have achieved massive economic integration with little effort on the part of our governments. East Asia's massive economic integration has been driven mainly by the private sector - the private sector, incidentally, of transnational corporations from other regions as well as from the transnational corporations of East Asia. This pattern of private sector-driven economic integration is productive. It is sustainable. It must not be supplanted. But it is time for the governments of East Asia to lend a helping hand.
Reducing tariffs to each other is generally competitiveness-enhancing. If our corporations cannot compete against each other, how can they be made strong enough to take on the world? I have every confidence that substantial forward movement can be made with regard to the creation of the ASEAN-China free trade area, now already scheduled to be completed within less than ten years. I am very confident about the successful negotiation of most of the trade and closer partnership bilaterals and minilaterals that so many of the East Asian economies are negotiating with economies near and wide. These efforts should eventually lead to the establishment of a single free trade arrangement covering the entire region, which should then form the basis for a global move to free trade. In general, the push toward free trade mounted by these East Asian countries will enmesh us all closer together, to our benefit and to the benefit of a world that will increasingly depend on East Asia as an engine for global growth.
But there is a long and important agenda on trade facilitation to which East Asian governments must contribute. Just as important as reducing taxes at the border are such things as simplifying customs procedures and generally reducing logistics costs. There should be mutual recognition of industrial standards and certification, streamlining of policies governing the protection of intellectual property rights and integration of information communication standards.
East Asia, where the world's financial surpluses and reserves are now concentrated, can also benefit from greater financial and monetary cooperation. These huge reserves attest to Asia's rising economic power. However, vast quantities of these reserves are exported. If East Asian economies are to absorb the region's huge savings, more efficient capital markets need to be developed, in particular the primary and secondary markets for East Asian currency-denominated bonds. This will also create a more balanced financial system with banks and bond markets forming the two pillars. An Asian bond market will also curtail the mismatch between borrowing short in foreign currency and lending long in domestic currency that contributed to the severity of the 1997-98 financial crisis
We must of course continue to build many regional institutions. But let me stress one: the establishment of an Asian Monetary Fund, as a measure against future financial crises. Preliminary steps have been taken in this direction, notably through the Chiang Mai Initiative, which created bilateral currency swap arrangements. The next step is to enlarge the size of these bilateral currency swaps.
The Asian Monetary Fund should not challenge nor duplicate the IMF. It should have its eagle eye on developments in East Asia each and every working day, rather than only when disaster strikes or is about to strike. It should have at least one relatively senior staff looking at each regional economy instead of having one (no doubt brilliant) senior economist covering a dozen far-flung countries. This should ensure a deeper detailed grasp of regional and local realities. It should be more empirical and rooted in fact. There should be a little less lecturing and a lot more learning and expertise.
Quite clearly also, we in East Asia should continue the process of inter?governmental cooperation with regard to health, tourism, labour flows, environmental issues, education and human resource development. There are countless possibilities promising remarkable returns.
Let me also stress one other thing we should all do in order to contribute to the making of the Asian community of dynamic prosperity. Instead of adopting short-sighted "beggar-thy-neighbour" policies, I believe that we should deliberately and actively adopt "prosper-thy-neighbour" policies. The dividends are too great and too obvious to require elaboration.
Asian Community of Caring Societies
Let me now turn to the third pillar of the Asian community that we must build in the decades to come: a region of deeply caring societies.
I believe that in coming decades we must strongly lay the foundations for a region that is not only peaceful, not only prosperous but also truly caring. Caring of the physical environment because if we do not care, then our region could be an environmental disaster, not fit for healthy and decent human life, still less for the rich fauna and flora, too many of which are on the brink of extinction. We cannot so mistreat so many of the creations of God Almighty.
We must also be a region of societies deeply caring of the multitude of humanity for whom we must be responsible. Caring societies must care for the protection and nourishment of the family, of women, of children and of citizens. Supportive and stable families are paramount in nurturing the healthy development of individuals. Family solidarity must be strengthened and mutual care and support fostered in the community, so that all individuals are embedded in a network of care, trust, support and reciprocity.
Great importance needs to be attached to the development and protection of our children and their well-being. It should be placed at the forefront of our cooperation efforts for economic and social development. We want an Asia fit for children, and it is our shared obligation to ensure that they are given the best possible start in life – provided with a safe, supportive and conducive environment to develop their individual capacity. Investing in the neediest early in childhood can help level the playing field. And the process continues through education – its access, its quality.
