I did it my way

The Tiananmen Square revolt was soon enough quelled but China realised that it could not ignore what the people want. So they decided to allow economic reforms as long as the people stay out of politics and do not call for political reforms as well.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Dictatorships can be good for the people, said former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who himself has been accused of having an authoritarian brand of leadership.

Taking such accusations on the chin, Mahathir, who was addressing an international forum at the Putra World Trade Centre today, cheekily said: “Malaysia is said to be ruled by a dictator for 22 years. I enjoyed it.”

“But at least we made some progress. This building was not even here (before my time),” he said.

Besides being accused of governing with an iron grip, Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister was alleged to have played a part in channeling taxpayers’ money to partly finance the construction of Umno-owned PWTC.

One prime example of how dictatorships or authoritarian governments can work better than a democratically elected one, is China, said Mahathir.

“There is no democracy in China but the system of the government it has can bring lots of benefit to its people,” he said, adding that the change of leadership there is more peaceful than some democratic countries who change leaders in uprisings every few years.

In his speech, the veteran politician also lambasted his most severe critics from the developed nations, branding them hypocrites for trying to champion democracy.

Referring to the US-led war on Iraq, which was later justified as a means to spread democracy, Mahathir cuttingly said: “Maybe in the afterlife (the dead) can experience democracy but dead people won’t enjoy it much.” –– Malaysiakini


Some say that Tun Dr Mahathir’s favourite song is ‘My Way’. Others tell me that this is not really Dr Mahathir’s favourite song but happens to be the only song that he can sing. I suppose I can say the same about myself. I sing Elvis Presley’s song ‘In the Ghetto’ because that is the only song I can sing.

Anyway, ‘My Way’ has somehow become synonymous with Dr Mahathir. And we must certainly admit that he looks at things his way, which may not always be the correct way of seeing it.

However, one must be able to read between the lines of what Dr Mahathir says. When asked about his favourite football team he replied that he does not like football and does not see why 22 players should chase one ball all over the football field. Just buy them all one ball each, he quipped.

First of all, only 20 players chase the ball. The other two guard the goal. Secondly, these 20 players chase the ball not because they want to own the ball. So buying them one ball each will not solve the ‘problem’. They chase the ball to see who can control the only one ball and then shoot it into the goal. It is almost like politics where so many people ‘chase’ the only one position at the very top, the post of Prime Minister. Do we solve the problem by creating 65 positions of Prime Minister so that all 65 can become Prime Ministers without them all having to ‘chase’ the position?

When asked about golf, Dr Mahathir again quipped that he does not see the logic of chasing the small ball all over the golf course when the ball was with you in the first place.

Was Dr Mahathir being serious or was he being cheeky? Seeing that many Malaysia Today readers do not recognise tongue-in-cheek or sarcasm even if it bit them in the butt they would probably take Dr Mahathir’s replies at ‘face value’.

Anyway, I would like to reply to what Dr Mahathir said about dictatorships being good for economic growth. And he used China as an example of a good dictatorship. Dr Mahathir also made a sarcastic remark about the invasion of Iraq, which removed the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Dr Mahathir probably feels that Saddam was good for the people of Iraq.

Have we forgotten how many of his own citizens Saddam murdered? Entire villages were gassed and women and children were not spared. This was ethnic cleansing of the highest degree. Is the economy more important than people’s lives? This appears to be what Dr Mahathir is saying — the economy comes first and people’s lives is not that crucial.

I started going to China just before it became an ‘economic miracle’. This was not long after the Tiananmen incident and I made about ten trips to China in all. I visited not only the major cities but also many rural parts of China where no Malaysian has ever visited before. Some places I visited did not even have proper roads or train service and I had to ride on the back of a lorry to get there.

So I saw how China ‘exploded’ from ‘ground zero’. I also visited Pudong and went up the tower even as it was still being built and before it was opened to public. I was the guest of the Shanghai provincial government and the most exciting thing about those trips was probably being able to ride around in a military car where all the traffic was stopped so that we could pass. We did not even have to stop for the red light. I can’t do that in Malaysia even with my ‘royal status’.

To understand the ‘Chinese miracle’ you have to study Deng Xiaoping. He was the man who said: never mind if it is a black cat or a white cat as long as the cat catches a mouse. This means never mind whether it is Communism or Capitalism as long as the economy grows. Dr Mahathir says almost the same thing: never mind whether it is a dictatorship or a democracy as long as the economy grows.

But how did China grow? And was it China or Pudong that grew? And is the development of China spread evenly throughout China or is it concentrated only along the East Coast, the Shanghai-Pudong region in particular?

