Linda Wallace on Tue, 29 Jul 1997 07:57:50 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> blaming soros, the burmese currency crisis

There are many reasons compounding the recent currency crisis in some ASEAN
countries: the effect of the devaluation of the Yen as outlined by
Mackenzie Wark, coupled with, in the case of Thailand in particular, large
foreign borrowing and current account deficits; a high proportion of bank
lending going to finance a property glut; dollar linked exchange rates and
a slowdown in export growth.

I tend to agree with the Bangkok Post leader: "his blaming of Soros for
Southeast Asia's economic woes is vintage Mahathir. While his far-fetched
conspiracy theories may receive a measure of domestic support given his
firm grip on the Malaysian media, for the rest of the world he is beginning
sound like an angry old man"

Recent Malaysian response to an Australian (leaked) secret intelligence
report which details corruption and environmental vandalism by Malaysian
logging companies operating in the South Pacific has been sharp. The
government controlled "New Straights Times" newspaper accused Australia of
being driven by 'awe and envy'. The paper reflects the Malaysian
Government's long standing antagonism at criticism of these Malaysian
timber companies with powerful political connections. It calls these
companies "shining examples" of the success of Malaysian business expanding
into foreign markets. However, environmentalists have warned that the
timber resources of, for example, the Solomon Islands will be exhausted
within a decade because of unsustainable logging practices. Malaysian
companies have been widely criticised for routinely bribing politicians to
gain logging concessions and for clear felling virgin rainforest. The South
Pacifc Forum called for restraints to logging in 1994 after one Malaysian
company was expelled from the Solomon Islands for offering a bag of cash to
a minister in the former government.

During the discussions last week re: ASEAN membership Mahathir was scathing
to those who criticised the admittance of resource rich (timber and
minerals etc) Burma, saying that criticism was western/american inspired
and was aimed at keeping these countries poor. It was not Vietnam as
Mackenzie states here:  "Most western countries are very sceptical about
ASEAN extending to both Vietnam and Burma" -- the countries to be admitted
at this most recent meeting were Laos, Burma and Cambodia. Vietnam was
admitted two years ago. Though for sure, there are many (western) countries
concerned not only about about ASEAN's extension countries, but also about
ASEAN's existing members, in terms of democracy: "Indonesia which so
recently demonstrated the virtues of the one party poll; or Singapore,
which sued its newest Opposition minister into exile after elections last
January; Thailand, whose latest government triumphed after a record $2
billion vote-buying extravaganza; or Vietnam, the last refuge of the
totalitarian dinosaur." (Sydney Morning Herald, July 26)

Cambodia doesn't have much to worry about in terms of its delayed
admittance to the ASEAN club -- Hun Sen's virtual coup d'etat neatly took
the heat off ASEAN over Burma, and now bets are on that Cambodia will
become a member in time for the 30th anniversary leaders' summit in
December this year.

Linda Wallace

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