Greater rapport between East and West needed

KL to study regional link to Nafta too: Anwar

THERE should be greater rapport and dialogue between East and West on equal terms, according to Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Speaking to reporters before returning to Malaysia after a two-day visit here, Datuk Seri Anwar said that he feels there are enough elements in the West that are beginning to accept this.

He had made the point in a speech he delivered at the Asia Society’s business conference here on Thursday.

Yesterday, he told reporters that Asian countries should also address their own excesses and recognise the growing demand for greater openness and accountability.

Datuk Seri Anwar said he was worried people might think progress could be measured purely by economic indices. The Asian renaissance he had spoken of during his conference speech needed a cultural and moral dimension too, he said.

Responding to a question on Singapore’s proposal to develop regional linkages with the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), a comprehensive free trade area comprising the United States, Canada and Mexico, he said: “I will bring it up to my Prime Minister and other colleagues to see if it warrants serious attention on our part.”

He said that he had discussed Singapore’s plan with Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on Thursday at a dinner Mr Goh hosted for him at the Mandarin hotel.

“I did talk to him and he passed on some documents on the subject,” said Datuk Seri Anwar, who is also Malaysia’s Finance Minister.

Singapore has said that link-ups between the Asean Free Trade Area, Nafta and other countries could ensure that economic groupings in the Asia-Pacific region remained part of an open global trading system.

Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew said on Thursday at the business conference that the Asia-Pacific region could either be unified or it could split into half if no attempt was made to bring the countries together.

But a Pacific community could not be achieved overnight because Asian countries were at different stages of economic development, he said.

Datuk Seri Anwar said that it was important for Asean countries to speed up the Afta’s implementation before linking with other sub-regional groupings like Nafta and the Australian-New Zealand Free Trade Area (CER – Closer Economics Relations trade agreement).

Asked whether Afta would link up with CER, he said: “It is very premature given that Afta is still in the offing. It is a very slow programme, not rendered competitive with the times.”

In the 30-minute press conference, the Malaysian Deputy Premier also touched on Kuala Lumpur’s relations with Singapore.

He described bilateral relations as “excellent” and “exceptional”.

“We are interlocked in so many areas that it would not be fair of me to treat it as any other country,” said Datuk Seri Anwar.

On the conflicting claims over the island of Pedra Branca, he said that the leaders of the two countries were looking into the matter.

“To the credit of both Singapore and Malaysian leaders, we do recognise that it is an issue we have to address. Talks are progressing very satisfactorily.”

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