Malaysian Maverick Marches to a Different Drummer With PM-Pacific Conference, Bjt
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ When President Clinton called for a summit of Asian and Pacific leaders, only one spurned the invitation to Seattle.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia said even an informal gathering of leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum would institutionalize a group formed in 1989 only as a loose, consultative body.
Nor does Mahathir share Clinton’s view that the 15-nation forum could be the framework for a ″new Pacific community.″
A year after the forum was launched, Mahathir proposed his own East Asian Economic Group, which excluded the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
He originally described it as an economic ″bloc to countervail others,″ including the European Community and the North American free-trade area.
The renamed East Asian Economic Caucus has made little progress, and it was announced in July that the caucus would be attached to APEC and the six-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Nobody knows exactly what ″attached″ means, but one thing seems sure: The caucus won’t be allowed to die while 68-year-old Mahathir is prime minister.
The combative former physician has emerged in recent years as one of the Third World’s most vocal critics of Western values in general and the United States in particular.
Earlier this month, he said that Islam will be the next target of Western powers with the end of the Cold War and breakup of communism. A majority of Malaysians are Muslims.
His anti-West stance does not stem from the degradation of poverty or any admiration of communism. A bastion of free enterprise, booming Malaysia is on the threshold of joining the ″young tigers″ of Asia: industrialized South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Mahathir, who has been prime minister for 13 years, urges his 18 million people to ″look east″ to Japan and South Korea as examples and derides what he sees as the West’s intolerance of those with different values.