13th D. T. Lakdawala Memorial Lecture

ASIA: Rise or Fall,
Challenges and Opportunities in the Twenty-First Century

Speech
By J. Ramos-Horta
at the Institute of Social Sciences
Nehru Memorial Museum
New Delhi, 4th December 2014

Photo-4Dr. Sashi Tharoor, Honorable Minister of State, and good friend,
Dr. Ash Narain Roy, Dr. George Mathew,
Ms. Lise Grande, UN Resident Coordinator,

To you all my sincere gratitude for giving me the privilege of traveling back to India after my visit a few years ago to the State of Kerala as a guest of my friend Sashi. I sincerely regret that this time I’m able to stay only such a short time.

I first set foot on this vast, sacred land of India in April 1992, in a private journey to Dharamsala, where many had journeyed before me to catch a glimpse of The Dalai Lama with the hope that one’s soul is instantly cleansed and somehow our neurotic persona is transformed into a peaceful one irradiating inner peace or nirvana.

I am not going to elaborate on what I did during the two-week I spent in that mountain hideout as it had no consequence at all for the good or bad of India.

The train trip there and back was my first introduction to this majestic India with its overwhelming challenges and the many achievements since independence, from extreme poverty to extreme opulence, from poor toiling farmers to space exploration. I saw only a minute fraction of India along the way to Dharamsala but I felt real empathy for those governing the hundreds of millions of human beings in such a vast land so culturally diverse and speaking countless languages.

But more than drawn by the promise of inner peace supposedly emanating from the springs of Dharamsala, like millions around the world I am still till this very day in awe by the greatest human being modern humanity has produced – the Mahatma Ghandi. This has been India’s greatest legacy to humanity.

I bow to all in India, past and present leaders, who have built up modern, free, democratic India, preserving freedom and democracy even in times of turmoil, never giving up democracy in spite of its imperfections.

Indians were never terribly interested in what was happening in Timor-Leste from 1975 till 1999. The Indonesian annexation of Portuguese East Timor was simplistically compared with India’s take-over of Goa. At the United Nations Indian diplomats instinctively and loyally sided with Indonesia in every single debate on the issue.

But in 2003, after our independence, I came back to India as my country’s Foreign Minister to begin a new chapter in our relations. And I always hoped that somehow India would be tempted to adopt Timor-Leste as its protege and would help transform my country in a single generation. This has not materialized but at least a considerable number of Timorese have come here to study.

Being a founding father of my country, I beg your indulgence to allow me to share with you the challenges and developments that are taking place there. Timor-Leste remains a success story in Asia. We have come a long s way in a fairly short time, since the restoration of Independence in 2002.

10 years on, we are proud that the latest UNDP Human Development Report accords Timor-Leste an HDI for 2012 that jumped to the value of 0.576, placing our country in the medium human development category; at independence in 2002 it was 0.375.

According to the UNDP-commissioned report, Timor-Leste, Cambodia, Ghana, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Mongolia were the HDI growth leaders in the Medium Human Development grouping.

East Asia and the Pacific as a region has an average HDI value of 0.683 and registered annual HDI value growth between 2000 and 2012 of 1.31%, with Timor-Leste leading with 2.71%, followed by Myanmar at 2.23%. The East Asia-Pacific region has the highest employment-to–population ratio (74.5%) in the developing world. (Source: UN Human Development Report, 2012)

Timor-Leste’s economy continues to perform well. Bank deposits grew by 10.5% year on year in the first half of 2013. Private sector credit was 10.3% higher in June 2013 than a year earlier, reaching a new high of $165.6 million.

Bank lending grew strongly as well in the first half of 2013, as credit to individuals rose by 13.1% and credit to commercial and financial companies grew by 25.2%.

Lending to agricultural producers also registered double-digit growth, which suggests expanded investment in coffee Photo-1farms.

The value of merchandise imports was almost three times higher in the first quarter of the year than in the first quarter of 2012. The value of nonpetroleum exports posted very high growth, albeit starting from a low base.

Vehicle registrations in the first half of 2013 were 25.8% higher than a year earlier. Sales of electricity were 7.8% higher over the same period, following the completion of the national electrification program.

