Mahathir: Asean not fully tapping its potential

Asean leaders at the group’s inaugural meeting in Bali, Indonesia. (Bernama pic)

BALI: Dr Mahathir Mohamad says Asean is not fully tapping its potential as an economic powerhouse despite having abundant resources and a consumer market of nearly 700 million people.

“This archipelago is full of rich resources, not just oil – there are also a lot of minerals. We are not exploiting them.

“If you dig out the minerals, you can use them to manufacture and add value,” said the prime minister, who is back on the Asean scene after becoming the country’s leader for the second time.

He said although Asean had a population of nearly 700 million who were getting richer, like Malaysians, they were a consumer group.

“They just buy and consume things from the outside, whereas with this kind of population, Asean could be a big manufacturing centre like China.

“China before was very poor, but because the population is very big, local consumption supports the local industry. So Asean can become a very big grouping and become very much richer,” he told Bernama and RTM at the end of the inaugural Asean Leaders Gathering yesterday.

On whether there was any particular industry Malaysia could attract, Mahathir said: “We can see a lot of motorcycles here. Far more than in Malaysia. But not a single one of those motorcycles are made in Asean or Indonesia.

“They buy everything from outside: motorcars, motorcycles. All bought from outside. (But) everything can be made here. If you don’t have the technology, you can import it. You can get foreign investors but we don’t go in that direction.”

Asked if he was disappointed with Asean, he said: “I am not disappointed, but it’s been 15 years since I have been away, and they still don’t integrate well.”

Mahathir said the 10-member grouping should get rid of suspicious feelings to enable it to adhere to the principle of “prosper thy neighbour”.

“There is some lingering feeling that we can’t trust each other. You know with this market, we can be a very big power, but every country has its own laws and policies.”

He said if laws and policies, especially those related to investment, could be standardised, Asean could make faster progress.

“Every country has a different investment law. We should have a common one, (perhaps) not exactly the same, so that it is easier to invest in each other’s country. At the moment, it is not easy,” he said.

On sustainable development, Mahathir said Malaysia had achieved many of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Among the 17 SDGs are no poverty, zero hunger, clean water, quality education, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, sustainable cities and climate action to be achieved by 2030.

“I think if people are conversant on the subject, there is a lot we can contribute because we have achieved a lot of those goals already. If we work together with others, we can benefit from their experience and they can benefit from our experience,” he said.

Mahathir, who is known for his outspoken statements, also took aim at developed nations, saying they were being unfair to developing countries.

“The Western developed countries are telling us, sustainable, sustainable, which means that you can’t do this, you can’t do that. Because this is wrong, this destroys your forest, animals and habitats and all that.

“But when they were developing, they never had these problems, they never talked about sustainable development or anything like that.

“They cut down all their trees. Remember Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest? There is no Sherwood Forest now.

“So now they are telling us that we must absorb the carbon dioxide that they produce. It is not fair,” he said.