Archive for the ‘ASEAN’ Category


by Farish A Noor
http://www.rappler.com/thought-leaders/23020-between-a-fluid-region-and-a-hard-state

Allow me to begin by stating categorically that I am a committed Southeast Asian-ist and a committed ASEAN-ist.

In my work as a lecturer I have constantly reminded my students of the constructed nature of Southeast Asia today, the relative newness of our political borders, and the newness of our nation-states. I have also emphasized the shared overlapping histories of the many diasporas that populate this complex and sometimes confounding archipelago of ours.

I long for the day when the people of Southeast Asia can see themselves as ASEAN citizens, but despite the fact that the ASEAN Community is almost upon us (by 2015), many of us in the region are still driven by primordial attachments to place, identity, language and culture.

It can be summed up thus: We Southeast Asians are caught between a fluid region and a hard state.

No matter how hard some of the hyper-nationalists among us may try, they cannot deny the fact that we share a common, interconnected history/histories. These histories often overlap, make contesting demands and claims, and contradict each other. But that is the nature of history as a discourse, for it is a narrative without a full-stop and is a discursive terrain that has to be looked at from a multiplicity of angles.

There can never be a final history to any area or subject, for as soon as we put the pen down, time marches on and we are forced to return and revise our settled assumptions.

For those who seek a happy panacea to their existential angst, history is not the remedy because every single historical claim can and will be contested by another.

That makes history a soft and unstable foundation for any political-economic claim, but thankfully it is also the reason why historians like me won’t be unemployed any time soon.

So much for fluidity and shifting historical parameters. Now comes the hard part: We Southeast Asians also happen to be living in the present-day postcolonial world of ASEAN, made up of nation-states that do what nation-states do: Compartmentalize, categorize, delimit and demarcate, fix boundaries and police them.

I have to state here that I am not a big fan of the postcolonial nation-state for the simple reason that in my opinion the post-colonial nation-state is simply the inheritor of the proclivities, bias, myopia and solipsism of the colonial state of the past.

Look around us in Southeast Asia today and what do we see, but postcolonial nation-states that continue to police their people, their borders, their identities and the very epistemology and vocabulary that frames our understanding of ourselves and the Other. Categories like “citizen” and “foreigner” are modern labels that we, Southeast Asians, have inherited from our colonial past along with dubious concepts like racial difference.

Contradiction

What, then, are we today? It would appear to me at least that we Southeast Asians are a hybrid, mongrel lot of communities and peoples with a complicated past.

On the one hand we still retain the residual traces of our primordial roots to land and sea that tell us that this region is our shared home. But we also happen to be modern citizen-subjects living under the modern regime of the racial census, the identity card, the passport and the national flag.

We cannot escape this contradiction because this is what our common history has bequeathed us today. We are modern Southeast Asian citizen-subjects who live in a region with a complex history that predates modernity, colonialism and the nation-state, and we cannot escape our past any more than we can escape our present.

But this contradiction is now manifest in what is happening in the East Malaysian state of Sabah. In the midst of the chest-thumping, saber-rattling jingoism and hyper-nationalism we see rising in both Philippines and Malaysia today, we ought to take a step back and look at ourselves honestly in the face.

It seems that what is confronting us now is a clash between the modern state, driven as it is by its modernist logic of governmentality; and the primordial attachment of some people to land and space that exceeds the confines of temporality and space.

What has happened is that a group of non-state actors, namely those who claim to be the descendants of the Sultan of Sulu, have unilaterally and without the consent of the government of the Philippines, entered into the territory of another state – Malaysia – bearing arms and demanding their right to settle there.

Both the Malaysian and Philippine state are at a loss as to what to do, for both states are now forced to deal with a non-state actor that does not play by the rules of the modern state.

