The reform of globalisation is at the very heart of mahathirism
Dr. sc. Jasna Plevnik
The world is full of states and statesmen who can not make globalisation work in the interest of their own country. Dr Mohamad Mahathir is a statesman who managed to overcome the negative impact of globalisation in 1997 when Malaysia and other souteastasian countries suffered financial crises due to globalisation. And globalisation is working out for Malaysia yet again. Although there are those who do not approve Mahathir's actions over the years of crises, nor his opinions of the powerful few that manipulate the financial world; he still is globally known and acknowledged as a leader who managed to save his country from instability, total sale out and has actually improved the economy of the country. The helping hand was his own, and not the MMF 's. He introduced the selective capital and currency control to save the Malaysian economy from ''greedy currency traders and manipulative devaluation by the Asian tigers'' (Mahathir,2001) Joseph Stiglitz praised this decision as brilliant and has some years after that accused the MMF of causing the destruction of Argentine economy. Argentina was not so fortunate as it did not have ''its own Mahathir'' capable of imposing his own rules on the global financial institutions and finding a way out of the crisis.
Many developing countries that were relying on the support of the MMF and the World Bank have not managed to stabilise their economies nor were they able to fully comprehend the sophisticated and often hypocritical argumentation of the experts from the globalisation leading countries that transpired at the meetings of the
World trade organisation or the MMF. Highly developed countries generously subsidise their home industry and agriculture and go on to state that the economies of the developing countries are inefficient. Competitive textile and agricultural production of the poorer countries is kept at bay by the many complicated and protective regulations.
Globalisation and the new realities is a work that comprehensively supports the principle that globalisation should be interpreted on basis of real facts and not on basis of blind belief in the free market dogma. The book is a collection of the Doctor's speeches. Using a simple, thorough and justifiably repetitive argumentation, it demonstrates what globalisation signifies for countries with small developing economies. It shows whose interests are being served. It lists the basic factors of globalisation and analyses the ever-present interests of capital while stressing what small economies can do to profit from the global economy merge.
Mahathir's sentiment can be interpreted as antiglobalisation. However, he is not opposed to globalisation. His politics have over decades turned Malaysia into one of the most globalised and most open countries of the world. Malaysia has in 2002 suffered another blow from the negative developments in the information technology industry and the economic slow down of Japan and America that caused a slow down in the Malaysian export to electronic goods. However, it took no time to recover. With a healthy foreign currency reserve and a small foreign debt, Malaysia was able to avoid the escalation of the crisis into the proportions of 1997.
The mahathirism ideas are important for the reform of globalisation governance
Although Mahathir has, after two decades in leadership in Malaysia, left his premier job at the end of October 2003, mahathirism lives on. It lives on not only as a world view that will continue to be current for Malaysia, Southeast Asia, the Islamic countries, underdeveloped countries of the global South or the G-15 countries, but as an important notion for the understanding of globalisation and a platform for it's restructuring into an instrument that will also allow for the wealth growth of the undeveloped countries. According to mahathirism the globalisation governance so far has been in favour of the wealthy and technologically developed countries while the problems that globalisation creates in the small countries have been ascribed to those countries and their governments.
Mahathir admitted to not fully comprehending the real meaning of the free trade until the escalation in Southeast Asian financial crisis. It was then, that Malaysia realised how little knowledge it had about the international financial systems about hard currency trade, about monies being ''moved'' without ever actually making a move.
The request for the reform of globalisation is at the very heart of matathirism. Mahathir is more convincing because he managed to demonstrate by example that there are alternative rules to those offered by the leading managers of globalisation in the MMF, The World Band, The World Trade Organisation and the financial manipulators.
For Mahathir, globalisation is just another man made concept and as such it is imperfect and needs correction. The globalisation tempo for the developing countries needs to be slowed down as the industrial countries also took more than a century to get ready for globalisation. Mahathir notes that the EU member states needed 50 years to remove the trade barriers and it still is an ongoing process.
There is nothing sacred in the current concept of globalisation that allows for no change, even radical change to it - so that it brings minimum risk to those who accept it and implement it. (Mahathir, 2002. 10).
