Q: We have seen how Gore's remarks have elicited such a tremendous
response from Malaysian leaders and the people. Did he realise --
does he now realise, does the US government realise -- what he has
A: I think he knew that it would produce a response. But I also know
that when he was asked about it the next day, he said: "I'd carry the
message of democracy anywhere I go. Those values are important to
People should look at the section of his speech on democracy.
Everyone is focusing on one sentence.
What he said was that as we move into the next century, as we try to
promote more economic growth, democracy and respect for the rights
of people, freedom of information and expression are essential.
That was his overall message and I hope that message does not get lost
because people are looking at one particular sentence. Let's think
about the overall message.
Q: Why did he choose Apec to make his remarks? The other Apec
leaders have said it wasn't the forum to bring in other, non-trade issues.
A: I'm just speculating because I didn't ask him personally. But I think
was an opportunity to do so. I think there was a feeling that it would be
impossible for him to come to Malaysia and not say something.
The arrest of Anwar and his subsequent beating has provoked
worldwide interest, not just in the US. The world has been following
I think people forget -- and I'm speaking personally about Anwar -- he
is a very well-known individual. He is known personally to leaders
throughout the world.
Sometimes it's easy to forget that when this happens to an individual
that you know personally who has been a friend of yours, and Al Gore
has met Anwar, as have many leaders around the world, you become
very concerned about them as individuals.
In the end, we may read about people like this in newspapers and we
may forget they are real, live human beings.
As someone who knows Anwar, as his counterpart, as the second
person in the government, I think Gore felt that he wanted to say
something and I think he felt he needed to say something and this was
Q: Gore used slogans -- doi moi, people's power, reformasi -- in his
Wasn't he comparing Malaysia to Indonesia, the Philippines under
Ferdinand Marcos? Doesn't the US consider Malaysia a democratic
country? We practise the principles of democracy, and we have
A: We all choose different words. I don't know why he chose those
particular words. But again, I would say let's think about Gore's
message, which was democracy.
Is Malaysia a democracy? Yes, it is. But how do you define a
We in the US call ourselves a democracy. In 1776, we said all men are
created equal. As time passed we have expanded our definition on
what it means to be equal.
One Malaysian newspaper said this morning the voting rate in Malaysia
is higher than in the US, therefore Malaysia is a more representative
This is a misunderstanding of what democracy is all about. Elections
and free elections are an essential component of democracy. But
elections are not by themselves democracy.
Q: Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi issued a
strong statement, warning that should Gore's remarks cause a "rupture
in the harmony" of Malaysian society, the US would have to bear the
A: I was shocked by that statement ... Al Gore, no American leader,
no responsible person, would ever incite anyone to violence.
I was not happy the other night when I was coming in from the airport
with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and we had to divert her
motorcade because there were motorcycles on fire and a
demonstration. That is not the way for people to achieve their political
But at the same time you have to allow people the right of expression
... if you deny people every avenue or opportunity to freely and
peacefully express their views, then obviously there will be some
people who may choose to use other means to express their frustration
or anger. That is unfortunate. But the solution is not to criticise
democracy, but to allow people to express their views freely and
Q: You earlier quoted Gore as saying he was proud to carry the
message of democracy wherever and anywhere he goes. Isn't this
insensitive of the US, and wouldn't this reinforce the impression that the
US is a big bully?
A: Look at it this way. For example, this government, this Prime
Minister was very vocal when people were being killed in Bosnia. But
no one said that that was interference in the internal affairs of Bosnia.
What the Prime Minister did was right and correct.
There are times if you believe personally in a value, something that is
very important to you, you'd express your views.
We as a nation believe that political freedom, economic freedom and
religious freedom are very important and I'm not embarrassed to add
that I do not find democracy disgusting, to use someone else's phrase.
There is nothing disgusting about freedom of speech.
Q: Malaysia recently introduced capital and currency controls. These
have not gone down well with people outside who say this is not the
way to go. But at the same time there are investors already here,
Americans included, who are coping.
Do US investors who may be interested in coming here know the
reality of the situation here?
A: For companies already here, a fixed exchange rate is wonderful for
business planning as it does not have the fluctuations.
That's why US and other foreign companies are happy because they
know exactly what it's going to cost them to do business in Malaysia.
It's the companies outside that are wondering what this means.
A fixed exchange rate does not necessarily reflect the true value of the
money because it's not the result of an agreement between the buyer
and seller. When you say you will only sell ringgit at 3.80 per US
dollar, the buyer will wonder whether he is paying too much or too
Q: Where does the US-Malaysia relationship go from here?
A: I have said before that there has always been a gap between the
rhetoric of the relationship and the reality. And we have moments like
this during the three years I've been here.
When the rhetoric becomes strong, I think it's time for everyone to take
a deep breath and calm down. Let's not shout back and forth. Let's
have an open discussion as friends.
Because the reality is that we are Malaysia's largest trading partner and
We are the biggest source of foreign technology. We have 14,000
Malaysian students in the US. We have to draw a distinction between
the rhetoric and the reality. When the rhetoric gets explosive, it's time
for responsibility; let's calm down and have a friendly and open