Such a situation can be extended hypothetically in a million directions: What if a bunch of Malaysian citizens unilaterally entered Singapore and claimed it on the grounds that it was formerly a part of the Malay kingdom of Johor? What if a bunch of Thais entered northern Malaysia and claimed the state of Kelantan on the grounds that it was formerly part of the Siamese kingdom?

The possibilities are endless, and dizzying to boot- but the problem would remain the same: How should a state or states deal with non-state actors?

Reviewing history

Two historical details ought to be brought into play at this point:

The first is that the history of Sabah itself ought to be foregrounded at this stage, as Philippine and Malaysian nationalists have failed to ask what do the people of Sabah think about this.

Let us note that Sabah was never an empty space that was passed on from one power to another. In the past, Sabah came under the domination of the Kingdom of Brunei, and it was Brunei that then gifted parts of Sabah to the Kingdom of Sulu, and it was both the kingdoms of Brunei and Sulu that then passed it on to the British North Borneo Company. But Sabah has its own past, its own history and its own people – who seem to have been left out of the discussion altogether.

The indigenous people of Sabah happen to be the Kadazandusuns and the Muruts, who consist of the Bonggis (Banggi island, Kudat), the Idaan/Tindals (Tempasuk, Kota Belud), the Dumpaas Kadazans (Orang Sungai, Kinabatangan), the Bagahaks (Orang Sungai, also Kinabatangan), the Tombinuo and Buludupis Kadazans (Orang Sungai, also Kinabatangan), the Kimaragang Kadazans (Tandek and Kota Marudu), the Liwans (Ranau and Tambunan), the Tangaah Kadazans (Panampat and Papar), the Rungus (Matunggong and Kudat), the Tatanah Kadazans (Kuala Penyu), the Lotuds (Tuaran), the Bisayas (Beaufort), the Tidongs (Tawau) and the Kedayans (Sipitang). Then there are the Muruts who consist of the Nabais, Piluans, Bokans, Taguls, Timoguns, Lundayehs, Tangaras, Semambus, Kolors and Melikops.

These are the indigenous communities of Sabah, and if anyone has a right to the land of Sabah it ought to be them. Nobody denies that Bruneians, Suluks, Ilanuns, Bugis, Malays, Chinese, Indians, Arabs and other communities have resided in Sabah too in the past, but the latter came from other kingdoms and polities, and in the case of the Bruneians and Suluks of Sulu, they also happened to be outsiders who imposed their dominance over the indigenous people of Sabah.

This brings me to the second point I want to make: It has to be remembered that both Brunei and Sulu held sway over Sabah as a territory under their dominion, in a manner that seems more akin to the way the British North Borneo company held sway over Sabah from the 1880s to 1940s.

When the descendants of the Sultan of Sulu claim to “own” Sabah today, what exactly does this deed of ownership entail and mean? Does it signify Sulu’s former political dominance over a territory that was gifted to it by another domineering power? If so, then how is this any different from making a colonial claim over a land whose people may not even recognize Sulu’s right to govern over them?

It is ironic that while the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu bemoans his loss of dominance, nobody (not even the Sultan) has asked if the Kadazandusuns, Muruts and other indigenous people of Sabah want to live under his dominion. Furthermore, it seems to only underscore the fact that Sulu’s claim (like Brunei’s and Britain’s) was that of an external polity claiming a territory that was not part of their homeland proper.

Cosmopolitan Sabah

None of this alters the fact that Sabah has always been, and remains, an extraordinarily cosmopolitan space where cultures and peoples overlap and share common lives and interests. In comparison to other parts of Malaysia, for instance, Sabahan society retains its fluid and dynamic identity until today.

In Sabah it is not uncommon to come across indigenous families where the siblings happen to be Muslim and Christian, all living under the same roof and celebrating Muslim and Christian festivals together. Sabah society also seems more decentered compared to other communities in the region: The Kadazandusuns do not have a concept of Kingship, and instead govern themselves along the lines of communal leaders (Orang Kaya Kaya) and their symbolic grand leader called the “Huguan Siou.”

So tolerant and open is Sabah society that inter-ethnic marriages are common, with Kadazandusuns and Muruts marrying Malays, Chinese, Arabs as well as Suluks, Bugis, Bajaos, Bruneians. It has been like this for hundreds of years; and I hasten to add that I actually grew up in Sabah between the years 1981 to 1984, and recall how open, eclectic and mobile Sabah society was then.

Sabahans have never had a problem with other communities settling there, and that is why we still see large numbers of Suluks, Bajaos, Malays and Chinese across the state, settling into mixed families or into smaller settlements. Furthermore Sabahans are attuned to the reality of living in a fluid archipelago, which is why its coastal settlements have always been transit points where people from abroad come in and out with ease.

Just before the Lahad Datu incident I was informed that a large number of Suluks had arrived for a wedding, and they came in without passports and visas, and left peacefully afterwards.

It has been like that in Sabah since my childhood. But my fear is that culture of openness and fluidity came to an untimely and graceless end when some of the followers of the Sultan of Sulu landed with guns and rocket-launchers.

Fluid borders only exist under one assumption: that the visitor is a friend, and not an aggressor. The moment guns come into the picture, the fluid border dries up and becomes hard.

Hardened borders, hardened hearts

I hate nationalism. I said at the beginning that I am a committed Southeast Asian-ist and ASEAN-ist, and this debacle in Sabah has not weakened my resolve, as both an academic and an activist, to work towards closer ASEAN integration.

Here in my institute in NTU, I see the faces of ASEAN every single day: My students come from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, in fact all of ASEAN. Being childless myself, I regard them as my wards and responsibility and like all teachers I want them to succeed in the future. I also want them to succeed in an ASEAN region where every ASEAN citizen feels that the entire region is his or her home, a place he/she belongs to, a place where he/she would not feel like a foreigner.

But as I said at the beginning, we ASEAN citizens also live in the age of the modern nation-state, and there is no escaping the fact that we are modern citizen-subjects as well. Being caught between a fluid region and a hard modern state is not an existential crisis that we cannot resolve, for we can bring to the modern nation-state our subjective longings to see greater integration on a people-to-people level that takes the nation-state one step further.

Already we see that the modern nation-state is beginning to transcend itself in ASEAN: The communicative infrastructure that we have built – through roads, rail and cheap airline communications – means that more Southeast Asians are traveling, studying, working and living in different parts of the region than ever before.

Gone are the days when a Malaysian, Filipino or Singaporean would be born in his country, study in the same country, work and die in the same country. In the near future, we may well live to see the birth of the first ASEAN generation who are born in one country, study in another, work in another and die in another, all the while feeling that he or she is still at home, in Southeast Asia.

But for this to happen, we cannot bypass the nation-state entirely; for we need the nation-state in order to transcend the nation-state. We need the nation-state to evolve where it may one day accept the reality that its citizens have multiple origins, multiple destinies, multiple and combined loyalties.

We need to work towards an ASEAN future where our governments may come to accept our complex, confounding hyphenated identities as something normal, and not an anomaly; when someone who is Javanese-Dutch-Indian-Arab like me can claim to come from Indonesia, be born in Malaysia, work in Singapore and love the Philippines.

Ironically, this is the impasse we are at today: To revive our collective memory of a shared Southeast Asian past, we need to work with and through the nation-state as the dominant paradigm that governs international relations.

What we cannot and should not do is selectively appropriate history to make outlandish claims that further only our own limited ends, the way China has been doing by turning to its own China-centric history books in order to claim the South China Sea as theirs.

Such selectivity, be it in the case of China’s or the Sultan of Sulu’s, denies the fact that history will always remain contested by others. Unless we are prepared to accept that whatever view we have of the ASEAN region is only one of many views, and that we need to accept that multi-perspectivism is the only way to navigate ourselves on the choppy waters of history, we will remain forever trapped in our own myopic delusions.

At present, the Sabah impasse has stirred violent emotions among nationalists in Malaysia and the Philippines, with armchair tacticians talking of more violence.

Such idle talk is unbecoming of us, a people who share a complex history whose richness we ought to be celebrating instead. And my final appeal is this: End this incursion into Sabah for the sake of the Sabahans as well as Filipinos and Malaysians; for what this has done is engendered feelings of deep fear and distrust among the Sabahans who have for centuries been among the most open communities in the region.

The thousands of Suluks, Bugis, Bajaos and others who have settled in Sabah for decades have done so with relative ease, but no longer. The Sulu gunmen who landed in Sabah did not only bring their M-16s and rocket-launchers with them, but also the divisive dichotomy of “Self” and “Other/Foreigner,” and the last thing this academic wants to see is yet another wall being built to divide Southeast Asians all over again. – Rappler.com

Dr Farish A Noor is Associate Professor at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU University Singapore. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent his institution.

All photos by the the author.


My friend a private medical practitioner in Kota Kinabalu, who was one time before, Head of a government hospital in the interiors of Sabah, has been diagnosed for Tuberculosis (TB) and is undergoing treatment now.

I feel so sorry for him, he is so thin and half the size he use to be.

I ask him, how come you are doctor and you of all persons has got TB? His reply, bulk of his patients are illegals from Philippines and most of them got TB and he probably picked it up from them when they came for treatment in his clinic.

Wah!, so frightening!

So, I decided to do some homework on Tuberculosis (TB) and wanted to write a little about it. Not to put fear but to highlight to Premier Najib that there is serious diseases being brought into our shores in Sabah by illegals which numbers in millions.

Tuberculosis (TB) remains one of the biggest threats to public health according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). It seems that South-East Asia Region has one death a minute because of TB. WHO says that although the total number of people affected by the disease has steadily declined in the last decade, there are five million people living with TB in the region — a third of the global burden — and more than 3 million are affected every year.

This Thursday is World Tuberculosis Day. World Health Organisation, has emphasised the need for greater innovation for strategy, diagnostics and new drugs, and universal access to health services to successfully fight tuberculosis. With resistance to current drugs being a persistent threat, new and effective drugs for TB are urgently needed as there are large numbers of transient population moving from one country to another without proper medical checks.

“There have been significant achievements in the past decade, according to WHO. However they say, globally we have a limited number of options to seriously tackle TB. Our best available strategy, and one that must be strengthened further if we are to have a chance of achieving our goals, is basic directly observed treatment, short course (DOTS),” said Dr. Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia.

Expansion and strengthening of DOTS in the South East Asia region has resulted in over two million people with TB being successfully treated every year. As a result, the proportion of the region’s population becoming affected with TB has been declining each year and is now a quarter less than the 1990 levels, while the number of deaths has reduced by 44 per cent.

Good performance of DOTS in the region has lowered multi-drug resistance (MDR-TB) among newly detected cases of TB. However, given the large number of TB cases in the Region, this translates to 1,30,000 people MDR-TB, accounting for a third of all the world’s MDR-TB cases. Costs of treating MDR-TB are high — nearly 100 times a normal case of TB, requiring high resource inputs and mobilisation by the governments, which would mean approximately $ 400 million each year for emerging cases in the Region.

In Malaysia, health care services in TB must be expanded to include providers outside the purview of the Ministry of Health, such as town councils, Rela, police, immigration, military and prison health services and private providers.

There are many such institutions across Malaysia, such as medical colleges, private practitioners, large public and private hospitals, corporate institutions, non-governmental organisations, faith-based Christian organisations including my church Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB), who are now working with national TB programmes. In addition, an increasing number of private laboratories have been included in national diagnostic networks, and this is good and need to praise our Director of Health Services Malaysia, as, he is putting serious initiatives and have contributed to the improved detection and treatment of the disease in Malaysia, nevertheless.


An oil producing offshore area, Block M and Block L belonging to Sabah near Brunei in the South China Sea is no longer a part of Sabah. It now belongs to Brunei. This Block M and Block L is close to 6000 square kilometers in size, which is like 10 times the size of Singapore. Both the blocks can produce 1 billion barrels of oil  or US$100 billion in revenue and it belongs to Sabah.

Our Chief Minister from Sabah, Musa Aman together with Abdullah Ahmad Badawi negotiated with the Sultan of Brunei to get back Limbang for Sarawak, in exchange they agreed to surrender this Block M and Block L belonging to Sabah. Can you believe this? Yes, Musa Aman with Badawi,  on march 17th, 2009 in Brunei, had signed away US100 billion dollars of oil to the Sultan of Brunei.

And this was not brought up at all by Musa Aman to the Sabah State Legislative Assembly. More importantly by giving up the Blocks L and M, both Musa  Aman and Pak Lah were altering the boundaries to Sabah, and the Constitution under Clause 2 (b) provides that this will require the consent of the state and as well as the Conference of Rulers.

To give away or demarcate boundaries of Borneo States, Badawi must first consult Parliament, then under the Federation Agreement with Sabah, Badawi must ask Musa Aman to convene an emergency sitting of the Sabah State Legislative Assembly and then take a vote in the  State Assembly. Musa Aman did not just do that.  Musa Aman concealed this whole thing, Brunei, Block M and Block L from Sabahans. This Musa Aman, did not bring this matter to the State Assembly at all and why was he hiding this from Sabahans? Musa Aman owes Sabahans and explanation.

Besides, only if  Sabah had cleared this matter in the assembly, then only, can this be brought to the Agong for a royal consent to the demarcation of the new boundaries. The Conference of Rulers MUST also agree and that too has to come BEFORE the signing of the Agreement with Brunei. But they did not.

Then why was Pak Lah and Musa Aman in a hurry to sign the Agreement with the Sultan? Why the rush? Pak Lah says he has got the approval from his Cabinet and so everything is in order. But is this true? Was the  process done constitutionally, as per the Federation Agreement?

To me this is like TREASON! Musa Aman  should be charged for Treason for concealing, hiding or aiding the crime of TREASON. Musa Aman concealed this action from the Sabah State Assembly, and for any public servant To conceal, hide, or aid the crime of TREASON is to be guilty of the same offence.

The facts are :

1. Malaysia, Sabah no longer has any sovereignty over the 2 areas i.e Block L and Block M.
2. Malaysian oil companies can only participate in jointly developing the areas for 40 years (with Brunei’s permission).
3. Limbang remains a disputed area with Brunei.

I stand by my opinion that Musa Aman and  Abdullah  Badawi should be tried for Treachery and TREASON for losing territory belonging to Sabah, Malaysia.

Then if  the KL boys were to say that the Blocks L & M are not within the Sabah State waters and therefore under the purview of the Federal Government, then I will say, why this not brought to Parliament, and not brought to The Agong, and then to the Conference of Rulers, as we are after all altering the boundaries of the federation? Is it because it comes under the Federal Territory of LABUAN?

Explain lah!

Dato’ Sri Anifah bin Haji Aman, the Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs the brother of Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman, you are the right person, please explain? You and your brother claim fighting for Sabah’s rights, show us lah! Sorry Anifah I have to bring you into this picture although you are just recuperating from a massive attack following surgery to clear blocked arteries in your heart. I hear you are recovering well following coronary bypass surgery in Singapore. I wish you speedy recovery my friend!

Read here my earlier post on this.


Malaysia-Indonesia relations has taken a very sharp turn recently. It reminds me very much of Sukarno’s “Ganyang Malaysia” (crush Malaysia) declaration of the sixties.This growing anti-Malaysian sentiment is spreading all over Indonesia like wildfire.

