Nobel Peace Laureate denounces Asian racism
By Jonathan Manthorpe, in the Ottawa Citizen,
15 January, 1997
HONG KONG -- Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta says many Asian governments are hypocritical and more racist than the western nations they criticize.
Ramos-Horta singled out racism in China, Malaysia and Indonesia during a speech Tuesday to the Foreign Correspondents' Club here following criticism in the region of race relations in Australia.
"If you compare Australia with Malaysia, Indonesia or China, Australia is the most tolerant country in the region," the East Timorese activist said. "Several regimes in Asia are more color- sensitive than Australia. I get incensed when hypocrites from this region criticize Australia for racism. They should learn from Australia."
Australia has come in for criticism recently after independent legislator Pauline Hanson called for limits to Asian immigration. But Ramos-Horta, while admitting he has had some problems in Australia in the past because of his color, said the country has "made enormous efforts over the years to become really multicultural."
"Chinese are not discriminated against in Australia, as they have been in Malaysia," he said. "Chinese do not become scapegoats and get killed, their shops, their homes burned down every time there is a political problem, or economic, as happens in Indonesia."
Ramos-Horta has spent more than 20 years in exile in Australia from his home in East Timor, which was occupied by Indonesia in 1975. Together with Catholic Bishop Carlos Belo, Ramos-Horta was awarded the Nobel Prize last year for working for the expulsion of Indonesia from the territory.
But Ramos-Horta said United Nations-sponsored negotiations on the future of East Timor are "a farce" because of Indonesia's refusal to accept a referendum on its occupation.
Nine rounds of discussions between Indonesia and Portugal, the former colonial power that is still recognized as the sovereign authority by the UN, have produced nothing, he said.
More than 200,000 people, perhaps as many as 300,000, are estimated to have died in East Timor as a result of military repression, famine and epidemics spurred by Indonesia's occupation.
Ramos-Horta said he hopes the UN's new secretary-general, Kofi Annan, will give the issue more attention than in the past. But he said he does not believe East Timor will regain its independence until the military-backed regime of Indonesian President Suharto is replaced by a democracy.
Ramos-Horta took indirect aim at the concept of "Asian values," which many regional leaders invoke to say western notions of democracy and human rights are not appropriate.
Ramos-Horta said he believed imprisoned Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng, serving 14 years for advocating political reform, would win last year's Nobel Prize.
"I submit the Chinese must release Wei, must release its prisoners. How can a country with a history of achievements like China silence its best people? How can a great country fear the discussion of ideas?"