Mohamad Mahathir identifies the hard currency traders as the most dangerous factor of globalisation. By this, he demonstrates excellent understanding of the reality in which it is not the global trading, nor the foreign investment, nor the ability to trade in real time that is the novelty of globalisation, but it is in the global financial trade - the hard currency and stock trade that are the essence of globalisation. According to economic globalisation experts the only global market is the currency market. That market being decentralised and coordinated outside the countries destabilises those very countries. The currency trading is six times bigger that the world trades and has been on the constant rise since 1983. For Mahathir, to make a legitimate profit, one must not create poverty as a side effect. A currency trader does not care about the damages he caused for millions of people and for destroying their future. Mahathir had strong belief in his crisis solving model and he entered into a sad political debate with his vice premier Anwar Ibrahim who was pro MMF oriented. The initially had a private confrontation that escalated into a public confrontation resulting in Anwar being accused of sodomy. Some assessed this period as the time when Mahathir lost his compass due to fear of losing support from old industry that had been most hit by the currency manipulators. Some political analysers maintain that the biggest manipulators have in fact been the Malaysians themselves. They pushed the limits of their investment potential to the maximum and when the bubble burst - they ended up in the red.
An acceptable globalisation is a regulated globalisation
According to Mahathir the greatness of those who run a country is measured by their ability to take their country through globalisation while inflicting minimum pain on the inhabitants. An acceptable globalisation is a regulated globalisation, however it has little hope of taking place, stated the Doctor towards the end of 2002.
A globalisation without control, or regulations is according to the Doctor the worst possible state of affairs between countries that is dominated by hypocrisy as wealthy countries demand that the poor counties introduce rule of law and at the same time de-regulate all aspects of life. The developing countries are being asked to adhere to the market forces that are not local, but foreign. A just globalisation should involve competition of equals and the economic efficiency should sometimes be sacrificed in the interest of the poor.
It is important to have an economy that is ready for liberalisation. Until such time, protectionism is a legitimate phase in the preparation for the inevitable. Globalisation can survive only if it is acceptable for the poor as well, and if the powers who create the world order rules accept the fact that the poor countries have to get wealthy in the same way the wealthy countries became what they are today.
New World order and fair-play
Mahathir contemplates the world order from the geopolitical and geoeconomic point of view and that is why his ideas about nationalism, sovereignty, capitalism, Islam and authoritharism are useful in the understanding of the world order that is being shaped by globalisation. In all of his speeches he warns about the process of creation of the ''absolute capitalism'' order that can now show its ''capitalist teeth'' as the socialism and communism have perished. The Gulf War demonstrated to Mahathir that there is but one power and one new concept in the international relations according to which no one has a right to sovereignty should the USA estimate that their codex of behaviour has been broken.
This imbalance of power can only be changed by the formation of new powerful regional economic and political blocks and groups. Nonaligned Movement is regarded by Mahathir as a forum that is not going to merely be a client in the First world in which the UN have no say in any matter.
He constantly cries for unification of Asia because a unified Asia can act as a counterbalance on the globalisation scale. Mahathir does not see the future of Asia as separate from the future of the world. However, in the current division of the world into regional blocks, Asia needs to be unified and to have its own monetary fund.
Mahathir's "Look East Policy"
Maharthir's ideas about the inevitablity of globalisation of the Malaysian economy and the necessity of active participation in the information technology revolution have been influenced by a Japanese expert on globalisation Kenichi Ohmae, who has served many years as Maharthir's adviser and has helped shape the Malaysian path, the protection of home industry and the building of local know how. Ohmae has a reputation of a hyperglobalist. He is the author of many works and slogans such as ''the world without frontiers'' and ''trypolar trade''. Mahathir was a statesman prepared to include his projects in the building of the Malaysian path. One of these projects is the multimedia super corridor (MSC). This is a dream come true for any advisor.
Ohmae has personally participated in the development of the MSC in 1993 to help Malaysia keep the pace with the digital world. Dr. Mahathir accepted Ohmae's recommendation to experiment with the future and to create a completely new integrated city - a Cyberjaya, in other words a Cyber-community. In his new book The invisible continent: four strategic imperatives of the new economy Ohmae writes that the Multimedia Super Corridor is being successfully constructed and will in future cover all of Malaysia. Round 300 companies, 30 of which are ranked as the top world companies are already working at the site that has been chosen for the MSC ant that is an area 50 kilometres wide and 50 kilometres long in the immediate vicinity of Kuala Lumpur. This area is ruled in accordance to the Cyber law that has been passed by the Parliament in 1998. The first electronic government has ''relocated'' to Putra Jaya in 1999.
