4th Asian Public Intellectuals Workshop

Building East Asia’s Future:

The Challenges We Must Face,

The Responsibilities We Must Bear

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am thankful to God Almighty that with His Grace and Blessings, I am able to be here at this 4th Workshop of Asian Public Intellectuals, and to address this distinguished assembly. This year alone, leaders from Asia have participated and will be participating in many international gatherings. The first East Asia Summit will be held here in Malaysia next month. It will be a platform to envision, discuss and debate precisely what I am about to speak on today – an East Asian Community.

  1. For many years in the first generation after the Second World War, all the states of Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, without exception, were politically and economically failed or quasi-failed states. We were all engulfed by turmoil and war – civil and gruesomely uncivil. On the economic front, we were all at one time or another hopeless economies. Unlike most others in the developing world, however, we were able to make the quantum leap out of the quagmire of conflict, stagnation and poverty. In the second generation after the Second World War, over the last thirty years, the failed and quasi-failed states of East Asia pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and became achieving states. From a failed region, we became, in dramatic terms, a hyper-achieving region.
  2. We became miracle-makers in terms of politics, peace and security. We became miracle-makers in terms of economic growth and prosperity. Great strides were also made – despite flaws and failures – in terms of most human rights and the improvement of our human condition.
  3. I suggest that we now take the great East Asian Miracle forward into a second generation of miracle-making. I suggest that in our second generation as a hyper-achieving region, we in East Asia should work hard and long to create:

• an Asian community of friendship and peace,

• an Asian community of cooperative prosperity, and

• an Asian community of deeply caring societies.

A cooperative Asian community which will be at the core of a remarkable Asian Civilization – a remarkable Asian Civilization which will contribute to the building of a new and much more just, much more humane and much more civilized world order.

  1. Having made the Asian miracle, let us now make the Asian community. The older generation of East Asians have accomplished a heroic feat. The most important challenge facing the present generation of leaders is to successfully build such an Asian community. This is the primary responsibility that the states of East Asia and this generation of East Asians must bear.
  2. In the decades to come, I am confident that from Asia will come a major civilisational contribution. But the twenty first century should not be and will not be “The Asian Century”. There will be at least two other points of massive civilisational light : one shining from our east, coming from the northern end of the Americas; one shining from our west, coming from the continent of Europe.
  3. Let me also stress that there is also much virtue in starting small and becoming bigger. There is no virtue in starting big and becoming smaller. We should all take note that excessive ambition is often the enemy of pragmatic accomplishment. What Europe has done Asia cannot achieve for many, many decades to come. Our Asian community will eventually be large and will embrace more than a third of all mankind. It must surely in due time include India and other countries. But at the heart and at the start of this historic venture must be the East Asian states of the ASEAN+3.

Asian Community of Friendship and Peace

  1. Although we should not mimic the European model or take the European road, we must be inspired by what Europe has accomplished with regard to peace and friendship. Whatever the economic and diplomatic accomplishments of the European Community – and here there are grounds for extensive debate – there can be no doubt that a peace miracle has been accomplished in the European continent.
  2. The twentieth century saw two great European civil wars – the First World War and the Second World War, which engulfed the whole world – with rates of slaughter and mass barbarity never before seen in human history. Today, for the first time in quite a few hundred years, a major war between the countries of Europe seems utterly improbable.
  3. We too must build, in Asia, a community of friendship and peace where the probability of a major war seems utterly improbable, where we can get on to other, more productive things. What is the alternative? A cantankerous, conflict-prone life of living on the edges of peace (if we are lucky) and living on the brink of war (if we are not).
  4. We in East Asia must not assume and presume too much. To be sure, we are more at ease and at peace than possibly at any time in the last hundred and fifty years, despite the threats that exist today. But let us not forget the Korean War, the Vietnam War and Indonesian Confrontation. In the post-World War II period, besides the wars in North Korea and South Korea, in North Vietnam and South Vietnam, we have seen civil wars or serious internal violence in China, in Laos, in Cambodia, in Myanmar, in Malaysia, in Indonesia, and in the Philippines. In other words, we have seen international or internal wars in virtually every country or territory in Northeast and Southeast Asia.
  5. In the days ahead, we must push the peace momentum and build the solid community of friendship and peace that is the sine qua non of the economic, social and political progress that we must have.
  6. To do so, we have four basic options:

• The first is the option of building peace through hegemony, through an imperium.