Since 2005, life expectancy at birth in Timor-Leste increased by more than two years and now averages 64 years.
GNP per capita increased 228 per cent during the same period to over US$5,000. Average annual growth has exceeded 10 percent for the last four years and real non-Oil GDP growth remains strong.

According to forecasts by The Economist, Timor-Leste is among the nine fastest growing economies of the world in 2013.

School enrolment jumped from 63 per cent in 2006 to well over 90 per cent now for basic Education, according to the 2010 National Census.

More than 300,000 adults have also graduated from illiteracy to functioning literacy since 2006 when we launched the adult Illiteracy program, a program conceived with support from Cuba. It is anticipated that adult illiteracy will be eliminated by 2015.

Infant mortality and child mortality under five, as well as post-birth mother mortality, have been halved.

Incidences of malaria and dengue and the prevalence of poverty have decreased significantly.
With less than one case of leprosy per 10,000 people, Timor-Leste is now considered by the WHO to be free from this centuries-old disease.

As we feel proud of our achievements thus far we are also very much aware of the daunting challenges still to overcome.

Poverty has seen significant reduction as its prevalence declined from 49% in 2007 to 41% two years later according to estimates by the World Bank. But this means poverty is still high and remains a major challenge. However, the Government is determined to bring poverty levels down to below 15% by 2015.

Access to clean water, sanitation, public Health and Education are key priorities that need robust investment now and for years to come.

Like many countries in the early years of Independence, Timor-Leste has had to confront social and political challenges. In some instances, like in 2006 crisis, violence flared up rolling back the gains of previous years.

However, we have been able to quickly overcome these crises. As the UNDP Human Development report and other indicators show, we have rebounded stronger from the brief periods of instability.

The political situation in Timor-Leste in recent years has been remarkably free of tension.
The governing coalition of three parties led by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and the large opposition party FRETILIN have committed themselves to continue to further consolidate peace, national unity, reconciliation and sustainable development.

We have a dynamic multi-party democracy with 4 parties in the National Parliament and 37 per cent of the elected MPs are women. Women hold key ministerial portfolios.

While our democracy is young and therefore imperfect, nevertheless Government and opposition have found common ground on key strategic priorities for the country and have been able to work together to consolidate peace and national reconciliation, creating an enabling environment for sustainable development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Transparency in our public life is a process that we impose on ourselves to promote and to deepen with the assistance of the international community.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) rates Timor-Leste as best performer in Asia, and third in the world, in terms of accountability and transparency in the management of our Petroleum resources.

In the pursuit of good governance and transparency, the Anti-Corruption Commission, working in partnership with the Ombudsman and the office of Prosecutor-General have shown to all that no one is above the law and Justice is being upheld for all.

Our security institutions, the Army and Police forces, are now more professional, disciplined and better imbued with the culture of respect for human rights and the strict adherence to the rule of law.

We have ratified all major International Human Rights Treaties and complied with reporting obligations.

Our country stands out with its liberal, humanist Constitution that prohibits the death penalty and life imprisonment.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Timor-Leste has one of the freest medias in the region.
Our country has also set a successful policy of reconciliation and peace. On the national level, we have healed the wounds among the previously deeply divided Timorese Family and with our Indonesia and sisters.

Allow me to quote my own words, extracted from my farewell speech to the Nation when I left office in May 2012.

“Among our many achievements, one that is of great value, is the reconciliation among the divided Timorese family. Our Maun Bot Xanana who led us to freedom when all seemed lost, has led this unique reconciliation process with courage, determination and compassion. I am proud of being part of a society that has shown a great heart in resisting the temptation to exercise revenge in the name of justice”.

“In victory be magnanimous, never seek to humiliate the adversary; if he is on his knees hold his hands and plead with him to rise up, embrace him; walk halfway and meet the vanquished ones, embrace them, invite them to join in a new enterprise of peace, a new future for all. This has been my belief and in many ways this has been our practice since independence”.

Today we enjoy unique excellent relations with our closest neighbours, Indonesia and Australia. I can state with confidence that there are no two countries anywhere in Asia enjoying better relations than Timor-Leste and Indonesia.

But far and beyond, we have developed excellent active relationships with China, Korea, Japan, the United States, the European Union, the Portuguese-speaking countries; and we look forward to soon join ASEAN and fully integrate into our natural region.

