Awkward moments at ASEAN Summit in Singapore

November 17, 2018

Awkward moments at ASEAN Summit in Singapore

by mergawati zulfakar

Image result for asean summit 2018

IT is an ASEAN homecoming for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the summit hosted by Singapore. The last time he attended an ASEAN Summit was in Bali 15 years ago where then Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri gave a tearful farewell speech.

This week at the 33rd ASEAN summit, all eyes will be on the Prime Minister again as he sits down next to another female leader who he has been critical of in recent weeks.

Image result for aung san suu kyi and mahathir in singapore

And because of ASEAN’s way of doing things, the seating arrangement will be done in alphabetical order – which means Dr Mahathir will be seated next to Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

In his Address at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September, Dr Mahathir blamed Myanmar authorities, including a Nobel Peace Laureate, for closing their eyes to the fate of Muslims in Rakhine state who were being murdered and forced to flee their homes.


In an interview conducted the same week in New York, the Prime Minister made it clear that Malaysia would no longer lend its support to Suu Kyi over her handling of the Rohingya. He remarked that Suu Kyi seemed to be a “changed person” and he had lost faith in her.

For years, it was taboo for ASEAN leaders to even mention the word “Rohingya” during their meeting, skirting the issue by using words like Muslims and Rakhine state, bearing in mind ASEAN’s non-interference in the domestic affairs of another country.

But the situation became worse, and it is understood that Malaysia started raising the matter during the leaders’ retreat as recent as three years ago.

“The leaders’ retreat is where they can raise any issue but it will be unrecorded. But when we saw no serious efforts from Myanmar, Malaysia started using ‘Rohingya’ at official meetings,” said an official familiar with the issue.

“Obviously, Myanmar didn’t like it. It was an affront to them. We all know this is beyond the red line for them but we did it,” he added.

And Suu Kyi, who has been attending these summits, showed her displeasure. “You could tell from the body language and all that. She did not like it,” said an official.

At the ASEAN summit, the 10 leaders would normally pose for a group photo holding hands and giving their best smiles to the international media.Even former Prime MInister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak felt uncomfortable, telling his officers it was awkward.

So how would Suu Kyi handle someone who has lost faith in her? Would she care enough to find time and explain to a leader who once fought hard for Myanmar to be a part of ASEAN despite the world condemnation against the military regime that curtailed her freedom?

As for Dr Mahathir, the rest of ASEAN must be looking to him, wondering what he would do next.

“What else is Malaysia doing after such strident statements by the Prime Minister?No ASEAN country in recent times has singled out the leader of a fellow AASEANean country especially on the United Nations platform,” said an official.

When Dr Mahathir says he no longer supports Suu Kyi, what does he mean exactly? Suu Kyi is a legitimate leader who is still popular among her people.

“What is it that you want to do when you make that statement? What message are you sending? “How do you translate it through Malaysia’s foreign policy,” asked an observer.

“Malaysia must realise there could be some repercussion over such remarks. It may affect not only relations with Myanmar but also other ASEAN countries because “we are like a family”.

Whatever the Prime Minister utters is officially national position. Which means officials will have to rationalise it and implement it in the best way that will protect and promote Malaysia’s interests, not only in its relations to the country concerned but also ASEAN and globally.

For Malaysia to play a constructive role, it is important to protect and maintain some level of goodwill and trust. Putting it simply, it is vital to maintain good relations and keep the communication lines open”.–Mergawati Zulfakar

An official admitted that any statement deemed critical of leaders of another country could diminish any measure of trust that remains between Malaysia and Myanmar.

“In ASEAN or even Asia as a whole, face saving is very important. You do not humiliate, you don’t admonish if you want to maintain relations and some form of trust,” the official said.

Going tough on the Rohingya issue started in Najib’s time. Is Dr Mahathir’s speech at UNGA an indication that the current Government is not compromising and will take an even tougher stance on this issue?

Whatever the Prime Minister utters is officially national position. Which means officials will have to rationalise it and implement it in the best way that will protect and promote Malaysia’s interests, not only in its relations to the country concerned but also ASEAN and globally.

For Malaysia to play a constructive role, it is important to protect and maintain some level of goodwill and trust. Putting it simply, it is vital to maintain good relations and keep the communication lines open.

Mergawati Zulfakar –

16 thoughts on “Awkward moments at ASEAN Summit in Singapore

  1. In defense of Malaysia,I say, how can we remain silent about genocide in Myanmar! ASEAN did nothing about auto-genocide in Cambodia. In fact, we supported the Khmer Rouge in The United Nations. It was too polite to comment. As a result, 1.5 million Cambodians were brutally murdered. ASEAN can no longer at this time remain silent about over the suffering and fate of the Rohingyas in Myanmar.–Din Merican

  2. Did the right thing. Is Malaysia going to stay silent when state-sponsored terrorism against a minority group occurs in a neighbouring country ?