First of all, the entire area of Pudong is 467 square miles and it has a population of 4 million. Shanghai’s land area is 2,717 square miles and it has a population of 20 million. China’s land area is 3,600,950 square miles and it has a population of 1.4 billion. Malaysia’s land area is 127,354 square miles and it has a population of 27 million.

So, are we comparing apples to apples? Are we comparing China to Malaysia or are we comparing Pudong to Shah Alam? It is not fair to compare Pudong to Malaysia and say that Pudong is proof that China’s dictatorship is better than a democracy.

The next point I am trying to make is: is it Communism or the dictatorship that resulted in the ‘Chinese miracle’ or is it due to the size of that country? We must understand that China is one of the oldest civilisations in the world but only over the last 20 years since 1990 have we seen this country ‘explode’. Why is it what happened over the last 20 years could not happen over 3,500 years before that?

It all started in Tiananmen Square in 1989, ten years after the Islamic Revolution of Iran. Now, we must remember, that same year, 1989, Boris Yeltsin introduced economic and political reforms known as Perestroika. Encouraged by what happened in Russia, the Chinese activists decided to push for the same in China.

The Tiananmen Square revolt was soon enough quelled but China realised that it could not ignore what the people want. So they decided to allow economic reforms as long as the people stay out of politics and do not call for political reforms as well.

That was the beginning of ‘The Great Leap Froward version 2’.

But the Tiananmen Square revolt was not really the cause of these reforms. It may have accelerated the reforms but China was already on the road to economic reforms even earlier.

In November 1978, Deng visited Singapore and met up with its Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who advised Deng to open up the country and institute reforms, as well as to stop exporting Communist ideologies to other Southeast Asian countries. Deng was so impressed by Singapore’s ‘economic miracle’ that he listened to Lee and upon returning home he opened up China to the world.

Under Deng’s direction, relations with the West improved remarkably. Deng travelled abroad and had a series of meetings with western leaders and became the first Chinese leader to visit the United States in 1979 where he met up with President Carter. Shortly before this meeting, the U.S. had broken diplomatic relations with Taiwan and established them with the People’s Republic of China.

It took another ten years before the ambitious plan to develop Pudong was mooted. And Singapore played a very crucial role in the Pudong blueprint.

What I want to stress here is that, first of all, China grew when it decided to open up the country to the world. Secondly, Singapore played a crucial role in advising China on what to do. Thirdly, the development in Pudong or Shanghai may be impressive but this does not mean that in the rest of China the roads are also paved with gold.

Can we say that just because Kuala Lumpur has the most number of Mercedes Benz E Class cars in SEA then this means the entire Malaysia is rich? There are still many Malaysians in the rural parts of Kelantan, Terengganu, Sabah, Sarawak, etc., who do not even have water or electricity supply.

Let’s look at some statistics below. If China’s growth is so great, and if it is because it is a dictatorship that it has grown, why is the GDP per capita for China so much lower than that of Pudong? The figures below clearly show that the wealth of China is concentrated in only a small part of China and not spread evenly around the entire country.

In fact, Malaysia’s GDP per capita is more than double that of China. However, if you look at Pudong’s GDP per capita, it is higher than Malaysia’s. So maybe Malaysia should go meet Lee Kuan Yew and appoint Singapore as our economic adviser. Then we shall really see Malaysia ‘fly’. And further proof would be to look at Singapore’s GDP per capita. It is even higher than Britain’s.

Maybe we should not have sent the British home and declared Merdeka in 1957. If economic growth is all that matters and if it does not matter whether it is a black cat or a white cat as long as it catches a mouse then Malaysia would be better off as a British colony just as long as we see the country’s economy grow in leaps and bounds.

Historical GDP of the People’s Republic of China versus India

Pudong’s gross domestic product for 2008 amounts to an estimated US$53.98 billion, roughly equal to that of Slovenia. Its GDP per capita is therefore around US$16,938.

China’s gross domestic product for 2008 amounts to an estimated US$4,522 billion. Its GDP per capita is therefore around US$3,414.

Malaysia’s gross domestic product for 2010 amounts to an estimated US$213.21 billion. Its GDP per capita is therefore around US$7,547.

Singapore’s gross domestic product for 2009 amounts to an estimated US$177.13 billion. Its GDP per capita is therefore around US$37,293.

Britain’s gross domestic product for 2009 amounts to an estimated US$2,183.13 billion. Its GDP per capita is therefore around US$32,798.