The Malaysian Prime Minister That Never Sleeps?
Not many people know the routine of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad, the seventh Prime Minister of Malaysia.
But it is time to set it right.
He wakes up for Subuh, to perform his prayer, after which he may cycle or take a short walk.
By 7.30 AM, he is ready to have his breakfast, a light one, and by 8 AM he is either ready to hear to office, or go through more paper work and documents.
In the recent week long ASEAN Summit and East Asian Summit in Singapore, which President Donald Trump, did not attend, Tun Dr Mahathir was the star of the show for five reasons:
A. How does a 93 year old leader keep to such an active schedule?
B. Is Malaysia back in the driving seat of driving the international agenda?
C. Is the Mahathir Doctrine the basis of East Asian Regionalism?
D. Is ASEAN Summit, the East Asian Summit and APEC Summit all making sense?
E. Is the rest of the leaders in ASEAN able to catch up with Tun Dr Mahathir?
The answer to all of the above is a combination of Yes, maybe and no.
First of all, Tun Dr Mahathir keeps to a healthy and active lifestyle by being “professional”.
Consistent with his own Look East Policy, Tun Dr Mahathir is always on time. In contrast, the news media has found president Roberto Duterte of the Philippines seeking to skip not one but several meetings in order to get some “power naps” up in the hotel rooms.
In international and regional politics, half of life is about showing up. When a leader goes missing, no one around the table is convinced that the replacement is sufficiently empowered to sit in on behalf of the President or Prime Minister.
Just a week prior in the Bloomberg New Economy Forum, Vice President Wang QiShan of China——who rarely attends any private conferences——made it a point to fly to Singapore.
The event was held in Sentosa Island. Even Prime Minister in Waiting Anwar Ibrahim was there.
When Tun Dr Mahathir is capable of attending the ASEAN and East Asian Summit back to back, especially when he himself is a big believer in both events, it inflates the (foreign policy) influence of Malaysia many times over.
The question now is: does Saifuddin Abdullah, the foreign minister of Malaysia, dare to take Malaysia higher now that Tun Dr Mahathir has taken Malaysia to rarefied heights?
As for whether Tun Dr Mahathir is at the front, end and center of driving Malaysia in all key summits, the answer is an unreserved yes.
Since coming back from the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN), where Tun Dr Mahathir has proposed the reformation of the UN Security Council, where two members are needed to make decision to veto any any action, Malaysia has placed UN reforms in the fore front of it’s own institutional revival.
What is needed now is a collection of nation states to take this debate more seriously. In this vein, ASEAN Summit and members of the East Asian Summit should have spoken on this issue much more systematically.
In due course, they would, and they will.
As for whether Mahathir Doctrine can be the basis of East Asian regionalism, where no war ships are allowed to anchor and linger in the waters of ASEAN, this is also a practical suggestion as over the years more and more Chinese and other naval warships have increasingly begun encroaching into Malaysian and other ASEAN waters.
Most of these ships are occasionally within the 12 nautical miles of the territorial waters of ASEAN, including the waters of Malaysia. Such provocation must cease and desist immediately.
As for the ASEAN, East Asian and APEC Summit making sense? Yes they are. All want to promote what is known as “open regionalism” where global trade can continue to prosper.
But at USD 550 million a year, the Sino US trade deficit, in the favor of China to boot, the whole basis of Sino US trade could come unravel, with huge implications on the economic growth of ASEAN, which is usually growing at twice the rate of the GDP of the 34 member states that formed the Organization of Economic and Development (OECD).
But clearly not all the leaders in ASEAN can keep up. Aung San Suu Kyi, the foreign minister of Myanmar, has refused to acknowledge the problem of Rohingya. She has even stubbornly resisted the use of the word “Rohingya”.
In fact, even China has denied that it has detained anywhere between 800,000 to 2 million Uyghur and Han Muslims in Xinjiang, China. Yet such human rights abuses clearly exist.
If the likes of China and Myanmar, do not not buck up, Tun Dr Mahathir will hold these countries responsible.
Malaysia is once again the dynamic leader of ASEAN and East Asian regionalism, including Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation in Papua New Guinea.