Former Malaysian leader Mahathir blasts Australia, New Zealand entry into East Asia Summit

Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad on Wednesday lashed out at Australia's participation in next week's inaugural East Asia Summit, saying Canberra will pressure Asian countries into accepting Washington's views on issues such as trade and globalization.

Mahathir, who had conceived of an East Asian caucus as a way to counter U.S. influence in the region, appeared bitter that his vision has been corrupted with the entry of Australia and New Zealand, two culturally European nations that are close allies of Washington.

"Australia is basically European and it has made clear to the rest of the world that it is the deputy sheriff for America," Mahathir told reporters. "Therefore Australia's views would represent not the East, but the views representing the stand of America," he said.

He predicted that the East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur on Dec. 14 will not find a common voice on anything because of the two Pacific nations' presence, as well as Japan's pro-U.S. policies.

The East Asia Summit originally was planned as a gathering of the 10 countries that form the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) plus China, Japan and South Korea. But it was expanded to include India, Australia and New Zealand after ASEAN decided against a narrow geographical definition of East Asia.

Mahathir, who stepped down in October 2003 after 22 years in power, said the new grouping no longer honors his vision of "a consultative group where people of East Asia can sit around the table and take a common stand on WTO and globalization."

"I have always opposed the idea of Australia and New Zealand being in the group simply because Australia and New Zealand are not really East nor are they Asian," Mahathir said. "I am afraid that knowing Asians who are always very polite and do not like to appear to be recalcitrant the views of Australia are likely to dominate this East Asian-Australasian grouping," he said.

This comment showed that he has not forgotten the description by Australia's then-Prime Minister Paul Keating of Mahathir as recalcitrant in 1993. Keating's remark plunged Malaysia-Australia relations to an all-time low and led to Mahathir's visceral dislike for Australia.

Mahathir also warned that Japan might be U.S. spokesman in the East Asia Summit. "We cannot take Japan's stand as being East Asian. It is likely to reflect Japan's very strong relations with the United States," he said. Mahathir said India's participation was fine because it is Asian, reported AP. P.T.

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