• The second option is peace through deterrence based on the construction of effective military balances of power.

• The third option is the establishment of a Concert of Powers, of a system of Great Power accommodation in the region and Great Power hegemony over the region, of the sort that brought the longest period of peace in Europe in the nineteenth century.

• The fourth option is the peace-through-community option – ensuring a warm and cooperative peace through the strengthening of mutual friendship, mutual trust, mutual consideration and mutual accommodation, within the ambit of a community code of peaceful conduct and the mobilization of peer pressure and community control.

  1. It was not so long ago that “Pax Americana” was spoken of in the fondest of ways, in some parts of East Asia and elsewhere. The Pax Americana, we were told, would guarantee peace in East Asia. Some of its advocates, especially those from outside the region, could not even understand why anyone would have the slightest objection or reservation. When some spoke of a “Pax Nipponica”, it didn’t sound like such a good idea either. And when some mentioned the very thought of a “Pax Sinica”, this approach to regional peace began to sound atrocious.
  2. If hegemonism is intolerable, why not the wonderful balance of power system, touted by just about every Western international relations textbook since Hans Morgenthau? The extreme balance of power approach bows to the ancient Roman dictum: “Si vis pacem para bellum”. If you want peace, prepare for war. In other words, if we in East Asia want peace, we must prepare for war. This may not be as ludicrous as it sounds if we were to take a look at some of the arms purchases of some countries in East Asia today.
  3. Less extreme models of the balance of power system call for the counterbalancing of the enemy’s military and other power. In many parts of our region, this was the dominant path to peace in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. It remains the dominant approach to peace in the Korean Peninsula and perhaps across the Taiwan Straits.
  4. It is a costly approach because when you prepare for war, war all too often is what you get. Even when it works well, all you achieve is a cold and adversarial peace. It is also a costly approach because the best balance of power system is not really the achievement of a parity of power but the achievement of a preponderance of power by a status quo Power or group of Powers against those who are aggrieved by the status quo or who wish to challenge it. Balance of power systems almost demand an arms race. They are financially enervating or bankrupting systems that arms makers and dealers can be counted upon to love, as they laugh all the way to the bank.
  5. In addition, rigid military balances of check and counter-check divert attention from more important agendas and tend to freeze the status quo, when some accommodation, flexibility and change may be in the long term good of all.
  6. For a period, option three, the idea of a Concert of Powers – a triangular “strategic partnership” between the United States, China and Japan and the management of peace in the region by this merry triumvirate – was strongly touted, especially amongst those who “knew” that a Pax Americana was not possible and a Pax Sinica was to be avoided like the plague. It is a prisoner of power politics groupthink and the natural outcrop of the old European model for making peace. It is hierarchical and anti-democratic. It is patently unachievable. Why, for example, should China agree to a partnership of two versus one? And why should Japan fund and finance the strategic policies of its so-called “partners”?
  7. The classic European Concert of Powers approach would not be able to work in today’s Europe. Unlike the Europe of the nineteenth century, in today’s world it simply is not possible for a country to be a legitimate policeman for a region such as East Asia, especially if casualties are taboo, and especially if the citizens to be policed simply won’t have it.
  8. Some may say that the fourth option – achieving peace through building trust, friendship, consideration, accommodation, a sense of community and a community of interest in peace — is very idealistic, very laborious and very difficult. Of course it is. It truly is very idealistic, very laborious and very difficult.