For all the above, for the peace our people are enjoyng today, peace among us and at peace with our former “enemies”, I may have contributed my share.

Excellencies,
Allow me now to turn to the theme of my presentation for this occasion.

We are living in times of great challenges in much of the world but also of hope and optimism for our peoples and our continent.

I’m a frequent visitor to Japan and have visited several times the historic city of Hiroshima, toured the Museum that so vividly walks a visitor through the corridors and chambers of horror of the devastation caused by the one single atomic bomb dropped on that city one clear day in August 1945 at the end of World War II.

No less heartbreaking have been my visits to the Holocaust Museum in Berlin that reminds us of the systematic cleansing of millions of Jews in Europe by the Third Reich.

In both cities we are sadly reminded of human beings’ capacity to inflict destruction and pain on fellow human beings.

And Japanese people should not be reminded only of the horrors of the effects of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They should be truthfully educated about what brought about the destruction and death in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; as much as we must all revisit Hiroshima time and again, we should remember time and again the suffering and destruction caused by the Japanese Imperial Army in many parts of Asia during the five years of aggression and occupation.

Unfortunately human beings do not seem to ever learn from history. Soon after the end of WWII we had the Korean War unleashed by the communist regime in the North of the Korean Peninsula as it attempted in a lightening, surprise attack to overrun the people and forces of the South.

We had mad policies of Stalin in Russia and Mao in China, the 1965-66 mass killings in Indonesia, the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields in Cambodia in the mid 70’s, the genocide in East Timor beginning in 1975, the Rwanda genocide of 1994, the Balkan wars and ethnic cleansing in the 1990’s, the on-going tragedies in Darfur, Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Afghanistan, Lybia, Syria.

Let us not forget the past wars of partition of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Biafra, Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of tiny Kuwait by the Saddam Hussein regime, etc.
The catalogue of human brutalities is a far too long one and still ongoing that makes me wonder whether we ever learn!

As the US and NATO forces begin their phased withdrawal from Afghanistan, there is growing anxiety and fear among many Aghans about the future – about their hard-won democratic gains; will these gains survive the American withdrawal in 2014 or once again will the country and the people be overrun by the Taliban?

And what will happen in Pakistan which faces its own internal Taliban and other security challenges?

I beg to disagree with a number of scholars who paint too a rosy picture about the emerging 21st Century Asia. Time and again we hear the claim that world power is shifting to Asia. I believe this is overly exaggerated and misleading.

The challenges we face in Asia are immense and complex. I would dare say that our region is the most dangerous in the world, the most militarized, most nuclearized, with nuclear weapons neighbors; with complex land and maritime border disputes, regional rivalries, ethnic and religious conflicts that have exploded frequently in and among states.

Africa and Latin America have long freed themselves from the legacies of the Cold War. The conflicts still prevailing in the two regions pale by comparison with the security challenges we face in Asia.

Africans and Latin Americans have created regional political bodies, democratic systems, rule of law and human rights practices and monitoring mechanisms that make us Asians look like we still live in the feudal Nineteenth Century.

Only in Asia is there a regime like the one in North Korea, as barbaric as the worst of the Stalinist era; in parts of Asia we have stone age beliefs and practices that deny girls the right to go to school; in some parts of Asia acid is thrown on girls for daring to sit in a class room; girls are married off or simply sold off. In parts of Asia a woman can be sentenced to death by stoning for committing adultery.

As long as all these horror stories occur daily in our region, as long as we have religious fanatics who want half of humanity, the women, to remain enslaved to ignorance and poverty, as long as too many in Asia believe in a God that is MERCILESS and in His behalf they kill those who disagree with certain interpretations of the holly script; the 21st Century will not be ours.

As long as leaders and peoples of North East Asia (China, Japan and Korea) are not able to free themselves from the past, as long as Japanese officials and educators continue to rewrite history and trivialize the facts of the suffering caused by the Imperial war unleashed on Asians, and as long as leaders and peoples in China do not have the courage and magnanimity to free themselves from this chapter in their history with Japan, this Century will be still the American Century or it might be the African Century – an Asian Century will be elusive to us!

