Japan on Sunday rebuffed American requests to use aid to put pressure on Cambodia to hold free and fair elections, while the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations listened non-committally as U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright urged them to work for democratic change in Burma.
Albright came face to face Sunday with the polite indirection of Asia and of the nine-member ASEAN, which values collegiality and consensus above all virtues.
ASEAN officials almost never “tell it like it is,” which Albright has promised will be her trademark.
Albright’s forceful admonitions to ASEAN about its responsibilities in Burma, Cambodia and North Korea, where the United States would like the organization to contribute $10 million a year to promote nuclear nonproliferation, were predictable, a senior ASEAN diplomat said Sunday. “We expected something of a lecture, and that’s what we heard.”
But Albright has also heard some lecturing in return, in particular from Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is known for his resentment of what he considers Western arrogance.
On Cambodia, neither ASEAN nor Japan was willing to hold back the bulk of their aid to press Hun Sen, the former co-prime minister who took power this month by defeating the forces of his rival, to keep his promises for free and fair elections, as the United States, the European Union and Australia call for.
Half of Cambodia’s budget is foreign aid, and Japan’s $153 million a year represents half of that. Japan says it has four conditions for continuing aid: respect for human rights, maintenance of constitutional government, respect for the 1991 Paris accords that led to the 1993 elections, and free and fair elections in May for a new government.
While those conditions are not now being met, Hun Sen has promised to meet them, and that is sufficient, said Nobuaki Tanaka, spokesman for Japanese Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda.
“There is a commitment - that we respect.”
Mahathir, the Malaysian prime minister, while polite to Albright in person, has been making some of the choice anti-American statements that keeps him so popular in the developing world.
He criticized what he sees as an American assumption that Asia needs its protection, first during the Vietnam War and, today, from “other powerful Eastern countries,” like China. “But against all odds Vietnam, and its much derided soldiers in black pajamas won against the greatest power on earth, and Asian dominoes did not fall, but instead prospered,” he said.
xxxx MEMBERS ASEAN comprises Brunei, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.