See here a video from a local TV station in Indonesia showing a crowd burning a paper made Malaysian flag.

Also see below a statement posted on a Indonesian blog titled “Terselubung” which says that a number of Malaysian Web sites had been hacked and defaced by Indonesian hackers to “celebrate” Malaysia’s Independence Day, August 31st, their way.

Its funny, while our UMNO politicians continue to play politics of Race and Religion to divide us in order to hold onto power, the Indonesians are planning their strategy to colonize and takeover Malaysia. There are millions of them here already in the form of Khir Toyos. It’s a matter of timing… we are seeing it happening in Sabah now. Next will be Selangor, oh no, no, we already had the CEO Khir Toyo from across the Straits.

What is happening to my dear Malaysia?


THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS AND THE FUTURE OF ASEAN
(Keynote Address by Anwar Ibrahim at Chulalongkorn University, March 30th 2009)

When I first uttered the unutterable in Hong Kong sometime late last year that Hayek is history I was then bombarded with accusations of having turned my back on Adam Smith. Not too long later however, we heard reluctant acquiescence from liberal institutions that the free-market principles that guided American financial development would no longer count as biblical injunctions.

In the presence of such an erudite audience today, let me take the liberty to indulge further in the discourse. Just to be clear, I make no claim to pioneering new ideas but suffice to say that I am a mere commentator having had some experience in managing an economy which was also going through one of the worst financial turmoil in Asia. We need to remember only the boom-and-bust cycles articulated by the 19th century economists such as John Stuart Mill or Alfred Marshall, before we get carried away with the modern orthodoxy, which depicts financial markets as effective, stable, and self-correcting mechanisms.

The advocates of spontaneous order which had hitherto attained the level of religious orthodoxy having rammed free market strictures about self correction and deregulation are now conspicuously silent. What went wrong?

True, the reaction against command economies of the Orwellian kind as exemplified by the Soviet Union and other Communist countries in the past was well founded. But was there really a need to subscribe to a theory where absolute reliance is placed on the law of chaos? The issue here is not whether the free market system and the pricing mechanism based on competition is viable; but in stubbornly holding on to the view that markets are benign, championed by the likes of Hayek and a distinguished pedigree of Nobel laureates such as Milton Friedman and his Chicago protégés, with Alan Greenspan as the turn of the century poster boy, Wall Street enjoyed more than two decades of financial deregulation. During this time, we witnessed the unfolding of Enron, Worldcom, and so on and the Sarbanes-Oxley laws dealt only piecemeal. But what was left unchecked was the proliferation of the weapons of financial mass destruction —such as mortgage-backed securities and collateral debt obligations. In place of the earlier institutional giants, we now have on parade the largest financial institutions in the world, brought down to their knees.

The unprecedented government bail outs nailed the lie to the dictum that the State should not interfere in the free market processes. Hayek’s devotional mantra that the invisible hand will eventually work to rectify things has vaporized into mere Harry Potter hocus pocus.

The stimulus packages in America, the UK and some other EU countries are so massive that even die hard Keynesians are spoofed. It is true that the Keynesians believe that pump priming itself with the necessary checks and balances is indeed the most effective way of powering economies out of their recessionary corners but the concern we have is the unfettered adoption of polices of reducing the cost of funds to near zero, while government goes on a spending spree on even more borrowed money. The Federal Reserve and other central banks buy up Treasury bonds and other government papers in order to give that much needed shot in the arm for the economy still waiting for the invisible hand to appear. They call this “quantitative easing” but everyone knows this is just a euphemism for borrowing one’s way out of debt.

It remains to be seen whether this phase of irrational exuberance in borrowing is different from the Keynesian prescriptions to counter the 1930s Great Depression. To be sure, the once unassailable doctrine of spontaneous order has been dealt a body blow that is destined to consign it to the dustbin of economic history. That America is opting to bail out its banks and insurance companies at arbitrary values rather than allowing the law of free market supply and demand to take its course is therefore a damning indictment of its fundamental economic principles.