The caring societies we must have in East Asia must care deeply for the right of citizens to health, to live in stable societies free from high rates of crime, to freedom from hunger and malnutrition. Many of the countries of East Asia have proven to be world champions at killing poverty. My own country has a record for poverty eradication unmatched by any country in the twentieth century. But problems remain. In the quest for economic growth, we can ill-afford to turn a blind eye to the wide socioeconomic disparities that permeate within as well as between countries. The deeply caring societies of East Asia must seek the absolute eradication of absolute poverty.
Our vision for a caring and just society must celebrate the rich diversity of our Asian community, recognising that each individual is endowed with different strengths. We must create an environment in which people are given every opportunity to develop their potential, to have a free and liberating intellectual and cultural life, and to be treated with equal dignity and respect. 12 Governance
A regional community is not just a matter of physical infrastructure or regional architecture. It needs to be underpinned by a code of governance based on shared values. I believe that our peoples have a right to free elections, to democracy and to representative government, even as they have a right to order and freedom from anarchy.
Today's world is characterized by an emerging culture of openness and transparency. Information can be had at the touch of a button. People are communicating more. Leaders no longer rule in isolation, but are exposed to public scrutiny. If a system of government is far away from what is considered acceptable by its citizens, there will be discord. Resources go to waste in the effort to sustain an unpopular system of government. Nations become unstable, marked by uprisings. Energies of government are directed toward unproductive tasks. Military expenditure rises, not to defend the nation from external threats, but to suppress the voice of the people. Indeed, the strongest defence for any sovereign nation is the bond of unity and a common vision between leaders and followers arrived at through consultation and based on a system of government that practices democracy and upholds the rule of law. Democracy is justifiably accepted as the best form of government. Yet even a democratic system can reveal an ugly face if the system is abused or manipulated.
Before I conclude, allow me to offer a personal perspective on Malaysia's very unique model of governance — that of constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. There are very few monarchies left in the world today. Wherever it has survived, it has done so because the institution has evolved to suit the temper of the times. Nowhere is this more true than in Malaysia.
At independence, when some of our neighbours did away with their hereditary rulers — India with their maharajahs and Indonesia with their sultans —Malaysia chose to retain its cherished tradition of royalty. But meaningfully, not cosmetically or just for show. The hereditary rulers were integrated in the new democracy as a constitutional monarchy, their role and function clearly defined under the constitution.
Far from being antithetical to the democratic process, the monarchy actually enhances it. Being non-partisan and above party politics it is uniquely placed to provide additional checks and balances that are essential in a functioning democracy. The monarchy thus enhances the democratic process and strengthens the institutions of governance. It is a bedrock of the constitutional process.
In Malaysia, the rulers fill a void in the democratic system by playing the role of impartial umpires. They act as guarantors of the just implementation of the law and as overseers ensuring that the instruments of government are not abused. The monarchy, by its very nature, is a force for moderation over extremism. The cornerstone of the democratic process as we know it is the well-known doctrine of the separation of powers — the legislature, the executive and the judiciary being the three entities. In Malaysia, the monarchy can be considered a fourth entity.
This model has worked well for us. It is a model that has contributed to the continuous stability we have achieved in Malaysia. But what is good for us is not necessarily good for others. Each country must find its own path, at its own pace, toward achieving the right balance between democracy and stability.
This is where I would like to pay tribute to the organizers and participants of this workshop, and acknowledge the important role that public intellectuals play, and can play, in society. More so than before, today's leadership will have to come from an intellectual impetus. The power of public opinion is more trenchant today than ever before. We need our thought leaders to give the intellectual lead based on our own priorities and concerns. But the world can only be grasped by action not contemplation. If we wish to be change agents, we must venture out to participate more actively in dialogue and collaborative action with the world beyond This atmosphere of sharing is clearly evident at this workshop.
May I take this opportunity to wish you well in your deliberations over the next two days.