An important inspiration for Mahathir also comes from Deng Xiaoping who said that the truth could only be found amongst facts, a saying so often cited in Mahathir's speeches. On this unique methodological platform - One should not believe in the ideal as visions of globalisation but in facts about globalisation.- Mahathir has shaped his approach to globalisation that is characterised by only a few facts and a lot of nonfacts.
The country that has inspired Mahathir is Japan, as it rose out of the ashes after the World War II. Its special significance for him has been demonstrated in his work ''Look East Policy'' that was published in 1981. Two years after that, he visited Japan for the first time as a premier. Ohmae became Maharthir's advisor since then and had worked with him on the Look East programs. Mahathir's successor premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has stated that he will continue with the ''Look East Policy''.
Mahathir has always been an ''open premier'', a leader who was on a constant learning curve and someone with strong national feelings but yet free to propagate the culture and values of others. The content of "Look East Policy " takes for granted the fact that Malaysians should adopt the Japanese work ethics and business skills to attract the Japanese capital. More than two decades of this policy have been marked with a strong transfer of knowledge and capital between the two countries. Today, round 8 thousand Malaysian students are studying in Japan or go there for periodical technical-technological specialisation. More than 1300 Japanese companies are doing business in Malaysia and the trade has grown from 11,8 billions ringgits in 1980 to 100 billions ringgits in 2003. Japan is the third ranked trade partner of Malaysia after America and Singapore.
Mahathir was successful with his "Look East Policy", and the relations between the two countries have never been more stable. However in year 2000 Japan stops being the primary inspiration for Mahathir and becomes more of a model that should not be copied because as he himself states- his old fashioned taste does not like the idea of young Japanese people embracing the Western culture and dyeing their hair blond.
Umma and globalisation
Malaysia is an example of a successful combination between Islam and modernisation within which the establishment has worked on Islamic renewal. In his speech titled Islam and globalisation and delivered at the meeting of Muslim intellectuals and businessmen in Doha on 11 November 2001, Mahathir stated that all the Muslim countries are developing countries and will without a globalisation strategy of their own, become a part of the North Atlantic imperia.
According to Mahathir Muslim countries have no influence on world business while Muslim extremist are continuing to attack Muslim governments putting them in danger of missing out on the information revolution as they have previously missed out on the industrial because Muslims continue to be preoccupied with religious and political quarrels. The development of umma has to be strengthened with the information technology and able to cope with the challenges of globalisation because, according to Mahathir's estimates - the Muslims are capable of waging an information technology jihad.
As for those Muslims who believe that they should let Allah determine their destiny Mahathir stated: ''It is strange that they are trying to prevent the Muslims from helping themselves. Why do not they let Allah stop us if that is His will.'' (Mahathir, 2002).
Mahathir has, at the meeting of the Islamic Organisation Conference in Putrajaya in 2003 invited the Muslims to unite in order to "overwhelm" the Jews. That is a speech that many have condemned; however they have not listened to it or read it carefully. The essence of the speech is not and invitation to Muslims to take to violence but to bake an information technology jihad.
''Islam is not here only for the seventh century, and Islam is not wrong, but the interpretation of it by our scientists may be wrong.'' (Mahathir, 2003).
Mahtahir is intentionally radical in his speeches in order to get the public attention and his political language within the international political arena has often been characterised as controversial, heretical or politically incorrect. The style in which Mahathir ''was selling'' his ideas globally reminded me of his intellectual counterpart with an equally strong national sense, Shintaro Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo with whom he had published a book titled ''Voice of Asia'' in 1994. Ishihara, who like Mahathir has been in politics for decades, stated in an interview how he wished that after he died people were to say: ''He is finally gone. Thank God for that!'' Indifference would have been the worst reaction according to him.
This to a certain extent marks Mahathir's departure from the international politics stage. Some said ''Thank Allah for that'', some cried, but no one was indifferent.
* Review of the book Mahathir Mohamad: Globalisation and the new realites .Sarajevo, Ljiljan, 2002. Published in "International Studies ", year. IV, No.1, 2004, pages. 95-132