What then is the real lesson to be learned from this crisis?

Is this a systemic failure arising from the unbridled practice of free-market principles or is it a case of the prophetic truth coming home to roost, that is, he who sows the wind must reap the whirlwind?

One of the strongest arguments today is that deregulation has led to the current fiasco. To go further some have made the case that regulations were always there but the regulators slept on the job. Some finger pointing here is inevitable. Alan Greenspan has already been whipped. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, they say, is a classic case of regulators failing to detect the cheating by accountants, something that would have been easily uncovered by a bit of fraud specific forensic accounting. It would have required just a bit more diligence perhaps but certainly it was no rocket science.

The underlying causes however must go back to the question of easy money which remained the substratum of the American political economy for the last three decades. This came on the back of a new religion of financial alchemy spawned from the fertile womb of Wall Street, a religion using sophisticated financial reengineering calculated to transform debt into wealth. This was the philosopher’s stone by which the largest economy in the world by sheer consumption alone was able to not just eke out an existence but to thrive and prosper.

To my mind, this financial maelstrom undermines not only the economic foundation but the political and moral substructure of Western capitalism. We still believe that market economies which stand solely on the feet of homo economicus are doomed to fail because the dictates of a humane economy impel us to consider ideas about right and wrong, social justice and the dignity of man. Shakespeare’s dictum against making “the orphan pine while the oppressor feeds” is a timely reminder. It must jolt us back to the issues involving the great divide between general welfare and distributive justice.

We don’t say this perched on any kind of moral high ground. It was a similar kind of profligate spending that had got us into the 1997 Asian financial crisis. And we lectured and hectored. But unlike the scenario in the U.S. there was certainly greater oversight in Asia and more regulatory control. Corruption and abuse of power featured more prominently in the case of Asia. In fact, there was a case that rogue institutions were working hand in glove with lawyers and accountants to maneuver their way through the regulatory process.

In Asia it was a case of over legislation providing a labyrinthine cover for shady and questionable transactions. And the rich were bailed out at the expense of the poor. This is where the question of accountability and transparency reigns high.

To be sure the lessons of moral hazard were relentlessly knocked on our heads in the wake of the Asian crisis and at the risk of sounding repetitive, let me say again that the massive bail outs that we are seeing today in America are nothing if not classic instances of moral hazard going bezerk, made all the more ironic considering that we are looking at the bastion of free market capitalism.

Perhaps it’s time we took another look at the factor-price equalization (FPE) theorem. We know that it was through exuberantly inflated prices of goods and services that made it possible for Americans to carry on indulging in overconsumption while the rest of the world particularly Asia had to settle for much less. As those trained in economics and international trade will tell you, this mirage will be shattered eventually as the FPE theorem sets in to bring into equilibrium the relative prices of these goods and services across the world. This may have been a tad too theoretical in the distant past but with the pace of globalization and international finance and free trade flowing the way it is now, the impact can be real.

And it is one of the great ironies that this poster nation of liberal democracy and free market capitalism is so heavily indebted to the poster nation of autocracy and command economy. Indeed it is well known that China is the biggest funder of the US federal deficit. Other Asian nations as well as Middle Eastern countries not renowned for open and liberal governments are also substantial investors.

There is the dynamics of economic self-interest and geopolitical imperatives. The question is still how long will Asian and Arab investors continue to prop up these prices?

Yes, the world has had a good five years or so of robust economic growth spearheaded no doubt by the emerging economies, but the policy shift in Asia is already under way from monetary tightening to monetary loosening. The East Asian juggernauts are moving fast with the billions in spending package proposed by Taiwan, Japan and China together with de rigueur tax cuts and interest rates lowering.