  9. But I believe that it is much more realistic than the first three options. It does not require much more work. It is no more difficult than achieving true peace through hegemony, a balance of power, or a Concert of Powers. It is certainly much more productive of the welfare of the people of our region.
  10. Those who say that the community of friends approach is not possible have to explain European success. More pertinent and much closer to home, they will have to explain the success of ASEAN. As so many of our good friends have pointed out a hundred times since ASEAN was born in 1967, ASEAN is at “a crossroads”, ASEAN is “in crisis”, ASEAN is “a disappointment”, ASEAN has been “a dismal failure” in many ways. In 1997-98, it was pointed out ad nauseum, that ASEAN was not able to prevent, still less, to “solve” the Great East Asian Economic Crisis. It is interesting to note that those who said that ASEAN was ipso facto “useless” did not then go on to say that the IMF was “useless”, that the World Bank was “useless”, that the Asian Development Bank was “useless”, that APEC was “useless” and that sliced bread was “useless” – despite the fact that all these things too did not prevent and could not “solve” the Great East Asian Economic Crisis of 1997 and 1998.
  11. ASEAN does not walk the path of the European Union. It has not been able to pull rabbits out of a hat and turn iron into gold. Who knows how long it will be before the ASEAN Economic Community committed to in Bali will come close to reality. AFTA itself remains problematical in many areas. No plain sailing can be expected. Yet, there is no-one who can say that ASEAN has not been a tremendous success in the process of building a community of friendship and peace. Neighbours who have been strangers have been turned into acquaintances. Acquaintances have been turned to comrades. Adversaries have been turned to friends, not overnight, but surprisingly fast.
  12. The new ASEAN members are not so chummy among themselves, or with the old members — as the old members are with each other. But there is no doubt that despite centuries of disdain, distrust, prejudice, sometimes even animosity, no-one in the entire region of Southeast Asia is preparing or even thinking of going to war against another. A community of friendship and peace has more or less been established.
  13. There is no doubt that as a peace and friendship machine, only the European process has outshone the ASEAN process over the last thirty years. Not bad for a dismal failure. Is such a community – a community of friendship and peace that ASEAN already is today — impossible in East Asia because of the sheer size of China? In the original ASEAN six, Indonesia was larger than China would be in East Asia – in terms of territory and population. ASEAN succeeded in spite of the single giant because Indonesia was concentrated on modernization, as China is today. ASEAN succeeded because Indonesia was focused on economic transformation, as China is today. Indonesia used ASEAN to lock itself onto a productive track. Is there an analogue and an example here, for others to follow?
  14. The beauty about the community approach to friendship and peace is that it does not require the abrogation of alliances and low intensity balances of power. Countries can and should still have strategic coalitions of the type that do not subvert or destroy the community-building process. It is in keeping with the Asean way and the Asian way, with the core emphasis on process and on patience, on building the solid house of peace one brick at a time.
  15. En passant, let me remind the sceptics that in analysing what can be done over the next twenty years they should bear in mind what we have been able to achieve over the last two decades. Twenty years ago, the Cold War was still on. China’s new path was still uncertain and tenuous. Southeast Asia was at daggers drawn. East Asia is today already a very much different place. Southeast Asia has been completely transformed.
  16. It will not be easy but I believe that what we managed to do with Southeast Asia, we can achieve with regard to East Asia — if we have the commitment and if we can sustain the stamina. The rewards are so great in any case that we must at least give it our best shot over the coming decades.