  3. There is other venues and times for discussions of such sensitive issues.

    What if the other members start pointing fingers at Malaysia’s “racist-cides”, “relegious-cides” and eductional-cides” ?
    at Philippines’ “drug trafficker-cides” ?

    It would be disruptive, chaos and divisive.
    The Asean spirit of cooperations and objectives would be destroyed or diminished, because its ” Judiciary System ” broken.

  4. There are other times and venuse for discussions of such sensitive internal issues.

    What if the other members start pointing fingers at
    Malaysia’s ” racist-cides”, “relegious-cides ” and eductional-cides “?….and more
    Philippines ” drug trafficker-cides ” ?

    There would be chaos and disruptive.
    The Asean spirit of cooperations and its objectives would be diminished or destroyed, because it’s ” Judiciary System ” would be broken.
    It can be very divisive.

  5. Octo seems to have forgotten Malusia’s very own scandals (besides the universal 1MDB Klepto thingy) – things like blown up daughters of the Great Khan plus other apparently motiveless murders, missing ‘proselytizing’ pastors/Shia charity workers (extra-judicially rendered), forced childhood conversions, corpse snatching, female genital mutilation and state sanctioned polygamy/ pedophilia..

    He might not have been personally responsible, but he is now left holding the ‘balls’. He might as well suck his own eggs, as he ain’t no paragon of virtue. Only thing is, The Lady will outlast him and will do things her own way.

    CLF, saya pun mudah lupa when it is politically convenient.–Din Merican

    • Just an aside, he and sidekick Pek Moh, almost annihilated the Penans with their hare-brained Bakun Dam. If that ain’t a form of displacement genocide, what is it?

      The Orang Asal in the Peninsula are still suffering encroachments in their traditional hunting gathering lands – especially under the Islamist state gomen. What about the retro engineering coal mining by none other than PKR ($) bird-brain deputy CM in Sabah’s nature reserves?

      No need to criticize Others-lah, just because they are persecuting your brothers in religion who are displaced – while millions more are suffering in MENA, under the hands of their own coreligionists.

      Brownie points aren’t hypocritical. Show that you are indeed more Just before opening your gab. A***h, doesn’t micromanage recalcitrance.

      I am aghast at the Rohingya genocide – but it doesn’t really compare with the self inflicted tribal and religious ravages and outrages prevalent in MENA (Yemen, Syria, Kurdistan etc) and Africa (NE Nigeria, Mali, Chad, Sudan, CAR, Burkina Faso etc)

  6. Just wish the lady and PM Lee talks about Malaysia’s second caste issue and conscious effort to hide the 15 year sunset clause in Reid Commission, disguised through a 1969 fiasco.

  7. Aung San Suu Kyi was promoted by the West for the simple reason that it was calculated that she could be used to create a state which could be an asset in the ongoing campaign to encircle China. When she ran off to Beijing as soon as she became the leader of Myanmar, the Western establishment was aghast and she became persona non grata and a campaign opened up against her. It really had nothing to do with the Rohingya. Since when has the Western establishment cared about persecution of Muslims? If it hadn’t been that, it would have been something else.

    • I believe Mahathir understands that, but he just seizes the opportunity for his own domestic religious politics.

  8. The comments (not once but twice) about the Lady by our PM ought to have been said behind closed doors…that is the issue here…

  9. All we asked for is consistency in MY govt stands. We have seen enough of contradicting, “cakap tak serupa bikin” examples (East Timor, Fiji coup).

  10. CLF and LeMoy are on the spot.

    Ultimately, it is the big western powers, mostly through proxies and interference, battling for dominance and influence in creating problems/ instability, at the expense of others, with the outdated encirclement and containment of China. It is too near, too many for comfort for any nation.

    ASEAN is a platform for resolving problem and nurture peace and stability through mutual respect and cooperation.

    Perhaps, we need to set up a ”mini Asean ” of our own with persons of quality, fairness ,integrity , competence and sincerity,to spend value time and effort to look into the matters, resolve the issues facing the tribal and indigenous, race and religion that are relevant to our people, life culture and country changing socio-economic , education and ITC environments.

  11. Let me start by firt saying kudos to Mahathir for coming back into power, especially to wright his wrong, recociling with the political enemy while punishing his own man who is corrupted. But I’m quite suprised by his criticism agaist Aung San Suu Kyi , who actually is another Anwar kind of Myanmar, in the sense of being wrongly abused, acused and imprisonee for so long. Perhaps it is prompted by brotherhood to the Bengalis or a stunt for his own political gain. If it’s for the latter reason, I just wish that he remember how Najib ended up by taking the chance of condemning Aung San Suu Kyi to cover up his corruption and distracting the people’s attention to his nationalism retoric. I think Mahathir step over the line and barked at the wrong tree, while the true culprit of the crisis enjoys impunity .

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