Whatever one might say about Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed, he seems to alway (well, almost) know what he is saying, though it might have been unpalatable or rude to others.
He wasn’t at all pleased with Australia being allowed to participate in the East Asian Summit, a regional trading group that he had conceptalised with the aim of forming a strong bloc to counter or balance American influence, and a lesser extent, the European’s.
He bemoaned the corruption of his vision with Australia’s inclusion and predicted that Australia, whom he dismissed as neither Asian or Eastern, would act as America’s proxy because of Aussie Prime Minister John Howard’s publicly announced wish some years ago to be ‘deputy sheriff’ to the USA. I am sure Howard must have regretted that statement since.
True enough at the East Asian Summit, Howard lobbied for America’s inclusion in any future pan-Asian trade bloc. But Howard was alone in that pro-US campaign, which saw him highlighting the importance of the United States in the region’s security role. Some nations participating in the East Asian Summit would of course disagree with him.
Howard also promoted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum over the East Asian Summit, saying that APEC should remain the region's top grouping. And of course the USA just so happens to be a member of APEC. Howard believes that APEC is the main driver for closer economic and security ties in Asia. He said:
"But self-evidently, APEC is the premier body, and it's great advantage is that it does bring the United States into this region, it does bring the countries of South America to this region."
But trade experts disagree with Howard, saying that APEC is becoming irrelevant as the members of APEC have signed off on more than 50 bilateral and regional deals, or one-third of the world's total, effectively undermining APEC's original purpose.
Then in the same breath while pushing very hard for the USA, Howard strangely called for the East Asian Summit to resist Russian efforts to join the group, thereby magnifying his obvious bias for the Americans by a zillion degrees. No one could miss his negative support for Russia, when it stood in stark contrast to his obvious pro-US stance.
Howard believes the existing membership of the East Asian Summit should be allowed to stabilise before considering Russian membership. But of course his concerns for the ‘settling in of the existing architecture’ of the East Asian bloc doesn’t apply to the USA.
Now, what was it that Dr Mahathir warned about Australia’s participation in the East Asian Summit?
But Dr Mahathir’s successor, Malaysian Prime Minister Ahmad Abdullah Badawi said the main driver of regional integration among Asia's 3 billion people shall be the grouping of South East Asia leaders with China, Japan and Korea - called ‘ASEAN Plus Three’ – which in reality is what Dr Mahathir had originally visualised.
This will effectively leave out in the cold, members like Australia, New Zealand and countries like the USA, Russia and India.
Maybe Dr Mahathir may yet have the last laugh, as he always seems to enjoy!
Mahathir fire salvos at Australia & Japan