While at the start of the financial implosion, there were still brave echoes of decoupling immunity shielding Asian countries, any suggestions today would have been dismissed by the bloodbath that went on in the Asian equity markets. While it is true that generally banks in Asia are still holding up, the fact is that our economies are too closely intertwined with those in the locus of the financial meltdown. The upside of globalization that allowed export-oriented countries to thrive has a very sharp downside as well so a recession on one side of the world spreads quickly to the other. The 9% reduction in global trade predicted for this year is rendering a crushing blow to once vibrant and thriving economies.

The myth that if your exports dry up for the U.S. market there is always the emerging economies as a buyer of last resort is all but shattered. All domestic demand indices until only several weeks ago were falling. Property prices are heading south in India and construction figures in China show the steepest ever decline particularly for Shenzhen.

Growth through productivity and competitiveness remains our pathway to prosperity. It has liberated millions from the scourge of poverty and destitution and enabled our people to enjoy freedom and decent living conditions.

The temptation to explode the government bureaucracy during recessionary times must be avoided. The weight of a bloated and inefficient bureaucracy can do more harm in the long term. Money invested in entrepreneurship and stimulating the private sector will generate more value for the economy in the short and long term.

Adequate measures for ensuring good governance are essential. Government spending guided by a policy that shows little transparency in the award of contracts is a clear warning sign of mismanagement of the economy.

More importantly the spending packages that have been announced should focus on projects that are good for business and good for people. A social agenda during recessionary times would ensure that critical institutions such as public health and education are not neglected. Infrastructure development should seek growth areas in industry, public housing and strengthening transportation and communication between urban and rural areas. Fiscal intervention could then find areas to increase demand through tax cuts and incentives to hire workers and enhance their human capital through training and development.

For us in Asia, history has proven that growth through increased productivity and competitiveness is the only path to achieve prosperity. It has liberated millions from the scourge of poverty and destitution and it has enabled our people to enjoy freedom and decent living conditions. In region dominated by the economic powers of China and India the 600 million people living within Asean represent a formidable foundation upon which to regain prosperity.

It is true that our interests have never been more closely intertwined. As Asean nations 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. A determined effort will be necessary to crystallize these bilateral ties into a firm and coherent pact.

A cohesive Asean regional cooperation remains an elusive goal and history has taught us that when push comes to shove Asean nations will tend towards unilateralism. This should be avoided at all costs. We would agree with Prime Minister Abhiset’s view that “As the financial crisis deepens, the world will look towards our region for action and for confidence.”

There is a greater calling that we face during these uncertain times. A looming recession and the risk of social upheaval make for a volatile political situation. Growth oriented policies that ignore the social dimension will spurn greater disenchantment. The overall societal objectives of distributive justice and fairness must not be ignored as we identify a way forward. With millions at risk of sinking into poverty as jobs become scarce the steps taken to revive ailing economies must not overlook the needs of the poor and marginalized.

We are likely to witness some leaders revive the mantra of Asian Values – that in the pursuit of economic growth the rights of the individual are peripheral. Unpopular governments would certainly need a pretext upon which they can silence dissent against policies that fail to address the problem of unemployment, poor public infrastructure and lack of quality social services.

On the contrary a prosperous Asia is merely an illusion if material wealth is subsumed in a sea of repression and denial of basic human rights. True prosperity must be accompanied by with political empowerment of the ordinary citizen. Fundamental freedoms such as the freedom from hunger, freedom from fear and exploitation, and the freedom to peacefully practice one’s religious beliefs are so basic for the growth of a truly humane society.

The growth of civil society and renewed economic prosperity will not be possible without regional stability. The political resolve to formulate an Asean pact with a mechanism to institutionalize agreements on trade, finance and human rights is necessary. This has proven no easy task but is still attainable. We must establish strong interdependibility, economic and political. The nurturing of democracy and civil society, in tandem with economic growth — for democracy and growth are not mutually exclusive — is our best guarantee of regional peace and security for future generations.