The Crown Prince HRH Raja Nazrin Shah Ibni Sultan Azlan Muhibbudin Shah of Perak, Malaysia holds a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the Oxford University, a Master degree in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government, and a doctorate degree in Political Economy and Government from Harvard University. He has been Pro-Chancellor of University Malaya since 1989. He is also the President of the Perak Council on Islam and Malay Custom and President of the Perak State Islamic Development Corporation.
Note: This is the original full text in Anglo English style as presented at the Fourth API Workshop in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.
Speech by Yohei Sasakawa
Chairman of The Nippon Foundation
on the occasion of the Opening Ceremony of the 4th API Workshop in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
It is a great honor and pleasure for me to have the opportunity to meet the 4th Group of API Fellows here tonight. It is also a tremendous honor to meet His Royal Highness Raja Nazrin Shah ibni Sultan Azlan Shah, a leading public intellectual in Malaysia; Professor Dato’ Dr. Mohammed Salleh Mohammed Yasin, Vice Chancellor of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia; once again, the members of the International Selection Committee, and the Directors of the institutions collaborating with The Nippon Foundation in this program.
I would also like to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to the late Professor Dr. Ishak Shari, the former Director of IKMAS, Professor Dr. Rogayah Haji Mt. Zin, Director of IKMAS, and Ms. Dorothy Fernandez Robert, API Program Coordinator at IKMAS for their firm commitment and hard work as the first Coordinating Institution of the API program from the year 2000 to May this year. Without the wonderful institutional support provided by IKMAS and the strong personal commitment of these three individuals, the API Fellowships Program would not be what it is today. I would also like to express my deepest gratitude to the three people from the Institute of Asian Studies at Chulalongkorn University who worked very hard in preparing this workshop: Professor Dr. Supang Chantanavichi, the Director, Associate Professor Surichai Wun’Gaeo, the Vice Director, and Ms. Michiko Yoshida Rojanphruk, the API Program Coordinator. Last but not least, I would also like to express my appreciation to the Workshop Director, Professor Dato’ Dr. Rahman Embong.
As you know, the first East Asia Summit will be held here in Malaysia next month. Participants will be engaging in discussions towards the creation of a new regional community. Asia faces many transnational issues that threaten people’s livelihoods. These include pressing issues such as terrorism and bird flu, as well as poverty, environmental destruction, ethnic conflict, and religious conflict, to name a few. And these issues are closely intertwined with the wave of globalization sweeping the world today.
Asia is home to various regional networks among governments as well as international organizations. However, it is evident that these mechanisms are not always successful in resolving regional issues due to reasons ranging from national interest and laws to bureaucracy.
It is also undeniable that the lack of knowledge in Asian countries about their neighbors is making it difficult to address these various problems. Until now we have looked to the West as our primary source of information on our neighbors, and have been far from enthusiastic about visiting our neighboring countries to see things with our own eyes and learn from direct experience.
An important objective of the API Fellowship Program is to learn about our neighbors and gain access to information about them that is not filtered through Western eyes. Another important goal of the program is to generate ideas for resolving the common issues that face Asia, contributing to the public good from a private standpoint. It then aims to put these ideas to action, either independently or in collaboration with governmental organizations. My wish is for all members of the API community, regardless of their position or profession, to deepen their understanding of their neighbors, and keep the greater interest of Asia in mind at all times, changing things for the better by putting their knowledge and experience to practical use.
In Japan we have the phrase Chigyogoitsu or “Unity of Knowledge and Action.” It means that knowledge becomes meaningful only when put to practical use. What is expected of API Fellows -as public intellectuals- is to make their knowledge public. In other words, they must open up new paths for putting their knowledge and ideas to use towards social change. Public intellectuals themselves may serve as torchbearers for these activities, or they may make their ideas public, and mobilize organizations and individuals towards their cause. Either way, public intellectuals are expected to take on the role of change agent.
This program has produced over 150 API Fellows in the past five years. Many of these Fellows are using the knowledge and experience gained during their fellowship period in neighboring countries to bring about social change. For example, Southern Thailand is currently in the middle of a serious conflict and violence. Prime Minister Thaksin has created an independent policy committee, the National Reconciliation Commission in March this year to explore policy solutions to this issue. It is worth noting that this commission comprises many members of the API community, including Professor Emeritus Dr. Prawase Wase, who is Advisor to the API Program and Vice-Chair of the commission, Associate Professor Surichai Wun’ Gaeo who is the Joint- Secretary of the Commission, and Mr. Pibhop Dhonchai, a leading social activist, and Phra Paisal Visalo, an abbot at Wat Pasukkato and social thinker and activist, who are both first group API fellows. These people are sharing the knowledge and experience gained through the API Fellowship Program and are working in collaboration with each other with the public interest in mind. Their remarkable contributions to society are our pride and joy.
