On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Stay focused on summit issues

The 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec)
will see the presence of leaders from countries that matter.

We all know Indonesian President B.J. Habibie and President Joseph Estrada of
the Philippines would want to be on the world stage despite their earlier
decision to stay away.

It is hard to imagine Estrada, with his fondness for theatrics, missing a
photography session with President Bill Clinton.

Never mind if the former B-grade actor has little interest or knowledge in

There is always the diplomats to fall back on. They can be relied upon for the
prepared text. A little something like those lines from a script for a movie,
you may say.

But before that, someone ought to tell him at Malacanang, diplomacy is all
about national interest  that's the
bottom line.

Leaders can preach aloud about lofty global ideals but this won't do their
countrymen much good if they return home empty-handed.

They have to secure something tangible from the talks and  the bilateral meetings.

And then, of course, there is Habibie. For all his bravado, he has also
requested for a meeting with Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

With all the starving, burning, looting and lynching back home, it is
surprising  he still has time for other
people's problems.

Meanwhile, President Bill Clinton and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien
have decided to snub Dr Mahathir by refusing to one-to-one talks.

Their decision was based on “deep concern'' over the treatment of Datuk Seri
Anwar Ibrahim.

No matter how one looks at it, it is a blow to Malaysia. Not just to Dr
Mahathir. Let's be honest here.

But consider the bright side, too. Dr Mahathir could also ask Clinton
embarrassing questions such as his back-ache, his affair with Monica Lewinsky,
perjury and the misuse of cigars.

Clinton is more likely to thank Dr Mahathir for criticising the CNN's continual
show of Clinton embracing the former White House intern.

Should Chretien lecture Malaysia about police high handedness, it would be pure

During last year's Apec summit in Vancouver, the rights of Canadians were
violated when protesters were arrested, pepper-sprayed and manhandled by

Many of the protestors from non-governmental organisations, it seemed, were
beaten to a pulp.

Suits were filed by protestors alleging their right to freedom of expression
was violated. It is all very familiar for Chretien, really.

The French-speaking leader had hoped to use the Vancouver summit to raise his
international stature.

In the end, the summit was remembered for its open display of police

Finally, someone ought to tell them, perhaps subtly, that Malaysians expect
their guests to be gracious to their host.

It is not just an Asian value or tradition. It is a universal value, very much
like human rights.

Apec leaders need to get their focus right. There is just too much at stake
here with the regional economic crisis threatening to grow into a global

We are talking about the jobs and the welfare of the ordinary people. Apec
leaders have a responsibility to us.

There is also the danger that the US officials would be preoccupied with the
looming confrontation with Iraq.

After 10 years, Apec should not be allowed to be just another talk shop where
meaningless lengthy communiques are ritually issued at the end of the

People have begun to question the relevance of the organisation conceptualised
in the context of growth.

But it is obvious now there are too many holes and flaws in the financial
system and that all is not well with the system, a point Dr Mahathir brought up
in Vancouver.

He was then ridiculed for his attacks on the dangers of speculative

When capital controls were introduced in Malaysia  the critics charged that such controls would
only have short-term gains.

The imposition of capital controls, they argued, would prevent foreigners from
investing in Malaysia. The point here is that Malaysians want serious
investors, not speculators.

Less talked about is the fact that no one has said that the fixed rate of
RM3.80 to a US$1 is an unrealistic figure. In fact, many said the ringgit is
under valued.

The attention of the world will also be on the American attempts to stop
Japan's US$30 billion promised aid to Asia.

The Apec summit will be timely for all thinking Malaysians to ponder what their
priorities are and which countries can be counted upon to deliver real help to
get us out of the financial crisis.

But we are living in interesting times. Foreign leaders who come to our land to
bash us are suddenly regarded as heroes by some.

Notes: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (November 12 – 18, 1998 : Kuala