The Eight Asia- Pacific Roundtable, Kuala Lumpur, 6 June 1994
The Asia-Pacific is probably the last region in the world to need confidence building and conflict reduction. In Europe we witness the dismemberment of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In Africa, we see the atrocities in Rwanda, and the strife in Somalia. In the heartlands of Central Asia the violent fallout of an empire recently unravelled continues to impinge upon our consciousness. Im contrast, over much of the Asia Pacific there is apparently a huge expanse of peace. Apart from sporadic shots heard only in Cambodia, the region in pulsating with economic activity, with a productive velocity unprecedented in its history and unparalleled elsewhere in the world.
Nevertheless, though we may be ahead of the other regions in many respects, much remains to be done. We continue to face challenges, old and new, some of whose emerging configurations are yet still vague. The tranquility and prosperity that we have shrouds many shortcomings and problems. The rapid economic transformation that the region is now experiencing is creating new stresses and challenges even as it binds us closer together. And if the Asia Pacific is to build upon its existing achievements as it enters the twenty first century, an altogether higher and more substantive level of peace and security will have to be attained.
Admittedly, there do exist unresolved territorial issues in the region. They are real enough. But no one should exaggerate their importance unless she has a hidden agenda, or a vested interest in the perpetuation of tensions and the renewal of conflict in the region. To my mind, the problems as they stand, only require greater efforts at mutual understanding and a greater willingness by the concerned parties to resolve them through peaceful means. If they are looked upon as mere irritants, rather than accorded focus and importance totally disproportionate to the reality, then they will cease to haunt us as a potential threat to regional peace and security.
Admittedly too, military expenditures in the region have been increasing. But again this fact should not be cause for undue alarm and the conjuring of a spectre that an arms race is in full swing. Increased defence expenditures have enabled some countries with hitherto limited capabilities to better address their legitimate security concerns. In the case of Malaysia, for example, there is an overdue need to replace and modernize our equipment in order for us to maintain a minimum credible defence capability. The fact that we continue to hold frequent joint military exercises with our neighbours should be enough to dispel the notion that we are in a race of some sort with one another.
In addressing this question, it is essential that we depart from the security mindset nurtured by the Cold War. It is true that we need a security framework for regional peace and prosperity for the 21st century. But such a framework, if based on the old mindset, would not only be anachronistic but would actually perpetuate the notion of political and military hegemony that all of us in Asia have been resisting, no matter where it originates.
Our new security outlook must be based on the idea of the idea of the interdependence and equity of nations within a global community. We must progress from containment, or even mere peaceful co-existence, towards productive and mutually beneficial collaboration in all spheres of activity. At the risk of over-simplifying the issue, the Cold War security arrangements were largely determined by the outcome of the Second World War and the ensuing ideological and economic rivalry between the major military powers. Although most of the countries of the region benefited from those arrangements, some more than others, we cannot at the same time be oblivious to the fact that there are some nations who have suffered a great deal from superpower intervention. The current situation, however, presents us with a grand opportunity to lay the foundation for a new security framework which will put to sleep the mutual suspicions and rivalries of the past. Traditional statecraft throughout the region had been expansionist and imperialistic in tendency, but it is safe to say that all of us in this region had already learnt our lesson from the bitter experiences of colonialism in our respective countries. Thus, over more than three decades we in Asean have been able to evolve a modus vivendi based on the idea of a traditional kampung, village community, where all problems are resolved through consultation and consensus, self-restraint and compromise, and above all, the spirit of goodwill and good neighbourliness. I believe this Asean spirit can be extended to the entire Pacific village, rather than the widespread notion that nation-states, not unlike urban streets and alleyways require the presence of an international policeman in order to keep the peace. For one thing, the major source of suspicion, ideological rivalry, is gone. And instead of talking about border disputes, we are now promoting economic cooperation through growth triangles and other cross-border linkages.
Never before have our interests and welfare been so closely intertwined. As we buy and sell more from and to each other, as our economies become even more intimately linked by investment flows and multinational operations, and as our national borders become more porous, our fortunes will become even more inseparable and indivisible. Security and prosperity will have to be mutual. Of course, a determined effort will be necessary to cleanse ourselves completely of ingrained antagonisms and prejudices which are the legacy of history, the Cold War or perceived cultural contradictions. But I have no doubt that in response to the challenges and opportunities of our time, a new age of regional fraternity and cooperation will in fact begin.
It is our conviction that any effort to achieve a higher and more substantive regional peace and security must inevitably involve the strengthening of our individual civil societies. The so-called East Asian miracle, despite its many limitations, would not have been possible without some progress in the development of civil institutions i neach country of the region, some more advanced than others. The present level of peace, stability and prosperity, however, should provide each country with the confidence to embark on further reform measures towards greater openness and accountability, and a more equitable social and economic order. When societies enjoy a high degree of public participation in government and equitable distribution of wealth and opportunities, we will have reduced, if not eliminated, most of the potential sources of internal instability and conflict. In various parts of the world, more often than not it is these internal social and economic crises which spill over to affect a country's relations with its neighbours; or prompt irresponsible autocrats to undertake expansionist adventures in order to divert the people's attention from their domestic shortcomings.
In this regard, the revival of ethnic hostilities in various parts of the world must alert us, to look again at the multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature of most of our societies. Considering what we are witnessing in Bosnia and Rwanda, we cannot but conclude that we have made major strides in taming the dangers of primitive sentiments. Ethnic pride and the sense of commitment to one's religious faith will always be there, but we must never allow racial chauvinism and religious extremism to surface, what more to emerge as the dominant trend in public affairs. In the light of what is happening in parts of Europe and Africa today, it is imperative that each country makes greater efforts to bring ethnic and religious minorities, and indigenous groups, to participate in the social and economic progress of the nation. The implications for regional security of the alienation of these minorities from the mainstream of national development in any one country are quite evident from recent history elsewhere in the world. No stable security framework can be instituted in ignorance or indifference to such issues. Fortunately for this region, especially within Asean, much progress has been achieved. Nevertheless, we must continue to be vigilant against attempts by outside parties to exaggerate some of our problems or to distort ethnic and religious issues from their historical or social contexts.
In the final analysis, a regional security arrangement for the Asia-Pacific region is not an end in itself. It must principally serve the interests of the people of the region, not the vested interests of the arms merchants and the defence industries of wherever. For Asians, in particular, such an arrangement must provide the right kind of environment for the full flowering of our potentials -- economic, social and cultural. What Asians collectively aspire to, to my mind, is to grasp our destiny in our own hands. Therefore, it must also reflect a new global partnership for peace, a partnership based on mutual respect and genuine understanding between nations, large and small, North and South, East and West.