East-West split over Asean values

Democracy comes a poor second in the drive for development, Richard Lloyd Parry writes from Jakarta

Monsignor Carlos Belo, winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, made a momentous announcement last week. At a press conference in his home town of Dili, the Bishop of East Timor settled once and for all a burning question: despite a fluent command of English, acquired during years of study in Europe, Mgr Belo insisted that he has never heard of the word "scabby".

The bishop's ignorance has been a source of hot controversy in Indonesia for the last six weeks. The story begins in mid-October, when Mgr Belo, along with his exiled fellow countryman, Jose Ramos-Horta, was awarded the Peace Prize for his work in East Timor, the former Portuguese colony brutally annexed by Indonesia 20 years ago. They will receive the award in Oslo next week.

"In 1975 Indonesia took control of East Timor and began systematically oppressing the people," the citation read. "It has been estimated that one-third of the population lost their lives due to starvation, epidemics, war and terror... the Norwegian Nobel Committee wants to honour [Mgr Belo's] sustained and self-sacrificing contributions for a small but oppressed people."

The acute embarrassment this brought to the Indonesian government was compounded when the German magazine Der Spiegel ran an excoriating interview given by the bishop several months earlier. He was quoted as saying that there had been nine attempts on his life, and he accused the Indonesian Armed Forces of treating the East Timorese as "slaves" and "scabby dogs".

Military leaders and government supporters denounced the bishop; in Dili, 200,000 people rallied for four days in his support. Finally Mgr Belo intervened. Der Spiegel, he insisted, was guilty of "serious manipulations". He had never heard of the word "scabby". Moreover, it was wrong to say that there had been nine attempts on his life. "I categorically deny this statement," said the Bishop. "I have been threatened twice."

This caused a certain amount of puzzlement. For years, in letters to exiled Timorese groups and the United Nations, he had been openly critical of the government's methods, and explicit in his calls for a referendum to decide the territory's future. Suppose that the Indonesian military merely treats East Timorese as healthy dogs, rather than scabby ones. Suppose that only two, rather than nine, attempts have been made on the bishop's life. Was it really necessary to hold a press conference clarifying these matters? Perhaps, people in Jakarta reason, he is a remarkable stickler for detail. Or perhaps somebody has got to him.

Indonesia is not the only Asian country with Nobel problems. At a summit meeting in Jakarta yesterday, the seven leaders of Asean, the Association of South-East Asian States, met to discuss the knotty problem of Burma, a probationary member which had been expected to become a full partner next year. Burma's candidacy caused a diplomatic kerfuffle with the United States and European Union, which objected to the State Law and Order Restoration Council's continuing oppression of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy leader who won the Peace Prize in 1991.

Such questions go to the heart of Asean's approach to human rights and an increasingly polarised debate between East and West. In public, south- east Asian countries like Indonesia claim to support progress towards democracy, but they also uphold a principle of non-interference in one another's internal affairs.

The theory is that, for developing economies, stability is more important than liberty, and that as countries flourish, so democratic institutions can safely take root. The problem is that, among several Asean members, the opposite seems to be happening.

In Indonesia, this has been one of the worst years for human rights in a long time. In Malaysia, in a show of Asean solidarity, a conference held by supporters of East Timorese independence was wrecked by thugs from the youth wing of the ruling party who burst in, smashing tables and screaming at its participants, several of whom were deported. Even in the Philippines, one of the region's healthiest democracies, similar tactics were employed during a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Manila last month.

The Asean leaders yesterday insisted that Burma will join, although they refused to say when. And they sent a warning to the EU not to allow the East Timor issue to "aggravate" relations between the two organisations. For them, this is a matter of principle, a rejection of the prescriptive democratic assumptions of the West. To others, "Asean values" may look increasingly like a mask for authoritarianism by self-interested governments.

Suggested Topics
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape