A dream that won't go away

A dream that won't go away

Tom Plate shares his wishes for Asian countries' future

By Tom Plate
Pacific Perspectives Columnist

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Los Angeles --- The Grand Asian Master, no more than a few thousand years old, appeared to me the other night (as he does from time to time) and asked what I wish for these days. This was a dream, of course, but it was a very nice dream, and I didn't want it to end. Here's what I said to the Master:

NORTH KOREA: I told him that I dream of North Korea's "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il deciding to feed his people instead of his military. I dream that he finally concludes that the Six-Party nuclear-disarmament agreement is the only way his country will ever crawl out of the hole because it hugely obligates the West to come to the North's aid. In fact, as the aid pours in, the Dear Leader hands power over to his non-belligerent foreign minister and flees to Libya. Months later the nation is put under U.N. Trusteeship.

JAPAN: I imagine that a cabal of cutting-edge Japanese engineers clones Junichiro Koizumi, a former brilliant prime minister who, amazingly, lasted for a full term and got Japan's polity and economy moving again. With one difference: they manage to extract the ultra-nationalist gene from his double helix that so aggravated Japan's neighbors, leaving intact this otherwise political Houdini. The current prime minster, Yasuo Fukada, is doing much better on the regional-relations front, but otherwise, alas, he is no Koizumi. Japan badly needs leadership of the Koizumi kind.

SRI LANKA: This island-nation, bedeviled by a brutal on-again-off-again civil war over the last 25 years, suddenly finds peace. Extremist nationalists and extremist separatists who have always hoped to destroy one another completely achieve their dream: mutual total destruction, in one killer battle. Thus, the only people left on this gorgeous island are peace-loving Sri Lankans who wish to live in mutual respect. (Also in my dream: From Oslo, the Nobel Prize Committee rightly awards the prestigious peace prize to the heroic Nordic Sri Lanka Monitoring Commission, for its saintly if unavailing efforts these past years in trying to keep the lid on the Sri Lankan self-destructiveness.)

PAKISTAN: Turns out, President (i.e. military dictator) Pervez Musharaff is a true Japanese in his secret soul. Realizing that he has almost no credibility with anyone anymore, and taking moral (though not operational) responsibility for the shattering assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, he dramatically offers his resignation to the people of Pakistan. It is gratefully accepted. Pakistan holds free and fair (i.e. unrigged) elections in February, a coalition government emerges, and the country takes another tentative but promising step away from harsh and ineffective military rule.

TAIWAN: In March, the voters of Taiwan elect a new president. Immediately, the winner, Ma Ying-jeou, the Kuomintang (KMT) Party's former chairman, announces unconditional acceptance of cross-strait negotiations with Beijing. Tension between the mainland and the off-shore island (which sometimes had insisted on existential as well as official and eternal independence from Beijing) lowers dramatically. In an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect -- with Taiwan vowing never to insist on a permanent goodbye and China promising never ever to invade -- talks continue for years while making steady progress. Over the same time, the mainland starts to transform itself into a virtual one-party democracy not unlike that of post-war Japan, and no more corrupt than the KMT.

HONG KONG: Anger over China's announced reluctance to permit open elections until 2017 recedes when a top Hong Kong mathematician holds a revealing press conference. By using a California Institute of Technology super-computer, he proves the complex theorem that even with that 2017 marker, China is technically more pro-democracy than Great Britain ever was. His reasoning? London was the political landlord of Hong Kong for more than 150 years and never permitted open elections. Beijing has been the new landlord since 1997 -- and may well permit democracy 20 years later. Figure it out, challenges the professor, these numbers don't lie: By this calculation, China is seven times or so more democracy-oriented than was Great Britain.

CHINA: All of a sudden, in a change of policy as well as of heart, Beijing starts releasing more jailed dissidents into the environment than dioxins. The political atmosphere as well as the air is suddenly cleaner. The Communist Party announces that different and contesting factions within the party will not only be permitted but encouraged to openly debate issues and take advice from the people. Someone notes this was the sharp change in direction Taiwan (once a one-party country itself) took two decades ago.

THAILAND: The military junta, embarrassed by the voters' rebuff at the polls last month, becomes Japanese-like and resigns with an abject and possibly sincere apology. A coalition government takes power that promises to continue the strong aid programs for the poor and general economic reforms that had characterized the pre-junta government of Thaksin Shinawatra -- but without all the corruption and arrant favoritism that also defined Thaksin's rule. Decades later, historians, taking the long view, praise the current junta for actually having saved and advanced Thai democracy.

INDONESIA: The country with the greatest number of Muslims continues to grow its new culture of participatory democracy. At the same time, the economy soars. This totally marginalizes the worst and most miserable of the radicals and militants, and serves as a majestic political role model for the entire Muslim world. In a gesture of international recognition -- and no doubt reflecting a huge worldwide sigh of relief -- Jakarta, stunningly, is accepted by the U.N. Security Council as a permanent council member, elevating the global prestige of this moderate Muslim country, and making moderate Muslims everywhere terrifically proud of the achievement.

Note: Just before my body shuddered and I returned from my dream to consciousness, the Grand Asian Master spoke to me. I remember clearly what he said, because it was only two words: "Dream on."

The views expressed above are those of the author and are not necessarily those of AsiaMedia or the UCLA Asia Institute.