Singapore—Retired diplomat Bilahari Kausikan, who found himself in trouble concerning remarks he made on Friday (Oct 23) suggesting that Cambodia and Laos be expelled from the ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) has dismissed accusations that he is a foreign agent.
He made these remarks at a round table discussion organised by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, saying, “To state things bluntly, I see Cambodia and Laos teetering precariously on the edge…They have some difficult choices to make. And if they should make wrong choices, they will confront ASEAN as a whole with difficult choices. We may have to cut loose the two to save the eight.”
Mr Bilahari emphasised this point further in a Facebook post on Oct 24, writing, “Not imminent or something ASEAN would do lightly or willingly, but if a limb turns gangrenous, amputation may be the only way to save a life.”
On Tuesday (Oct 26), an unsigned letter allegedly from former and current Cambodian diplomats was published in Fresh News, a Cambodian news site, calling Mr Bilahari a person who is “attention-seeking, inconsistent, and incoherent.”
The letter writers called out Mr Bilahari and ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute for pushing the notion that Cambodia is a puppet of China, and questioned whether this is the Singapore Government’s the official position.
“Bilahari and ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute should stop pretending as if they have the monopoly on knowledge and wisdom. [S]peaking of agency, which was the whole gist of Bilahari’s paper, one wonders for which power is he and ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute acting as ‘agents’ for?” the letter reads.
“What we find repulsive is his arrogant and condescending tone, not just about our country, Cambodia, and Laos, but even towards our current Asean leaders, a behaviour unbecoming of a former diplomat. He made a barrage of misleading and flawed claims that are intellectually deceitful and normatively detrimental to the region, especially Asean,” the letter writers added.
Speaking to South China Morning Post’s This Week in Asia, the former Permanent Secretary of Singaporean Foreign Ministry mocked the idea of his being an agent.
“Being, as the authors point out, senile and forgetful, I cannot remember whether I am an agent, and if I am indeed an agent, I cannot remember who I am an agent for, but even my fogged and addled brain dimly wonders: who would use someone senile and forgetful as an agent? I cannot take this sort of rubbish seriously,” he is quoted as saying.
As upsetting as the idea of expelling member countries from the ASEAN is, the retired Singaporean diplomat is by no means the first official to have suggested it.
This Week in Asia quotes public policy and global affairs professor Dylan Loh of Nanyang Technological University as saying that in 2015, Dr Tun Mahathir Mohamad, who was then the Prime Minister of Malaysia, suggested that due to its treatment of the Rohingya people, Myanmar be expelled from the ASEAN. —/TISG
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