I am very happy to say that there are many other remarkable examples of social contributions made by API Fellows, which I have come to know through their reports, works, and newspaper coverage. Having said that, there is clearly a limit to what one public intellectual can do. The API Community is a transnational community of public intellectuals that share the same sense of purpose and commitment toward making the world a better place. And the over 150 API Fellows we have to date, who represent various countries, cultures, fields and generations, are all lifetime members of this community. Their collective force has a huge potential.
This unique community comprising fellows who are able to generate new ideas and theories, others that excel as practitioners in the field, and yet others that use their specialty in the media and arts to rally public support, can serve as a collective force that can address regional issues in a comprehensive manner, by generating new ideas, putting them to practice, and disseminating the results to the wider public. Because of the diversity of its members, the API community can at once be a think-tank and a do-tank. The challenge that we face now is how to further develop and strengthen this unique community of public intellectuals.
I would like everyone to give serious thought as to how we can maximize our potential and develop into a truly significant force for social betterment.
I look forward very much to the future activities of the API Fellows.
In closing, I would like to wish you all a highly fruitful workshop. It is my sincere hope that it will mark the new beginning of a long-lasting and robust regional network.
Why does Thailand need friends beyond borders?
Ladies and gentlemen, my respect to Prof. Prawase, whom I know for a long time, and to all friends. I feel highly honored for being invited to speak on this topic. I was ambivalent in the beginning and was startled to be given the task to address the issue of “why do we have to have friends beyond borders?” This topic is perhaps what I am not good at, so I asked (the organizer) if I could speak about Prime Minister Thaksin instead. But they said no, this is entirely a different topic. So it took me some time to contemplate on the issue and think what I can say that will not be so obvious information that everyone here already knows because all of you API Fellows must already understand this topic very well; and I find myself not so knowledgeable on this topic as well.
Therefore, I decided to address three issues which are nothing new or exciting, but they reflect the experience I recently have. Partly, it stems from my experience as a senator, having to visit other countries, and getting inspired by various examples.
To begin with, I want to correct the introduction about myself. I was not a founder of the Thai Volunteers Service (TVS). It had been founded before. I simply joined as a staff member since the beginning. Another thing is about the Somchai Neelapichit Fund, which is not registered as a foundation yet. It is simply a fund. On the 12th of March, we will present the awards to some journalists in this room, but I am not sure about the exact time, as I have just been back from abroad. But certainly, we will give the awards to some journalists on the 12th and Khun Angkana (Somchai Neelapichit’s wife) will be a keynote speaker on that day.
I want to beg for forgiveness that I want to speak in Thai. Even though I can speak in both languages, but I find I can speak better in Thai. And I understand that we already have an able translator with us. I have three things to address today which are concerned with issues of foreignness. What struck me most is the term “border”.
My first issue is it always comes to my mind that we are now more and more distancing ourselves from our humanity. When we address to each other, we often say we are Thai, or Indonesian, or Malaysian, or politicians, or journalists, etc. And we often place this humanity in the bottom of the list. In our conventional interaction, we tend to take for granted this quality of being human. I would like to give an example in Thailand, say about the issue of labor. We have migrant workers who come from Burma, Cambodia, Lao, or those having no nationality. It is very sad that in Thailand and the world, there are many people without nationality and we tend to treat them as if they were not human beings. We deny them their rights, the very rights they deserve to have as human beings including rights to health, education, employment, dignity, free mobility, etc. When you have no nationality, you are automatically denied these rights. Thailand is one among many countries which hosts a lot of stateless people, even though many of them are born here in Thailand, yet the Thai state fails to recognize them.
