"The pen is mightier than the sword." For nearly a decade, Brahm has used newspaper articles, magazines and authored over 20 books to explain current affairs, reshape stalled negotiations, and provide a communication platform to Asian leaders and policymakers. His writings reveal underlying central challenges facing Asia over the past decades.
Written by Laurence Brahm - Published by South China Morning Post on 03/29/2005
American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's whirlwind tour of Asia last week set the agenda for President George W. Bush's second -term policy for the region. Dr Rice addressed concerns with preachy slogans, presenting ideas consistent with the Bush administration's simplistic view of the world.
She told India not to co-operate with Iran to build an overland oil pipeline - disregarding the fact that India imports 70 per cent of its energy requirements. Ignoring other world market factor s, Dr Rice claimed that China's oil consumption "is the reason that we’re seeing the tightening supply and therefore rising price". She defined Beijing's future relations with Washington in the context of Japan's ties - a strong trading partner which should toe the US line on international policy.
The buzzwords "freedom" and "democracy" were repeated like a mantra in the context of religious evangelism. For China, whose politics subsist on its own "virtuous slogans", the latest batch of which espouse "harmony" and "peaceful coexistence", Dr Rice's words might have been unexpected, even disconcerting. "Even China must eventually embrace some form of open, genuinely representative government if it is to reap the benefits and meet the challenges of a globalizing world," she declared.
"That is why we believe that when China's leaders confront the need to align their political institutions with their increased economic openness, they will look around them in Asia and they will see that freedom works. They will see that democracy works. They will see that freedom of religion and respect for human rights are part of the foundation of decent and successful societies.
“In Japan, one political science student at Sophia University asked her: "How can you think that religion can take a role to promote democracy, freedom and security after a conflict like Iraq?"
Dr Rice said: "When you think about universal values that really form the core of what it means to have democracy and freedom, the essence of democracy is that people are able to say what they think, worship as they please, and educate their children.... If you talk to the most literate person or the most illiterate, they understand those basics about democracy. The right to worship as you please is the right to worship or not to worship...
"As a US official, part of my responsibility is to recognize that it is freedom of religious conscience that is really the core value of democracy. In places where religion has been used to separate people ... people will never be truly free if this most personal of decisions is imposed on them."
Her answer revealed a simplistic world view ignoring the complex cultural, religious, ethnic and historical factors that Asia and developing countries face in building sustainable political institutions. America's constitutional example should separate politics from religion, not mix "freedom" and "democracy" rhetoric with religious fundamentalism, and turn it into self-righteous ideology.
When Dr Rice addressed journalists in Seoul on March 20 she offered an even more simplistic definition of democracy, saying it meant "you can come here and think what you want and ask me anything".
Norbert Vollersten, a German doctor who was an aid worker in North Korea during the 1990sfamine did precisely that. He called out: "Miss Rice, the North Korean people are dying and crying for your help." The US embargo against North Korea and forced isolation have contributed a large part to the crisis there.
Dr Vollersten had barely finished his sentence when US embassy officials ordered South Korean security guards to wrestle him to the ground, muffle his voice and drag him out of the room.
Such definitions are useful and easily understood by everyone.
Laurence Brahm is a global activist, international mediator, political columnist and author. He is the leading advocate of a fresh development paradigm - The Himalayan Consensus - an innovative approach to development.