Asian Community of Cooperative Prosperity

  1. Let me now turn to what I believe must be the second item on our common agenda: the creation of an Asian community of cooperative prosperity. Let us be clear. The primary work for prosperity must begin at home. There are many things that need to be done that only we ourselves can do. Just as peace begins at home, so does prosperity. But in the days ahead we must begin to cooperate actively and aggressively on the economic front.
  2. Already, today, a highly integrated East Asian regional economy is flourishing. In terms of intra-regional trade, only the European Union and NAFTA are more economically integrated. What has been remarkable is that unlike so many other parts of the world, where governments have burst blood vessels trying to integrate their economies and have achieved practically no regional integration, we in East Asia have achieved massive economic integration with little effort on the part of our governments. East Asia’s massive economic integration has been driven mainly by the private sector – the private sector, incidentally, of transnational corporations from other regions as well as from the transnational corporations of East Asia. This pattern of private sector-driven economic integration is productive. It is sustainable. It must not be supplanted. But it is time for the governments of East Asia to lend a helping hand.
  3. Reducing tariffs to each other is generally competitiveness-enhancing. If our corporations cannot compete against each other, how can they be made strong enough to take on the world? I have every confidence that substantial forward movement can be made with regard to the creation of the ASEAN-China free trade area, now already scheduled to be completed within less than ten years. I am very confident about the successful negotiation of most of the trade and closer partnership bilaterals and minilaterals that so many of the East Asian economies are negotiating with economies near and wide. These efforts should eventually lead to the establishment of a single free trade arrangement covering the entire region, which should then form the basis for a global move to free trade. In general, the push toward free trade mounted by these East Asian countries will enmesh us all closer together, to our benefit and to the benefit of a world that will increasingly depend on East Asia as an engine for global growth.
  4. But there is a long and important agenda on trade facilitation to which East Asian governments must contribute. Just as important as reducing taxes at the border are such things as simplifying customs procedures and generally reducing logistics costs. There should be mutual recognition of industrial standards and certification, streamlining of policies governing the protection of intellectual property rights and integration of information communication standards.
  5. East Asia, where the world’s financial surpluses and reserves are now concentrated, can also benefit from greater financial and monetary cooperation. These huge reserves attest to Asia’s rising economic power. However, vast quantities of these reserves are exported. If East Asian economies are to absorb the region’s huge savings, more efficient capital markets need to be developed, in particular the primary and secondary markets for East Asian currency-denominated bonds. This will also create a more balanced financial system with banks and bond markets forming the two pillars. An Asian bond market will also curtail the mismatch between borrowing short in foreign currency and lending long in domestic currency that contributed to the severity of the 1997-98 financial crisis.
  6. We must of course continue to build many regional institutions. But let me stress one: the establishment of an Asian Monetary Fund, as a measure against future financial crises. Preliminary steps have been taken in this direction, notably through the Chiang Mai Initiative, which created bilateral currency swap arrangements. The next step is to enlarge the size of these bilateral currency swaps.
  7. The Asian Monetary Fund should not challenge nor duplicate the IMF. It should have its eagle eye on developments in East Asia each and every working day, rather than only when disaster strikes or is about to strike. It should have at least one relatively senior staff looking at each regional economy instead of having one (no doubt brilliant) senior economist covering a dozen far-flung countries. This should ensure a deeper detailed grasp of regional and local realities. It should be more empirical and rooted in fact. There should be a little less lecturing and a lot more learning and expertise.
  8. Quite clearly also, we in East Asia should continue the process of intergovernmental cooperation with regard to health, tourism, labour flows, environmental issues, education and human resource development. There are countless possibilities promising remarkable returns.
  9. Let me also stress one other thing we should all do in order to contribute to the making of the Asian community of dynamic prosperity. Instead of adopting short-sighted “beggar-thy-neighbour” policies, I believe that we should deliberately and actively adopt “prosper-thy-neighbour” policies. The dividends are too great and too obvious to require elaboration.

Asian Community of Caring Societies

  1. Let me now turn to the third pillar of the Asian community that we must build in the decades to come: a region of deeply caring societies.
  2. I believe that in coming decades we must strongly lay the foundations for a region that is not only peaceful, not only prosperous but also truly caring. Caring of the physical environment because if we do not care, then our region could be an environmental disaster, not fit for healthy and decent human life, still less for the rich fauna and flora, too many of which are on the brink of extinction. We cannot so mistreat so many of the creations of God Almighty.
  3. We must also be a region of societies deeply caring of the multitude of humanity for whom we must be responsible. Caring societies must care for the protection and nourishment of the family, of women, of children and of citizens. Supportive and stable families are paramount in nurturing the healthy development of individuals. Family solidarity must be strengthened and mutual care and support fostered in the community, so that all individuals are embedded in a network of care, trust, support and reciprocity.
  4. Great importance needs to be attached to the development and protection of our children and their well-being. It should be placed at the forefront of our cooperation efforts for economic and social development. We want an Asia fit for children, and it is our shared obligation to ensure that they are given the best possible start in life – provided with a safe, supportive and conducive environment to develop their individual capacity. Investing in the neediest early in childhood can help level the playing field. And the process continues through education – its access, its quality.
  5. The caring societies we must have in East Asia must care deeply for the right of citizens to health, to live in stable societies free from high rates of crime, to freedom from hunger and malnutrition. Many of the countries of East Asia have proven to be world champions at killing poverty. My own country has a record for poverty eradication unmatched by any country in the twentieth century. But problems remain. In the quest for economic growth, we can ill-afford to turn a blind eye to the wide socioeconomic disparities that permeate within as well as between countries. The deeply caring societies of East Asia must seek the absolute eradication of absolute poverty.
  6. Our vision for a caring and just society must celebrate the rich diversity of our Asian community, recognising that each individual is endowed with different strengths. We must create an environment in which people are given every opportunity to develop their potential, to have a free and liberating intellectual and cultural life, and to be treated with equal dignity and respect.