Therefore, the first issue I would like to address is the necessity for us all to destroy this wall between human beings. And there are many kinds of this wall. I just got back from a conference in USA about FTA (Free Trade Area Agreement) which is being pushed by the US government for various countries to sign. We often use the term “free”, i.e., we say a “free world”, “free economy”, “free trade”, etc, as if this word is intrinsically good. We also say “globalization”. But in fact, what we call “free” can be blatant exploitation and may not be genuinely free. The “free” quality may at times not uphold the principle of equality. This has to be made clear that the ongoing negotiation of the so called free trade is based on the insistence of applying the same set of rules to all countries, i.e., USA and Thailand are supposed to be subject to the same set of rules. Well, this concept sounds good should our economies are on the same pace, i.e., our costs of live are identical. Then it is good for all to observe the same set of rules. But in actuality, we find one country having more natural resources, having gaps in resources, gaps in knowledge, gaps in research ability, etc. Then when we say we are supposed to live under the same rules, like, intellectual property rights protection should be enforced, this becomes obviously exploitation. And this situation prevails all over the world. USA, particularly, are demanding that all countries have to enforce intellectual property protection to the same standard as in US, and this demand has destroyed public health systems in many countries that agree to what they demand.
During the trip to USA, I also learned many facts that several free trade provisions USA demand other countries to abide by; they have failed to observe them themselves. And in many countries, their laws are more advanced than the intellectual property protection standard supported by USA. And in USA, there are several mechanisms to protect consumer’s rights, more than in other countries that they want to sign the agreements with. When we say globalization, and this and that “free”, but what remains always not free is labor. There is no free movement of labor. Just try to ask for freedom to travel to work in USA, and you will instantly know what freedom really means. It is simply a lie.
I want to speak about the walls that have been destroyed for good, too. The first example is the Berlin Wall. Despite their stark economic differences, but due to their sharing the same ethnicity as German, the East and West Germany can integrate themselves finely and the people are ready to share with each other happiness and suffering. They are ready to adjust to each other. Even though it might not be true to say that East Germany attains an equal economic status to former West Germany, but the adjustment from both sides is remarkable. This is an interesting example of the wall destruction.
Another interesting wall is the wall within the EU market. Even though they build a wall against the influx of workers from non-EU countries, but within EU countries, the flow of workers is free. Of course, under this circumstance, it does not mean everyone will get equally rich, but there is a opportunity to nurture the principle of equality. In fact, instead of saying free trade, we should say free movement of labor and allow everyone to work in other countries freely as s/he wishes, the problem of labor exploitation must be reduced to certain extent. Of course, I do want to oversimplify the issue as such. But now every country talks about free trade, yet they strictly prohibit free movement of labor including Thailand which says the loudest now. We may forget that many Thai people used to stay underground in USA as “Robin hood” and in other countries. Now we are blaming people from Burma, Lao and others for flocking here for jobs. And we exploit these people. Frankly speaking I know some people from the middle class who can be considered progressive when they speak, when they think. But when it comes to their treatment with their migrant housemaids, it is very exploitative, very oppressive. They treat these people as if they were not fellow human beings.
I also went to France and several things there that did not impress me. I would like to start from what I felt bad about. One thing is the riots that took place last year. It showed that there are a lot of French people, particularly, the young generation who feel alienated. Maybe they are migrants from other countries, and when settling here, they feel they are not treated with equality by the local French people. And this social inequality has led to tumultuous situation.
Another undesirable condition there is I read in newspapers that the right wing groups in France have started to give soup for free to poor people and there is a growing number of them. And the soup is made of pork, so it is obvious that they do not want the poor Muslim to have this soup. In the beginning, it was simply an act of giving pork soup, but later, it became an obvious political expression; some groups in France, the right wingers, are telling people that they will first serve the poor from their own country and will not extend this help to people who come from other countries, so the emphasis was placed on giving pork soup. I just read this news when I went to visit France.
One thing I feel good about, even though it is turning bad is the welfare system in France which does not discriminate against people’s identities. It does not matter if you are French or not, but once you live there you are entitled to rights to education, equal health services, etc., regardless of who you are. We had a chance to visit a new town in suburb of Paris where a diverse ethnic group live together. Of course, several of them enter the country illegally, yet they are all provided with welfare and they have organized among themselves interestingly. For example, they set up informal education programs among themselves and they teach among themselves sharing skills that each of them has. Those, who know sewing, open class to teach sewing with support from the municipality regardless of their illegal status. Those, who are good at music, teach music. It is a system whereby people teach among themselves and live on an equal welfare system as far as I understand from its concept. And this goes with the three fundamental principles held steadfastly in France including equality, fraternity and freedom.
