A letter from Asia’s leaders to US presidential candidates

Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia (ARDA)
15 Feb 08

To the Honourable:

Hillary Clinton
Mike Huckabee
John McCain
Barack Obama

Dear Senators,

Re: Asia’s Democratic Century

Greetings from the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia (ARDA). The world always looks towards America where freedom and democracy is cherished. We write to brief you on Asia’s democratic struggle which is being waged today. The outcome will shape not just the region but also the world.

A generation ago, the term Pacific Century was coined to usher in Asia as an economic and political powerhouse. Today we must focus on Asia’s Democratic Century where peace, security, justice and prosperity are guaranteed by free peoples, stable democratic institutions, a vibrant media, and the rule of law.

For a while, democracy was viewed by many regional leaders as incompatible with so-called Asian values; political liberty was de-linked with economic growth. But democratic activists understood the Asian values argument as hollow, and were courageous and relentless in demanding political rights and freedoms.

A learning curve in Asia was being established – whereby democracy was being pushed because Asians instinctively knew that it, alone, best guaranteed liberty. As a result, the region today boasts of many courageous success stories of democratic transformation including South Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Timor Leste.

Yet despite this progress the future of Asia remains problematic and potentially dangerous. There is no let up in the crushing of dissent by the governments of North Korea, Vietnam, Burma, and Laos.

Singapore and Malaysia continue to use laws and their judiciaries to buttress their authoritarian one-party states.

Sri Lanka and Nepal are in the midst of crisis. Civil society in Pakistan is in a head-long collision with military/mullah might.

Riots rock China as corruption and lack of transparency and accountability tear at the heart of the society, threatening the very existence of a vibrant and pluralistic Hong Kong, not to mention Tibet which continues to toil under the Chinese repression.

We at ARDA are convinced that if democratic movements were supported throughout Asia, the political complexion of the region would change.

Empowering authoritarianism, bad practices, and poor governance for minor short-term illusions of security and economic growth is in no one’s interest. In contrast, creating overlapping arcs of democratic states would ensure an Asian community of shared values of justice and freedom. This is a noble goal, one that Asia’s democratic leaders are determined to pursue.

To this end, it is incumbent that the US gets more involved. Unfortunately, the rhetoric of support for democracy in Asia by the US has not been matched by the reality of its actions.

Since the Iraq War, much attention and resources has been diverted to the Middle East. Unfortunately, the development of democracy in Asia has become a casualty in the process.

One of the key strategies in the fight against global terrorism must necessarily include the democratization of the world. Asia cannot be excepted. In this regard, the US must know who its friends are and where its interests lie.

We remain hopeful that the vital agenda of democracy will not be lost and we urge you to speak up and commit to one of the vital pillars of US foreign policy: the support and encouragement of democracy.

You face a daunting task: keeping American secure and rebuilding U.S. leadership in a time of great challenges. As Asian democrats, we believe that your guiding principle would be constructing an international community wherein peace, security, justice and prosperity are guaranteed by free peoples, stable democratic institutions, a vibrant media and the rule of law.

Only such an international order will truly safeguard the United States. As members of the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia (ARDA), we believe only such an order will satisfy the hopes and yearnings of peoples in Asia and around the globe.

We at ARDA are in the midst of an epochal struggle. We need, and look forward to, your support to create Asia’s Democratic Century.

We wish you the very best in your campaign.

Your friends in liberty,

Dr Chee Soon Juan (Chair and Secretary General of Singapore Democratic Party)
HE Dr Oyun Sanjaasuren (Vice-chair and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mongolia)
Mr Sarwar Bari (Founder of Pattan, Pakistan)
Mr Tian Chua (Former Vice President, People’s Justice Party, Malaysia)
Dr Ken Coghill (Former Speaker of Victoria Parliament, Australia)
Mr Wang Dan (Student leader Tiananmen Movement, China)
Mr Pema Khangtetsang (Former Minister of Security, Tibetan Government-in-Exile)
Ms Emily Lau (Legislative Councillor, Hong Kong)
Mr Sam Rainsy (Member of Parliament and Opposition Leader, Cambodia)
Mdm Saumura Tioulong (Member of Parliament, Cambodia)
Dr Paul Scott (Professor of Chinese and Japanese Studies, Kansai Gaidai University)



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