Our challenges are overwhelming, daunting. But we can overcome these challenges by pooling resources, solutions, in partnerships, without exclusions.

Asia must further develop partnerships with the US and the EU, technological powerhouses and large economic areas that have much still to contribute to global solutions.

Against the many negatives facts and complex challenges cited above, there are many good news, dramatic positive transformations. Hundreds of millions of people have been freed from poverty, in particular in China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, The Philippines, Thailand; others, the Republic of Korea, Japan and Singapore continue to outshine much of the world in science, technology and innovation.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st Centrury, Asian economies have become the powerhouse of global economy.

China, the Republic of Korea, India and Indonesia have been growing at annual rates of between 6 and 10 percent for sustained long periods.

The economies of China, Korea, Japan and India put together already account for over 14 trillion dollars of annual GDP.

ASEAN, another fast growing economic region, represents some 2 trillion dollars of combined annual GDP.

Asia economic powerhouses put together are already a formidable force, side by side with the 16 trillion dollars of combined output in EU countries and the 15 trillion dollars US economy, according with IMF estimates for 2010.

And every day, the sustained high economic performance of leading Asian countries help pulling smaller neighbors into the path of growth and economic development.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
On the human rights front, there is also positive news. Compared with the immediate post-World War II period up to the 90’s, we could say there has been dramatic progress in civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights, the two fundamental pillars of all human rights.

Colonialism and apartheid were obviously two of the worst manifestations of individual and collective abuses – of gross, systematic and systemic abuse of human rights.

But sadly and tragically, freedom from colonial rule didn’t mean necessarily freedom from oppression. In fact, in too many instances, there were greater human rights abuses in the years after independence than during the colonial era.

Too many peoples in Asia, Africa and Latin America were liberated from colonial rule to become victims of the new tyrants with different skin color and masks.

In Asia, for example, from the early 50’s till the late 80’s we saw horrendous human rights situations in China, Cambodia, Indonesia, South Korea, Bangladesh, and Burma.

Nevertheless I would say that overall, the human rights situation in the world today, viewed from the perspective of the two main international human rights conventions, has improved significantly.

In few words, the world has changed much, Asia is changing fast, and in the face of the financial and economic predicaments of the US and Europe, Asia must seek to be center stage and lead.

But to lead and is to inspire, to be able to forge partnerships, build bridges and seek common ground.

Asia can and should lead on tackling the challenges we face in the 21st Century: we have resources to alleviate and finally eradicate poverty; we master sciences and technology; we possess know-how to lead the search for global answers to the challenges of climate change and the need for sustainable increase in food production.

Asia can and should lead on reversing environmental damage and ensuring sustainable development, while keeping up with the welfare of our peoples.

In our globalized world, Asia can lead only in partnership with other stakeholders, specially emerging countries. However, the challenges facing Asia as a whole are enormous and should not be underestimated.

Asia needs a roadmap of priorities and resource allocation to answer our challenges and it needs also leadership to establish and implement this roadmap, strengthening peaceful relations.

I believe that time has come for Asia to lead and guide the world while navigating the challenges of the 21st Century.

Asian leaders should consider a 30-year Asian Road Map for integrated, sustainable Human Development including goals of eradicating poverty, illiteracy, TB, malaria, etc. and restore the wealth and health of our forests, rivers and seas.

With half the world’s population, Asians extract a lot more from our Planet to satisfy our needs of survival and development than any other peoples of the world.

For our own survival, in solidarity with our brothers and sisters from other parts of the world, we must act with vision and determination, we must do a lot more to free our people from extreme poverty and save our common Planet.

Together China, India, Pakistan, Japan, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the rich Gulf countries, have an unparalleled pool of know-how and financial resources to transform Asia in a prosperous, peaceful and happy region for the 4 billion that live in our region that spreads from Istanbul to Jakarta, Timor-Leste and the Pacific Islands.

Our American and European brothers are enduring great sacrifices to overcome the crisis that is lingering on since 2008.

We should sympathize with them and not gloat over their difficulties and pain. And I’m convinced that the USA and Europe will rise again stronger from this crisis.

The USA and Europe still lead in Science and Technology and they should invest even more on education, research and new technologies.

