|THE MALAYSIAN QUESTION|
November 17, 1998
JIM LEHRER: And to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: Two views now of the furor over Vice President Gore's remarks. Datuk Hasmy Bin Agam is Malaysia's ambassador to the United Nations. And Congressman Robert Andrews, a Democrat from New Jersey, is a member of the Asia and Pacific Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee. Welcome, gentlemen.
Reactions to Gore's words
Mr. Ambassador, explain to us in more detail why your government is so unhappy with Vice President Gore's remarks.
HASMY BIN AGAM, U.N. Ambassador, Malaysia: Good evening, Mrs. Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: Good evening.
HASMY BIN AGAM: Well, I have many words to describe our reaction to the utterance by Vice President Al Gore. What he presented was outrageous and utterly disappointing. By uttering those words, he has breached one of the ethical rules of human conduct, human behavior, that is, you do not go out of your way to insult your host; even in private it is objectionable - but to do it in public, in front of everybody else, a lot of people and in front of the host himself, I think it raises questions about the wisdom and the appropriateness of such words. We understand if it is said in private, in confidence, in private, we can understand and perhaps take it in that perspective, but to do it in public I think is something that most Malaysians, except for those who are demonstrating in the streets, utterly object.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me get the Congressman's reaction to that. Do you think it was ill-advised, Congressman, for him to say this in public?
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS, (D) New Jersey: I am very proud of what Vice President Gore did. I don't think he was rude. I think he was courageous. And I think we should never elevate the rules of courtesy over human rights. Mr. Anwar is in prison tonight. I believe he's in prison because he had the courage to speak his convictions. And I'm proud we had a Vice President who said that yesterday.
|An Asian aparheid?|
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Ambassador, the leaders of many other countries right in your region have also been critical of the arrest of Mr. Anwar, I mean, the leaders of Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea. Did you find that - that criticism equally offensive, or was it coming from the United States that made it particularly unwelcome?
HASMY BIN AGAM: Well, we have raised our disappointment at some of these statements made.
MARGARET WARNER: By other governments, you mean?
HASMY BIN AGAM: By the other governments. And they have - after seeing the whole situation in the country and the nature of the cases have been made against the former deputy prime minister, they have come to appreciate the special - and I think that it has turned down whatever presentation they might have made. I mean, this is to be expected by our neighbors, who understand the situation much better, but we would also have expected the United States - presumably a friendly country to Malaysia - to have at least tried to see things in perspective. Here, I think the United States' mission - had not advised Washington as to the actual real nature of the situation and on the ground.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: Yes. I think it's important Americans know the facts. In early September of this year Mr. Anwar, who was involved in the government, was arrested. He was arrested on charges under a law that we would find unbelievable in this country, that he was a threat to the Malaysian state. He's been in prison ever since then. He was beaten. When he appeared for his trial, there was absolute evidence of physical abuse that he was beaten when this took place. We don't understand that, and we don't think that's a matter of economics or diplomacy. We think that's a matter of human rights. This reminds me of the dialogue that took place about Nelson Mandela in South Africa a few years ago. We were called rude and impolite and impertinent for pointing out the fact that we thought it was wrong that someone could be imprisoned for speaking his political beliefs. I'm proud that our country belatedly took a stand against apartheid, and I'm proud that we took a stand against this violation of human rights yesterday.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Ambassador, was Mr. Anwar arrested, in part, because of his beliefs? In other words, I think people understand perhaps why he was fired, if he was the finance minister and the president - the prime minister didn't support his policies and vice versa. But why also arrest him and have him go through what the congressman has just laid out?
HASMY BIN AGAM: Could I just take exception to remarks by Congressman? I think it's -
MARGARET WARNER: Please do.
HASMY BIN AGAM: You shouldn't compare the situation in Malaysia to apartheid. I mean, it's a gross, disproportionate what you call it - comparison of situations. Malaysia was against apartheid, was a leader among those countries that fought for apartheid. And I find it utterly objectionable to put the two together.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: Mr. Ambassador, what is Mr. Anwar's crime? What has he been accused of doing?
HASMY BIN AGAM: Well, as you know, if you have not read the report, then I'm afraid you're ignorant of the situation in Malaysia.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: No. I've read it. What's he accused of doing?
HASMY BIN AGAM: He's been accused of ten charges. One is now appearing in court, the initial couple of charges -- One is abuse of his power when he was deputy prime minister. He has tried to tamper - to tamper the witnesses, you know, relating to one case involving corruption - of his private secretary. He tried to interfere with the anti-corruption agency's investigation of that allegation. And then the other charges led to tampering of witnesses, trying to get two people who made testimony or testified - made accusations against the deputy - the former deputy prime minister. He tried to retract their statements.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: Mr. Ambassador, if I may, is it common practice in Malaysia to hold someone in prison without bail for these kind of nonviolent offenses, or are people held without bail commonly?
HASMY BIN AGAM: Well, he was first what you call arrested under the international security for inciting public disorder. That is why he was detained.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: Much like Mr. Mandela in South Africa.
HASMY BIN AGAM: But Mandela was fighting for freedom of his country. Malaysia is a free country. I invite you to come to Malaysia and see for yourself.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: I guess -- why isn't Mr. Anwar free pending the disposition of his trial? Why is he in prison?
HASMY BIN AGAM: Because he is reported to be tampering with witnesses to the cases involved -involving him.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: So in your country if someone is accused of witness tampering, they're held without bail before their trial -- is that common place?
HASMY BIN AGAM: I don't know, but the particular - the legal arguments used by - in court - I'm afraid I cannot answer the precise --
|The reform quesiton|
MARGARET WARNER: All right, gentlemen. Let me jump in here just for a minute. Mr. Ambassador, we understand your view about the place and timing of the Vice President's remarks, but how about the substance? His essential point was you can't really have economic prosperity in a 21st century economy, a global economy, without political freedom. Is that criticism on point, or is that observation on point, do you think for Malaysia?
HASMY BIN AGAM: I think Mr. Al Gore must have missed the point here. Malaysia enjoys political freedom. There are political parties. We have elections every four or five years without fail. There has been no strict - there will be no crackdown by military coups or things like that. This is a country of law and order.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: If I may ask a question --
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman, do let him finish.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: Sure. Okay.
HASMY BIN AGAM: This is a country of law and order, and for Mr. Al Gore to come there and take the side of a couple of demonstrators, a few hundred, perhaps a few thousand even, you are allying yourself, the superpower, the United States is allying itself to the - what do you call - the powers of street demonstrations, as opposed to the rule of law and order. It is utterly disappointing.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: Do demonstrators have to get a permit, Mr. Ambassador, to have these kind of demonstrations in Malaysia?
HASMY BIN AGAM: No. In Malaysia, as in many countries, to demonstrate you have to have a permit.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: And who's in charge of giving the permit?
HASMY BIN AGAM: The permit is given by the police. The police is in charge of this.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: I would simply say that in this country if a group of our citizens felt that we were doing something wrong here, they could assemble on the grounds of our capitol and as long as they complied with the public safety laws, they could say whatever they wanted to. Why can't they do that in Malaysia?
HASMY BIN AGAM: Well, I appreciate that. You're talking about the United States. You aren't talking about Malaysia. Malaysia has a certain - has its own laws - which have evolved through our own experience. Ours is a multiracial society.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: So are we.
HASMY BIN AGAM: With very tenuous kind of mix of politics and economics.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: So are we.
HASMY BIN AGAM: So we have these laws which have evolved.
|Are elections the answer?|
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman - I mean, Mr. Ambassador, let me ask you in the little time we have left, one, what impact do you think Vice President Gore's remarks will have, and, two, do you think we're going to see political change in Malaysia? Do you think perhaps even that Prime Minister Mahthir - do you think he's going to be able to stay in power?
HASMY BIN AGAM: Well, we have, as I said just now, elections very regularly, every four or five years. The next election is coming up around the year 2000. This way people can voice their opinion, whether they support the prime minister or not. As far as we are concerned, there is overwhelming support for the prime minister. We will see at the next election whether this support continues. And I'm sure, as far as I'm concerned - I've just come back from Malaysia, myself, the support is very strong.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman, do you want to hazard a prediction on where you think things are going in Malaysia?
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: I wouldn't give a prediction, but I'd give a challenge. Malaysia's credibility is on the line tonight. Why doesn't the prime minister release Mr. Anwar from prison, let him stand for trial as a free man, and show them all that the Malaysia government is not afraid of free debate, as the Ambassador just said? Why doesn't Mr. Mahathir release Mr. Anwar from prison?
MARGARET WARNER: All right, gentlemen. I have to leave it there. Thank you very much.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS: Thank you.
HASMY BIN AGAM: Thank you.