The Pacific Dialogue, Penang, 14 November 1994
This meeting has not been an exercise in the art of diplomacy. Here we are free from the burdens that diplomatic events are usually saddled with, precisely because we have not come with cards hidden up our sleeves. The exchanges have been frank, informal and open. The participation of the private sector -- business leaders and NGO's -- has added a new dimension to this dialogue and its role will be increasingly important and even crucial in the future. We believe this dialogue, and the others that must surely follow, will progressively narrow down differences and forge common understanding of the numerous contentious issues affecting the economies of the region.
The desire on the part of our American friends to construct a Pacific community is largely driven by the economic potentials of East Asia. That desire is nonetheless mutual, because the sustainability of this region's prosperity is contingent upon a peaceful and open regional order and its progressive integration with the economies of nations on the other shore of the Pacific. It would be most arrogant on the part of East Asia to consider that its present economic status has been achieved without the help of the markets and the technologies from the West, and it would be foolish and even dangerous for Asia to contemplate its future without the participation of the United States. Thus we will have to collaborate to ensure peace and stability and to dismantle existing trade barriers at a greater speed, remove rigidities which obstruct market access, and facilitate greater investment flow throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
There is no doubt that economic interests will eventually cement the Asia- Pacific region into a cohesive community, and the bond must be made strong enough to eliminate mutual suspicions and threats to each other's security and stability. Trade and economic partnerships can also be utilized for higher goals -- to promote cultural understanding and to constructively engage nations that have isolated themselves from the mainstream economic and political developments. ASEAN has successfully ended Vietnam's isolation, and together we must now engage Myanmar, to encourage that nation by giving it the confidence to integrate itself with the regional community.
We are doing this because we believe that for a Pacific Community to emerge, nations on both sides of the ocean -- north and south; rich and poor -- must participate as equal partners. The role of the United States will be substantial and APEC itself, together with ASEAN, ARF, and EAEC will be the building blocks. Nevertheless, we must remind ourselves of the need for patience in this great endeavour. Attempts to push things forward too quickly can give rise to discomfort and misgivings. True to the Asian spirit and tradition, the most effective method would be to proceed gradually by way of consensus and by developing mutual trust.
Be that as it may, looking at the speed of current developments, the destiny of nations and cultures on both sides of the Pacific has become intertwined and irrevocably linked. To make the best of this new reality certainly demands the breaking of the old mindset. We have noticed some encouraging signs. The attitudes and consciousness expressed in the Carnegie Endowment report "Defining a Pacific Community" indicate minds that are more or less free of the categories of the Cold War mindset. Asia, I believe, has the obligation to respond imaginatively to this overture. As summarized by T. S. Eliot:
Undoubtedly, some of the misgivings expressed by Western opinion-makers towards Asia are not entirely without foundation. New found wealth and prosperity should give Asia confidence, but occasionally the expression of that confidence borders upon arrogance. If Asia desires a profound partnership with the West, it must not react to the latter's criticism by resurrecting ancient prejudices and stereotypes. To be honest, Asians' critique of the American society, for example, is nothing in comparison with the stream of damning literature and reports coming from their conscientious thinkers and research institutions. We do not have to lecture them on the gravity of rising crime and the erosion of the social fabric, for they know it too well themselves, while our knowledge of those issues is often superficial.
The great redeeming quality of the West is its culture of internal criticism. On the other hand, Asians are always too eager to sound the trumpet of triumphalism of the region's success, but seem to largely ignore the presence of social evils, when they are not making great efforts to hide them from foreign visitors. It is not that the idea of inernal criticism is absent in our culture. On the contrary it is central. Yet it has been pushed to the periphery of our collective consciousness, so that those values have become less meaningful or no longer operative.
On our part, I think it is fair to expect from the West the acknowledgement that Asia is not monolithic, and making a bogey out of Asian values will not help either side. The debate on Asian values is full of confusion and over generalization. At the core of the debate is the question of the individual versus society, which involves the contentious issues of democracy and human rights. In their eagerness to project Asian uniqueness, Asians cite ad nauseam the Formula: in Asia society precedes the individual. To make matters worse, Western writers tend to exaggerate the formula to its extreme -- as if in Asia, society is some sort of deity upon whose altar the individual must constantly be sacrificed.
Asia is such a vast continent, of such diverse cultures, and certainly replete with contradictions. No society for that matter is free of contradictions. The economic empowerment of Asia is indeed laudable, but certainly not enough. This is because the very prosperity that we promote will make the contradictions within our societies appear more glaring to others and more so to our citizenry. The progress of Asian societies as such should therefore be measured by our success in removing those contradictions -- between the lofty traditional values that we propound and the actual climate of moral decay; between the humanitarianism and compassion that is at the core our traditions, and the brutalities that still abound; and between the humility demanded by tradition of the powerful and the all too frequent expression of arrogance and condescension. There canno be a renaissance of Asia without a perpetual inner struggle of conscience to reinvigorate our traditions and to live by those values.
In conclusion, if we transcend the noise of the day, and reflect more on higher ideals, we will discover there is less difference between East and West than is usually made out to be. The West is no less dedicated to ethical and moral ideals, to the virtues of family life, than we are. The proposition that "all men have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," is no less self-evident to Asians than to Americans. The ideas of the Federalists are not at all incompatible with our cherished values. The challenge at hand is to conceive a common vision of the future, a vision beyond our current concerns and preoccupations, and advance towards a Pacific Community, dominated neither by the East nor the West, but dedicated to the ideals of both.