Speaking to reporters after the opening of the Peopleís Progressive Party annual general meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, Mahathir said:
"As far as we are concerned, Indonesia is an independent country, and if it wants to do something, it should be allowed to do something.
"If you say that in so doing, it would damage itself, that still is the right of Indonesia. Otherwise we are not independent because we are always being forced by somebody else to do certain things.''
Mahathir said that even if "they (Indonesia) want to make a mess for themselves, they have a right to.''
Malaysians generally must be very concerned by such a public statement by the Prime Minister, which cannot and should not be the official policy of the government.
In the modern global society, where there is a high degree of interdependence, every country must act with a heightened sense of good neighbourliness to ensure that it does not intentionally cause damage to the interests of neighbouring countries, and it is unthinkable that if Indonesia or any country for that matter is contemplating a proposed course of action which could cause enormous harm to its own economy and those of neighbouring countries, the banner of national sovereignty and independence sholuld be raised to justify its right to act in utter disregard of its international and regional responsibilities.
Mahathirís statement is particularly unfortunate especially at a time when there are increasing regional and international concerns whether the Indonesian economy and politics would deteriorate to a situation which would adversely affect not only Indonesia, but the regional economies as well - and in particular, whether President Suharto would end his three decades of rule in the shambles which ushered him into power in the first place in 1966.
Mahathirís stand is unfortunate for another reason. There are now fears that the uncontrolled new forest fires in Indonesia, aggravated by the inability of the Indonesian authorities to deal with the problem because of the worsening economic crisis, could bring back the regional haze and another environmental catastrophe.
If Indonesia has the unchallenged national sovereign right to do or not to do what it wants, then the neighbouring countries have no right to ask Indonesia to check the forest fires to prevent the recurrence of another regional environmental catastrophe.
In fact, the very concept of ASEAN would be undermined if individual nations insist on its sovereign right to acts of commission or omission in utter disregard of its repercussions on neighbouring countries.
While respecting the national sovereign rights of Indonesia, the Malaysian Government must also be responsible to the Malaysian people by raising with the Indonesian authorities its concerns about any course of action which the Indonesian government proposes to take during the current economic crisis which could adversely affect neighbouring economies. If the Malaysian Government is not prepared to act in this manner, then what is the use of ASEAN Finance Ministers meeting in Jakarta this week or the ASEAN Environment Ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur in the next few days?