|VIEWS FROM ASIA|
September 20, 1999
After a background report, three Asian journalists discuss their takes on the violence in East Timor and the new U.N. peacekeeping force sent to end it.
TERENCE SMITH: We get three Asian perspectives of the crisis in East Timor from: Kazuyoshi Nishikura, who is the bureau chief at the Japanese wire service, Kyodo, the largest news agency in Asia; Yun-Joo Jung is the bureau chief of Han-Kyoreh Shinmun, a Korean daily newspaper. And Jennie Ilustre is Washington correspondent for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the largest English language daily in the Philippines. Welcome to all three of you.
Mr. Nishikura, from Japan's point of view, this crisis in East Timor, does it seem a human rights issue, a political crisis? Both?
|A human tragedy|
NISHIKURA, Kyodo News Service: Both. Both. Yes. It is a human tragedy
of catastrophic proportion, you know. That's one. But the other aspect
to it was we're watching very carefully how this development will affect
the so-called democratization process and economic recovery process of
Indonesia as a whole.
TERENCE SMITH: It's crucially important, isn't it, in Asia and to other Asian countries?
KAZUYOSHI NISHIKURA: Yes. Because Indonesia with the fourth largest population in the world has a very strategic importance for entire Asia. For Japan, for instance, it is a major counterweight to China strategically speaking. And secondly, thousands of islands... you know, there is a very important ceiling that connect East Asia and Middle East, it's energy supply line. It's a lifeline. It's very, very important for us.
TERENCE SMITH: Mr. Jung, I believe it's no less important for Korea and from the Korean perspective.
YUN-JOO HUNG, Han-Kyoreh Shinmun newspaper: Yes. That's true. We have now $9 billion investment by Korean companies to Indonesia and also 9,000 Korean people, businessmen and their family now leaving Indonesia. So there are very high stakes in Indonesia. And also the President Kim Dae-Jung took actually very active initiative to send combat unit to East Timor.
TERENCE SMITH: In fact, I believe that's the first time.
YUN-JOO JUNG: Second time.
TERENCE SMITH: Since Vietnam.
YUN-JOO JUNG: Right, right.
TERENCE SMITH: That South Korea has sent combat units abroad.
YUN-JOO JUNG: Yeah. It was the first time since 1965 when South Korea sent a combat unit into Vietnam. So this is the first time since 1965. You know the President, Kim Dae-Jung himself, had enormously suffered from human rights abuse under the military regime in the past so he's very sympathetic to East Timor's situation on humanitarian grounds.
TERENCE SMITH: Jennie Ilustre, of course the Philippines is a near neighbor of Indonesia. What's the perspective from there?
JENNIE ILUSTRE, Philippine Daily Inquirer: The Philippines is very much concerned over the loss of lives and the bloodshed. President Joseph Estrada is now in L.A. But he's closely monitoring the situation. A week after the August 30 referendum, he ask that peace be restored and that the results of the referendum be upheld.
|Sending in troops|
TERENCE SMITH: Now, the Philippines is actually sending military forces as part of the international force that's going in there to keep the peace or establish the peace. That's an expression of concern, I assume.
JENNIE ILUSTRE: Yeah. And also we are sending a first batch of 250 military, medical and engineering team to help rebuild the East Timor.
TERENCE SMITH: It's interesting. Now South Korea is doing that as well as sending the forces, but Japan has decided to send money and not men, not personnel, not forces. Why?
KAZUYOSHI NISHIKURA: Because we have constitutional and legal constraints against sending troops. Unless we change this framework, we cannot send troops, you know, to engage in fighting. So we decided.
TERENCE SMITH: Do you expect that sort of change?
KAZUYOSHI NISHIKURA: There's lots of discussion going on. And some people try to you know... are advocating for change of constitutions, others to broadly reinterpret the constitution. But it takes quite some time. So maybe it will not happen during this crisis.
TERENCE SMITH: Is there public support in South Korea for what your government has decided?
KAZUYOSHI NISHIKURA: Yeah. The recent poll shows that 50 percent of the respondents support sending troops to East Timor, while 29 percent of the respondents oppose it. However, there has been a quite serious debate in the Congress, the opposition party strong opposed to send combat unit to East Timor because of the potential casualties and also the opposition party really worry about the possibility of worsening relation with Indonesian government. As I told you, we have 9,000 Korean people living in Indonesia, so this worsening relationship with Indonesia might, you know, cause some problem for people living in Indonesia.
|Asian views on the U.S.|
TERENCE SMITH: Jennie Ilustre, we read that there's quite a negative reaction in Indonesia itself to the idea of western forces coming in and imposing themselves on the situation. Do you think that's true? Why do you think it's true? What do you think is the significance of it?
JENNIE ILUSTRE: Our foreign affairs secretary was interviewed at that APEC conference... Asia Pacific Economic Conference.
TERENCE SMITH: In New Zealand?
JENNIE ILUSTRE: Yes. And he said that the ASEAN framework - the Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- is such that no country can intervene over the internal affairs of a sovereign country unless asked. Now, we have to remember that in Asia, there's such a thing as saving face. You see, East Timor or Indonesia is taking baby steps towards democracy, and we have to give them credit for holding... successfully holding this August 30 referendum. But there should be pressure just the same. ASEAN has been criticized for not issuing a strong statement right away, they have to be nudged to do it. It's important that a group like the United Nations, not just the Western, you know, the East, West mind set, we don't like the United States, for example, just going in, not taking into account the cultural, religious sensitivity issues.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, in fact in this case, Mr. Nishikura, the United States has kept a deliberately low profile, sending in only a few hundred troops, largely logistical forces. Is that wise in your opinion? Is that the right policy?
KAZUYOSHI NISHIKURA: Yes. Maybe the U.S. is considering the sensitivity but at the same time some Asian people wonder why U.S. were so rigorous in prosecuting this campaign against Yugoslavia over Kosovo conflict. But with Asia, maybe U.S. has a different standard, you know. So we wonder, because there are many other hot spots in Asia, when something flair up in Korean Peninsula, Taiwan Strait, how U.S. would react to that.
TERENCE SMITH: A different standard meaning less concern?
KAZUYOSHI NISHIKURA: Yes.
TERENCE SMITH: You're nodding your head.
YUN-JOO JUNG: Yeah. Most Korean media actually strongly criticize the level of active role by United States in this case.
TERENCE SMITH: They want to see more?
YUN-JOO JUNG: Yeah, definitely. You know, in Korean media, see similarity between Kosovo and East Timor in terms of the humanitarian tragedy. So while in Kosovo, U.S. played a dominant role on the humanitarian ground, whereas here in East Timor, the United States has not shown enough leadership. So to some people, it seems like double standard or, you know, the different yardstick to engage with the military intervention.
TERENCE SMITH: Have you heard that as well from the Philippines or from the Philippines?
JENNIE ILUSTRE: Yes, as a matter of fact, our Senate president was in California recently and he says that the U.S. has a different... has elective standard when it's a conflict in Europe or different from the one in Africa. It's not set standard.
TERENCE SMITH: Let me ask you, Mr. Nishikura, is there concern in Japan and in Asia about the actual political integrity of Indonesia, its stability, its ability to stay together as a nation?
KAZUYOSHI NISHIKURA: Yes. There is definitely a concern for that. But we are very much afraid to interfere with the internal affairs of other Asian countries because of our historical problem with them. Because once during World War II, we invaded these countries, whatever the reason. So we are very watching carefully and we will try to, you know, influence them through economic assistance rather than directly involving military.
TERENCE SMITH: Something has changed here because in this case, is this not true, Asian nations actually are playing that role?
YUN-JOO JUNG: Right, right. It is very rare case for many Asian countries to join with international activity, you know, to interfere with some sovereign nations. You know, Asia is very different from Europe in terms of the diversity and... in Asia, most countries are very different from others in terms of very unique history, culture, language, religion and so forth.
So it is very hard for these diverse countries to have a unified, you know, measure or unified organization. In Europe, you have a unified security arrangement, such as NATO. However, in Asia, it is extremely hard to have such a unified security arrangement. So, again, this very complexity and heterogeneity in Asia based upon this complexity, this case is very rare.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay, thank you all very much for giving us your views.