This makes me reflect on our own welfare system. Under the law for universal health insurance, the term “person” is always stipulated. The law never mentions the term “Thai citizen” and that means any person should be entitled to health care on an equal basis. But sadly, I have no idea why, but this law has been submitted by the Office of Health Insurance for All for interpretation by the State Council, and the State Council interpreted that this law is only applicable to Thai citizens. This is very sad as we look at some people as if they were not human beings. We are supposed to provide everyone who lives here this welfare. In France, they separate the issue clearly. On one hand, they say you live here illegally and this matter will be dealt with by police or competent officers, but as long as you live in this territory, you are assured with equal rights. We should treat these people this way. In fact, we should not prohibit them from coming to work in Thailand as economically we have benefited from them a great deal. Our economy booms, but we oppress them and refuse to provide them with welfare. A lot of Burmese migrant workers are here and infected with HIV, yet they have no access to antiretroviral treatment. Then they will dies faster than those who have ID cards.
This is an example of how we treat people as if they were not human beings. There is a lack of understanding in the world and therefore we need to demolish this wall. We have to do this in two ways; on one hand we have destroy this wall of inequality, and on the other hand, we have build a world with equality where everyone has the same opportunity. The second wall that we have to destroy is the wall of a lack of understanding. In fact, this lack of understanding, lack of communication, is a root cause for violence in the world. This problem needs to be addressed, and I hope that the API Fellowship Program will play some role in destroying these walls and to nurture more understanding among people in the world.
I play with the title of the speech and would like to change it to “why do we have to destroy the walls that keep us apart?” These walls exist in spite of the fact that we all are friends, and fundamentally we all are fellow human beings. I think the term “state” has to play lesser role, and “human being” bigger role. State in the future globalization system will function like local administration bodies and has secondary importance. This is what I envision. Everyone in this world should be entitled to equal rights. Therefore, health is a right, not merchandise, not a commodity, but a right. And this health insurance for all should not be just applied in Thailand, or in France, or in England, but the world. We have to have education-for-all-system in the world, assurance that all will have employment, live with dignity. These assurances have to be provided worldwide. But in reality we are heading toward a wrong direction in many respects. The intellectual property rights are one sad example. The demand the US impose on us is ridiculous, I think Ajahn Prawase must know this issue well. According to the leaked documents concerning the US demand, they want us to treat operation as an intellectual property. In the past, this know-how was treated as a common treasure for all and everyone could use it to advance interests of human beings. But now it is becoming a private property. For example, one doctor discovers a new method of operation that may better save life of human beings, so s/he simply patents it and others who want to apply this method have to pay royalties. This is a disgusting action in today’s world. This intellectual property issue has become so extreme, so much so that people are going to bring plants and animals from one country to patent in another. This is very scary.
The second issue I want to address is about friendship. One principle that seems to be commonly accepted is necessary intervention with internal affairs of other countries. In certain cases, this interference is noble, particularly, if it concerns human rights. This is comparable to us living in the same family or community, and when we spot our neighbors beating their children, abusing them, we cannot say this does not concern us. It is all about well being of humanity. We have to rights to interfere and I think we tend to accept this. For example, in our neighboring country, Burma, the oppressive regime there is exploiting its own people so we cannot deny that we have to be involved. Even among ASEAN countries, they start to take serious issues as common issues such as the unrest that takes place in the three southern provinces in Thailand. Luckily, while I am a senator, I have the chance to team up with ASEAN MPs who are interested in Burma issues. But when I go meet them, they often ask me about situation in the South and I am happy to address the question. Ajahn Kraisak Choonhawan, another senator, is also happy to address this question. We say that in Thailand right violation is taking place among our people in the South. We think we have to put this out that we have problems, we have ailments. We have to start from acknowledging problems before we can address them. It is not right to pretend that we have no problems, or simply say that these are our own problems and we can deal with them alone, and don’t interfere with us. This is not right.