But Asia should create its own Fund, the Asian Fund for Sustainable Development, that can be managed by an existing institution such as the Asian Development Bank, in partnership with UN Specialized Agencies such as UNDP, UNICEF, WHO, FAO, or NGO’s with good regional or international reputation such as OXFAM.

Each country should mandatorily contribute to such a Fund, according to their GDP. Maybe the various claimant States in the South China Sea dispute should agree to turn the whole area into a Zone of Peace and Joint Development.

Revenues from the oil, gas and other wealth extracted from the area would go to such a Fund to be allocated and invested in the whole of Asia with a view to attaining our common dream of eliminating extreme poverty, preventable illnesses, illiteracy, saving our forests, rivers, lakes and seas.

In few words, rather than engaging in dangerous brinkmanship and saber rattling, the claimant States in the South China Seas should engage in dialogue, build bridges of understanding and search for common ground beneficial to all in Asia.

Asian leaders should rise to the challenges of the 21st Century, to the dreams and hopes of a peaceful and dignified life for our people, and lead with vision and courage.

Asia is the most populous region in the world: we represent half of humanity; the largest, oldest, richest civilizations appeared and met in Asia. Only 50 years ago our region was extremely poor. Today Asia emerges as a center of world power and the 21st century could be Asia’s century; we have the brainpower, advanced technology and financial means to make this dream come true.

We cannot continue to demand that the aging and impoverished Europe or today’s less powerful USA to come to our rescue and lead; much less should we take part in pointing fingers at industrialized countries for the ills of our planet.

If Europeans and Americans contributed the most to environmental degradation in the last 100 years, truth be told, they also contributed the most towards advances in medicine, science and technology, to the benefit of all of humanity.

The 21st Century will be Asia’s Century, Asia’s Age of Enlightenment, if a new Mahatma Ghandhi emerges, who inspires and leads all, the 4 billion people of this vast region that extends from the doors of Constantinople to Dili, a region of great civilizations, religions and cultures, of great challenges and great possibilities; we need a new Mahatma Gandhi to unite us, to inspire, to have the courage to overcome the shackles of the past, face the present and adopt a Road map to build a Future of Peace, Freedom and Prosperity.

I pray to God, The Almigty and the Merciful, to continue to bless us all.

José Ramos-Horta, is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1996). He has served as President of the Republic of Timor-Leste (2007-2012) as well as Prime Minister (2006-2007) and Senior Minister, Minister for Foreign (2001-2006) of his country. He writes frequently on current international affairs for publications including the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, The Daily Beast/Newsweek.

References:

Excerpts from J. Ramos-Horta speech on the occasion of the conferral of Doctor Honoris Causa in Philosophy by the Assumption University of Thailand, 18th December 2013:

I believe that time has come for Asia to lead on environment preservation and sustainable development while navigating the multitude of complex challenges of the 21st Century.

Asian leaders should consider a 30-year Asian Road Map for integrated, sustainable Human Development, on eradicating poverty, illiteracy, TB, malaria, etc. and restore the wealth and health of forests, rivers and seas”.

“The XXIst Century will be Asia’s Century, Asia’s Age of Enlightenment, if a new Mahatma Ghandi emerges who inspires and leads all, the 4 billion people of this vast region that extends from the doors of Constantinople to Dili, a region of great civilizations, religions and cultures, of great challenges and great possibilities; we need a new Mahatma Ghandi to unite us, to inspire, to have the courage to overcome the shackles of the past, face the present and adopt a Road map to build a Future of Peace, Freedom and Prosperity”.

Excerpts from President Jose Ramos-Horta’s farewell speech upon leaving office on 20th May 2012:

“Among our many achievements, one that is of great value, is the reconciliation among the divided Timorese family. Our Maun Bot Xanana who led us to freedom when all seemed lost, has led this unique reconciliation process with courage, determination and compassion. I am proud of being part of a society that has shown a great heart in resisting the temptation to exercise revenge in the name of justice”.

“In victory be magnanimous, never seek to humiliate the adversary; if he is on his knees hold his hands and plead with him to rise up, embrace him; walk halfway and meet the vanquished ones, embrace them, invite them to join in a new enterprise of peace, a new future for all. This has been my belief and in many ways this has been our practice since independence.”