Dr Mahathir, former Malaysian Prime Minister, was the man who had visualised the East Asian grouping. He had wanted a bloc of East Asians comprising ASEAN members, China (natch!), Japan and Korea to have a common stand on issues relating to the World Trade Organisation and globalisation, and principally to counter American economic influence in the region.
Now, he's fairly upset that his vision has been corrupted with the expansion of the bloc to include the very nations who would instead support policies in favour of American interests. That’s contrary to his vision of providing a rein to the American crude steamroller, which Mahathir fears would flatten the interests of smaller nations in the region. Mahathir hasn’t quite forgiven the West for toppling his economic-financial cart during the Asian meltdown.
He has also viewed the American dominated IMF and World Bank having a propensity to demand economic-financial reforms of the weak 3rd world without considering those countries' unique and historical circumstances, and the severe hardship that would accompany the 'cold-turkey' treatment the IMF or World Bank would prescribe.
Every recommendations of those two giant financial institutions have appeared to, and most times did work in the American favour and very seldom to those smaller nation’s true advantage. He’s not entirely wrong in his perception of the American interest at work in this regard, unlike his former deputy and arch-enemy, Anwar Ibrahim who was more ready to toe the IMF line.
As a warm up to his outrage at the altered East Asian Bloc, Mahathir has lashed out at his old political bete noir, Australia, for being invited as a participant. He reckons the Aussies will be working as Washington's proxy, to project American views and interests. Of course to him, that’s blasphemous conduct.
He said: "I have always opposed the idea of Australia and New Zealand being in the group simply because Australia and New Zealand are not really East nor are they Asian. Australia is basically European and it has made clear to the rest of the world that it is the deputy sheriff for America (trust him to jab John Howard right in the ribs on this). Therefore Australia's views would represent not the East, but the views representing the stand of America."
He predicted that the East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur next week will fail to find a common voice on trade issues because the ‘deputy sheriff’ will be pushing pro-US policies.
I suppose, just to be fair and not considered an Asian racist, he didn't spare Japan as well, quite understandably, because Japan under Prime Minister Koizumi has moved very strongly into the US camp. Japan has done that probably because its fears an increasingly powerful China. Mahathir warned of a very pro-US Japan in the grouping, even to the extent of being a US spokesman.
He lamented that East Asian countries, being polite Asians (unlike him), will simply submit to strong Western pressures, which then makes the whole grouping quite useless. I reckon the petulant doctor might be sulking a wee bit here, as China is hardly likely to kowtow to anyone that easily. Perhaps it's a plaintive cry to be recalled to take charge once again, at least in the hosting of the East Asian Summit?
Dr Mahathir is still going strong and in a funny sort of way, very engaging. From an entertaining point of view, I would love to see him addressing the East Asian Summit next week. He might throw in a couple of Jews and American neo-cons as appetizers.