Mahathir and Malaysian government  missed a great opportunity to influence world debate on globalisation by allowing the Prime Ministerís personal likes and dislikes to dictate national policy

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and the Malaysian Government have missed a great opportunity to influence the world debate on globalisation by allowing the Prime Ministerís likes and dislikes to  dictate national policy and opt out of the 30th World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in Davos - dubbed the world's top networking and brainstorming session.

On his return at KLIA on Monday, Mahathir said he had hoped to use last week's forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos to  express his fears about the West's interpretation of globalisation.

He said: "To expect corporations in developing countries to compete with corporations from  developed countries which have already merged is ridiculous. And that  means that we will be swallowed up.

"I'm not against globalisation but I'm against the interpretation of globalisation."

In his speech a day earlier in London  to Malaysian students, Mahathir touched on free trade and globalisation and pointed out that US  President Bill Clinton had said in Davos that  the  United States had 106 months of strongest trade expansion.

Mahathir said: "During these 106 months Indonesia lost two million jobs, went through riots and killings. Thailand, South Korea and Malaysia also sufferred badly."

The best place for Mahathir to express these views is not KLIA or Malaysia Hall in London but  the WEF last week  in Davos, which was  attended by some  2,000 movers and shakers on the globe including over 30 heads of state or government, 300 political leaders, twelve hundred  top business leaders, 300-400  academic experts and leaders of civil society as well as many Nobel Prize winners.  There were also six hundred of fifty journalists present to cover the Davos meet.

I do not think Mahathir was right or fair when he said that he would be given "two or three minutes" to answer questions, as from the WEF programmes, Mahathir is one of the few Asian leaders who would be taking part in two plenary sessions - the prestigious traditional opening plenary on Friday of the Davos conference "Itís Not The Economy, Itís The Society"  on 28th January 2000 and a second plenary, "The global peace imperative: preventing major conflict in this century".

The second plenary was to deal specifically with issues such as: how to reconcile sovereignty with universal values - such as democracy and human rights; what is the role of nuclear powers and those who are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council; is humanitarian interventionism part and parcel of the new code of international relations; what is the plan for peace.

From the two plenary sessions, Mahathir would have 25 to 30 minutes to expound his views on the two subjects had he gone to Davos.

The Malaysian government should have been in the thick of the  Davos conference  last week, where the world's political and business elite were grappling with  the backlash against free trade and globalization that caused the failure of the  World Trade Organization (WTO) Conference  in Seattle in early December.

Mahathir and  Malaysia should have used Davos as the forum  to demand assurance and answer from the developed world that globalisation is not a  plot by a rich men's club spawning social inequality, job losses and impoverishing millions.

In fact, Davos could have been turned into an occasion for Malaysia to emerge as one of the leading,  sober and respected voices  to demand a  redefinition of globalisation with the development of new rules and tests,where  the fundamental issue is not whether markets are more open or less open which is to  mistake the  means for the end.  The end is   human development and the fundamental question is whether  globalization is helping to lift the poor from poverty; whether it is  empowering the many, not just the few; whether its blessings are shared  widely and  whether it works for working people.

Mahathir could have used Davos to express his appreciation in an international forum  for the NGO demonstrations in  the Seattle WTO Conference which, as he said in his New Yearís Eve message on December 31, 1999, had broken up the WTO Conference and saved "another part of our border" from collapse under the relentless assaults of global capitalism and urge the developed world to heed the Seattle  lesson - that it was  not an  isolationist rejection of  open markets but a  call for new global rules to ensure that globalisation does not  generate growing inequality, both among and within nations,  environmental destruction and a race to the bottom for working people.

It is most unfortunate that the Malaysian government was not represented at the Davos Conference, where globalisation and the technological revolution were the two top items of the agenda.

Malaysians must wonder why the Malaysian Government is co-hosting the Second Global Knowledge Conference in Kuala Lumpur from March 7 to 10, 2000 when it did not send any representative to the Davos Conference which was attended by the top IT personalities in the world, including  Bill Gates, Steven Case, Masayoshi Son.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman