An email from an Australian correspondent:

I think Malaysia's Dr Mahathir should be made a columnist for one of our bigger Australian newspapers. Maybe he could rescue the ratings of Channel 10's "The Panel". He is really quite entertaining, reminds me a bit of "Bruce Ruxton in a Songkok" (See here and here). Unfortunately, unlike Bruce (who actually fought for democracy and, despite what the press say, actually believes in a fair go for victims of racism), Dr M is certainly something of an incipient dictator. His UMNO party essentially dominates Malay politics and are quite happy to play the race card. UMNO engineered anti-Chinese race riots back in the late 1960s (see here and here) something Lee Kuan Yew has pointed out.

Many Malaysian Chinese immigrants to Australia can tell you how terrifying that period was. A lot of his attacks on Westerners are also thinly veiled attacks on local liberals and the Chinese minority. He wants to paint these groups as Western stooges and thus not 'true Malays'. And like any good politician he is playing to his domestic constituency, trying to cut the wind out of the sails of the local Islamist groups up there, who are his only real domestic opposition. For the most part Malaysia's Islamists (and Ache's Islamist secessionists in Indonesia) are not anywhere near as loony tunes as their mid-East cousins, and my guess is that we could easily do business with them if they were in power. And Mahathir's administration is quite moderate and modernising compared to them.

Personally I think it is great if Malaysians or Indonesians want to retain their traditional cultures, they certainly shouldn't have to adopt Western values if they don't want. However if Australians want to retain our traditional culture, that is our business too. I certainly don't advocate a return to "White Australia", but even if we had stuck to that short sighted immigration policy, that's was our call. And regional critics of it are just out of order. Malaysia has a discriminatory immigration policy that gives all muslims access without a visa. They certainly don't want Chinese immigrants, and there would be plenty of people from southern China who'd happily move to underpopulated Malaysia. Australian leaders do not tell them how to run their immigration policy, nor should they. But can you imagine what abuse we would cop in Malaysia if Australia said 'visas for non-Christians only'?

Australia's participation in normal neighborhood affairs (defence, economics, whatever) should not depend on anyone trading in their traditions. Keating's "Australia is Asian" push came to grief on precisely these rocks. He bent over backwards and it still wasn't far enough. Interestingly enough many Southeast Asian leaders, Lee Kuan Yew, for example, said they had more respect for Menzies and the older generation of "British oriented" Australian leaders then the new "Asianist" politicians. (See here ).

Mahathir certainly is opposed to gay marriage. Plenty of people in the West do too. Somehow he manages to think there is something racially European about homosexuality. Does this mean he now agrees with those of us who think his charges against his former deputy were trumped up??

That Lee Kuan Yew link is pretty important. Lee Kuan Yew says Australian Prime Minister Menzies' close ties with Tunku Abdul Rahman helped make the birth of an independent Singapore more peaceful than it would have been otherwise. This one example really torpedoes the small "l" liberal mantra than 'British to his bootstraps' Bob Menzies was 'out of touch' with the SE Asian region. few post-Menzies Australian leaders have exercised that kind of influence (subtle, quiet, behind the scenes, very 'Asian' in it's way). Certainly neither Prime Ministers Hawke nor Keating did. Menzies and (his "External Affairs" Ministers) Casey and Sir Paul Hasluck had a more successful track record of regional diplomacy than Paul Keating, whose main "independent foreign policy" initiative was interpreted in the region as promoting US trading interests (ie the APEC vs ASEAN issue). Casey in contrast kicked off the Columbo Plan amongst other things and they didn't have to call General Soeharto daddy.

Article posted by John Ray, June 21st., 2003

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