TOKYO — Regional free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership are not always beneficial for member nations, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Tuesday at the 22nd Future of Asia conference in Tokyo.
“I don’t think the TPP is a good thing for Malaysia or even for other countries,” he told the Nikkei conference, reiterating his past criticism of the trade agreement reached by 12 governments late last year. Mahathir stressed that nations were obliged to agree to trade rules that could affect their “freedom of action” — something that could be especially problematic for less-developed states.
“When the economies are at different levels, you cannot apply standard formulas,” he said, noting that while Malaysia is a TPP participant, it has yet to ratify the pact.
However, on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ drive for deeper economic integration, Mahathir voiced his support. The ASEAN Economic Community “does not impose a standard formula for all,” he said. “The poorer countries must be given time and must not be restricted in the way they manage their economies, so that they can catch up with the rich countries.”
Mahathir’s disapproval of the “Western” style of doing things, be it in trade or politics, was apparent throughout his appearance — particularly when he spoke about democracy in the ASEAN region. Western nations have often criticized Southeast Asian countries for their democratic shortcomings, and Mahathir fired back.
“For democracy to work well, it will take time,” he said. “I would say that you have to tolerate some of the wrong things done by people who are trying to be democratic. Among the developed democracies of the West, there seems to be no toleration. If you are not doing what they are doing, if you are not as liberal as they are, then you are not democratic.
“But it is really difficult for a new country [to suddenly become democratic]. We need to deal with the multiracial population, we need to have some control over even the media, because we don’t want the people to be agitating all the time to overthrow the government and sabotage the economy. I would say that you need a little time, and you need to be more tolerant.”
This was Mahathir’s 18th appearance at the annual Future of Asia conference. He led Malaysia for 22 years, and at 90 years of age, he remains an energetic and eloquent speaker. Asked about his secrets of longevity and health, he said: “One is, never overeat. My mother always told me, that when the food tastes good, that’s the time you must stop eating.”
He explained the reason. “Later on, as a doctor, I realized why. When the food is good, you tend to overeat; and when you overeat, your stomach increases in size, and in order to stop your hunger, you eat more food. That is the problem the world is facing today with obesity: people are eating too much.”
And the other secret? “Keep on working,” he said. When retired patients would come to see him, Mahathir said he advised them to continue “some form of work.” – Nikkei Asian Review