Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is the first Malaysian and democratically elected ASEAN leader to be invited to speak at The Oxford Union, this is his second invitation.
Firstly, I would like to say how honoured I feel that I am given a second chance to speak at the Oxford Union. It is a very well-known Union which has produced several British Prime Ministers. Well, I am not going to be a Prime Minister of the UK. But I was twice Prime Minister in Malaysia.
But in any case, I was told that I can talk about anything. Well, there’s a lot of things I would like to talk about. But I don’t think I would have enough time to talk about the things that I would like to talk about.
So, I would then leave it to you to ask questions afterwards. But in the meantime, I would like to point out that we live in troubled times. There are so many things happening that are bad for the whole world. First, we have the climate change. The climate change can result in a lot of disasters for people and we, at the moment, we have not found ways on how to deal with this climate change.
Then of course there is this pandemic by Covid19 and that too is not very well handled by us. There was a story by H.G Wells about how the world was attacked by creatures from other planets and how the creatures were defeated. But today we are actually attacked by creatures not from other planets but from our own planet. Tiny creatures that we could hardly see but it has brought terrible damage to the whole world. The whole world is affected but we are not behaving like the whole world – each country is taking its own steps to protect itself and of course the rich countries have monopolised the provision of vaccines for example.
After that we now seem to go back to our old ways of killing each other. We now have a war between Russia and Ukraine. Basically, not just the Ukraine but also NATO. So, we are again resorting to killing people in order to resolve conflicts between us.
I have always been against war. I think it is uncivilised. To kill people in order to solve conflicts is something that civilised people should not indulge in. But apparently, we are addicted to that. Anytime at all, when we have problems, we go to war and we kill people. At the end of it all, whether you win or you lose, you gain nothing, you solve nothing. That was the result that you get after the second World War. In the second World War we had the alliance – the Western alliance defeated Germany but after the war Germany and also Japan did very well. The winners didn’t do so well. Instead, the winners decided to fight each other. You partnered Russia during the war in order to defeat Germany but immediately after the war was over and was won by the West, they decided that the next enemy would be Russia. And so, for years, for decades, there was a Cold War between the West and Russia. That Cold War did not result in a real war. But the tension remained and today we see the result of the Cold War is a war between Russia and the Western powers.
So, it seems to me that we always liked to have some enemies so that we can fight with them, so that we can kill them. That is not a very civilised thing to do. Imagine in any society where the solution to any problems you may have with your neighbours is to kill him. That would not contribute to stability certainly, and yet as between nations whenever they had problems they resort to fighting and killing each other.
I don’t know when we are going to get over this habit of killing people in order to solve conflicts between nations. Even if it will not be in my lifetime certainly, but I do hope that young people will grow up to reject war as a means of solving problems or conflicts between nations.
But in the meantime, we are going through a climate change. The main result of the climate change is that it is growing warmer – the climate getting hotter and hotter. When the climate gets hotter what happens is that ice will melt thus raising the level of the seas. There will be evaporation. There will be formation of clouds, strong winds, and then there will be storms, severe storms, and the storms will result in very heavy rain which will flood countries.
We should be focusing on that but we are not. We are more interested in the East and the West. We still think that the problem that we should spend our time on is to deal with enemies.
And now that we have the West regarding Russia, China and Iran as their enemies. And tons of money have been spent on inventing new weapons in order to kill people more efficiently. I don’t think that is a good thing. We could spend that money, trillion of dollars, on dealing with the climate change, on dealing with the pandemic but not on killing people.
But the fact remains that we spend more time inventing new weapons, spending a lot of money on new weapons that can kill more people than we had been able to do in the past. So that is the world that we live in.
For people who are going to grow old in this world, I hope that you don’t emulate the ways of your predecessors or the older people. I mean young people should think more about how to be peaceful and to tackle the real problems of this world. But apparently, we are not focussed on that. We acquire knowledge in the schools and universities but we are not taught on how to make use of the knowledge. We can always abuse the knowledge that we gained.
I have always pointed out that a knife is a useful thing. You can use a knife to carve beautiful things but you can also use a knife to kill other people. It depends on you whether that instrument is good or bad. It’s not the instrument, as the Americans say that the guns are not at fault, it’s the people who use the guns.
But obviously the people who don’t have the guns then they cannot shoot 21 children in a school. But the argument is that guns do not kill, it’s the people who kills. That may be true or may not be true but I think it is time that we rethink the value systems that we follow, that we consider to be universal values. We need to change our minds about things.
Above all we need to change our minds about this globe, this planet which has become very small and we are close neighbours of each other. And close neighbours tend to have conflicts and quarrels but we should learn that quarrels should not be solved through killing each other but should be solved through discussions, negotiations at the table, arbitrations or going to a court of law.
I would like to point out that in Malaysia we have problems with our neighbours, with Indonesia, with Singapore. Well, we decided to go to the courts, the International Court. And the court decided that one rock belong to Singapore and not to us. That’s okay, it’s only a rock. But two islands belong to Malaysia instead of Indonesia. But there is no war, no damage, no killing but like civilised people we have the rule of law and we obey the rule of law by going to the courts to settle our problems.
I hope that some lessons may be derived from these experiences of Malaysia that despite being a multiracial country, Malaysia is relatively stable and peaceful, able to develop and when we have problems with our neighbours, we resolve those problems through negotiation, arbitration or going to a court of law so that we don’t do damage to each other, we don’t kill each other and yet we solve the problems that arose because of overlapping claims of territories.
I am told that I should speak for about ten minutes. I think my 10 minutes are up and I need to answer questions from the moderator as well as from the audiences and I hope I can answer those questions.
The Oxford Union
7 June 2022
[Transcribed Opening Address by Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad]