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Gore's Mistakes in Malaysia

Elaine Y. Wan

President Clinton may be successful in convincing our nation that he is still a leader with morals and ethics, but Vice President Al Gore's speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit last week brings into question the morality of our nation's political and economic motives in the Pacific.

The sixth APEC summit was held in Malaysia in an attempt to discuss the Pacific region's economic crises which have severely affected Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines, and the adoption of reforms recommended by the International Monetary Fund. The conference called for a $10 billion aid package funded by America, Japan, and the World Bank to race emergency loans to the hard-hit countries.

In conjunction with this proposal of aid, Gore delivered a speech blatantly rebuking his host country's suppression of democracy while praising Malaysians who have rallied against the government. While Gore fervidly elaborated that democracies cope better with economic crises, encouraging protesters cheering in the background, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed and his top officials listened to his speech with disgust.

If you were invited to a potluck Thanksgiving dinner, would you complain that the turkey you brought was scrumptious but that the other ethnic dishes did not appeal to your tastebuds? If we represent a civilized society with political toleration, then this is one of the instances which we will look back on with a few doubts.

The purpose of the summit was to allow the leaders of the Pacific Rim and the United States to suggest measures and financial strategies to revive economic growth and stabilize currency and stock markets which have influenced international trade in Japan and Western nations. Gore should have stuck to his agenda of reviving the Asian economy instead of creating more instability by bluntly commenting on the current political issues in Malaysia. Our role in APEC is to provide financial help and suggest strategic options. Gore's view could have been stated more diplomatically at a more economically stable period. President Clinton was too overwhelmed by the Iraqi affair to attend the meeting but said Gore's view reflected his own.

Four days after Gore's encouragement, anti-government activists moved into Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, demanding the Prime Minister's resignation and the reinstatement of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who had been incarcerated for abuse of office and illegal sodomy. Police were called to the site and forced to spray the adamant protesters with diluted irritating chemicals.

In September, Mahathir criticized Asia's financial weakness as linked to international currency and banned the trading of the national currency outside the country in an attempt to pull foreign investments out of Malaysia. Mahathir's actions severely heightened tensions between Malaysia and the United States and may have served as one of the underlying incentives of Gore's speech.

This is not the first time the United States has used its economic influence to invoke change in other countries' political directions. After all, it is our supposed political objective to spread democracy to all corners of the globe.

Last June, President Clinton denounced China's use of force in the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. He also discussed democracy in a manner that was not agreeable with the government leaders of China but ended the trip praising President Jiang Zemin's leadership and envisioning China's switch to democracy. China is strategically more important than Malaysia since it is bigger and is a major player in the international market, so the United States unveiled the debate on Tiananmen Square in such a way that China wouldn't lose face. Apparently, all men are created equal but not all countries are treated with the same respect, especially if you are a small Pacific nation that closed out its ports to American ships.

The IMFhas provided nearly $120 billion to the hard-hit countries to help bolster their feeble economies, but in return the nations have followed measures that have sent interest rates soaring and unemployment rising. The 21 leaders present at APEC left the summit with some hovering skepticism and Malaysia was left to deal with enhanced civil strife.