Similarly, right violation in Thailand takes place on various other issues. Under the previous administration and the coming one, media freedom, rights to self-expression among people, rights to participation as provided by the Constitution are all suppressed. The government encouraged extrajudicial killings (during the war on drug) which were in fact illegal. They ignore assassinations of community leaders who fought for community rights, and can hold no one responsible for their deaths. Right violation takes place on both sides; the terrorists and the Thai state. These are issues that concern us all and our friends abroad, and we have to collectively help to address them, and should not leave them as exclusively for ? particular country to deal with.
The Senate Standing Committee on Social Development and Human Security of which I am a part, just went to visit Bosnia and Yugoslavia as we were interested and wanted to know how violent situation there evolved. And we thought could the situation in Southern Thailand could turn violent as the situations there. We have learned a lot from the trip, including how nationalism came about, how they started to fight – every party there was involved in this mayhem, you cannot distinguish between the good or bad side. All military factions and people in the countries fought. Fighting took place between the Bosnian and Croat, Croat vs. Serb, Serb vs. Bosnian. The situation is very chaotic. And since they are a poor country, they become much poorer now. Genocides took place in these European countries. At Srebrenica, about 7,000 Muslim men were killed died -- men were separated from women and brought for execution. Until now, all these criminals stay at large.
But it now looks more hopeful in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the cause for this hope is rather strange. We went to Moska whose population was originally 45% Muslim and 55% Croat. They used to kill rampantly among themselves, they shot, they slaughtered. But now the schools start to open again -- they just started when I went there. In the beginning, Muslim and Croat students can go to the same school, but they study in separate classrooms. It is still not possible to put them in the same class. And nowadays, the municipality comprises representatives from both sides. You can see that divisiveness can be started just in a brief period of time, just like in Southern Thailand, only 1-2 years, the hell broke loose, but to get all people to reconcile takes much longer time, maybe ten years or so.
What was the catalyst (for reconciliation) in the European case? It was the integration with EU. Right now, every country there wants to join EU, and one requirement is that they have to make peace in their own countries. With their ailing economy, many Bosnians leave for work in other countries. So the Bosnians want to join EU, they want to attain a better economic status; they want to have the rights to seek jobs freely in EU countries. Another requirement is all war criminals have to be brought for trials at the World Court in The Hague. So this economic impetus has increased the chance for reconciliation. I am not sure what we can learn from this. But it was sad that this problem had happened in the first place and we have to be careful not to let this happen with Southern Thailand, and we have to steer away from these extreme nationalisms.
The third and last thing I want to address -- well, in fact, I have already mentioned it -- is the United Nations has paid attention to right violation in Thailand and civil society here has the chance to report at the UN forums. But PM Thaksin once said “UN is not our father”, but I want UN to act as our father. It is like we are different countries living in one family and UN acts like our family leader. But what happened in Bosnia shows one of the worst failures of UN. If you ask the Bosnians widows about their enemies, they will say first the Serbs, second the UN because the UN troops just stayed there and let the Serbs kill all men. The UN declared that they have sent troops to protect these people, but they turned out to be powerless and stayed idle when all these men were rounded up for mass killing. This is one of the UN’s gravest failures. Had it been stronger, functioned more effective, it would not have turned out this way. Nevertheless, it is necessary that we still have the UN with us, just like the state to provide for welfare of people, to ensure equality, well being and basic rights of people. Similarly, at the global level, the UN has to ensure equal rights in the world, freedom at the world level, equal welfare for all people. And our duty is to learn from our friends in other countries, exchange our problems which I believe are shared by all countries including poverty, inequality, and a lack of access to basic welfare. We all need to address these problems. I want to end my speech by emphasizing that we have to enshrine humanity above other things.
Thank you very much.
Thailand Senator Jon Ungphakorn is Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Social Development and Human Security and Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs. He is concurrently Board Secretary of AIDS Access Foundation (ACCESS), Board Member of Centre for AIDS Rights (CAR), and Board Secretary of Prachatai (prachatai.com) Internet Newspaper. He has been involved with various civil society groups in the last three decades and was a Lecturer in Physics at the Mahidol University in Bangkok. He was awarded the Knight Grand Cross (First Class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant and the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service.
Presented at the API Thailand Award Ceremony and International Seminar on 2 March 2006 at the Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand.
Note: The transcript and translation of the speech was done by Mr. Pipob Udomittipong; the English version was edited by Anna Liza Magno
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