  1. A regional community is not just a matter of physical infrastructure or regional architecture. It needs to be underpinned by a code of governance based on shared values. I believe that our peoples have a right to free elections, to democracy and to representative government, even as they have a right to order and freedom from anarchy.
  2. Today’s world is characterized by an emerging culture of openness and transparency. Information can be had at the touch of a button. People are communicating more. Leaders no longer rule in isolation, but are exposed to public scrutiny. If a system of government is far away from what is considered acceptable by its citizens, there will be discord. Resources go to waste in the effort to sustain an unpopular system of government. Nations become unstable, marked by uprisings. Energies of government are directed toward unproductive tasks. Military expenditure rises, not to defend the nation from external threats, but to suppress the voice of the people. Indeed, the strongest defence for any sovereign nation is the bond of unity and a common vision between leaders and followers arrived at through consultation and based on a system of government that practices democracy and upholds the rule of law. Democracy is justifiably accepted as the best form of government. Yet even a democratic system can reveal an ugly face if the system is abused or manipulated.
  3. Before I conclude, allow me to offer a personal perspective on Malaysia’s very unique model of governance ─ that of constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. There are very few monarchies left in the world today. Wherever it has survived, it has done so because the institution has evolved to suit the temper of the times. Nowhere is this more true than in Malaysia.
  4. At independence, when some of our neighbours did away with their hereditary rulers ─ India with their maharajahs and Indonesia with their sultans ─ Malaysia chose to retain its cherished tradition of royalty. But meaningfully, not cosmetically or just for show. The hereditary rulers were integrated in the new democracy as a constitutional monarchy, their role and function clearly defined under the constitution.
  5. Far from being antithetical to the democratic process, the monarchy actually enhances it. Being non-partisan and above party politics it is uniquely placed to provide additional checks and balances that are essential in a functioning democracy. The monarchy thus enhances the democratic process and strengthens the institutions of governance. It is a bedrock of the constitutional process.
  6. In Malaysia, the rulers fill a void in the democratic system by playing the role of impartial umpires. They act as guarantors of the just implementation of the law and as overseers ensuring that the instruments of government are not abused. The monarchy, by its very nature, is a force for moderation over extremism. The cornerstone of the democratic process as we know it is the well-known doctrine of the separation of powers ─ the legislature, the executive and the judiciary being the three entities. In Malaysia, the monarchy can be considered a fourth entity.
  7. This model has worked well for us. It is a model that has contributed to the continuous stability we have achieved in Malaysia. But what is good for us is not necessarily good for others. Each country must find its own path, at its own pace, toward achieving the right balance between democracy and stability.
  8. This is where I would like to pay tribute to the organizers and participants of this workshop, and acknowledge the important role that public intellectuals play, and can play, in society. More so than before, today’s leadership will have to come from an intellectual impetus. The power of public opinion is more trenchant today than ever before. We need our thought leaders to give the intellectual lead based on our own priorities and concerns. But the world can only be grasped by action not contemplation. If we wish to be change agents, we must venture out to participate more actively in dialogue and collaborative action with the world beyond. This atmosphere of sharing is clearly evident at this workshop.
  9. May I take this opportunity to wish you well in your deliberations over the next two days.


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