Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad advised leaders of emerging economies on Tuesday to cherish their independence and not become indebted to other countries.
Speaking to The Post in an exclusive interview, he said: “Never borrow more than you can repay. It is very important. Don’t spend more than your means and if you have to borrow, make sure you can repay the loan.
“Once you are indebted to other countries, you are no longer independent. So value your independence.
“Even if your national development is slowed down, it is worthwhile because you don’t want to again be colonised by others – not directly, but indirectly through their influence over your economy,” he said.
Mahathir served as Malaysia’s prime minister for 22 years from 1981 to 2003 before stepping down.
He was returned to office a second time in the 2018 national elections by popular demand to helm a nation ravaged by kleptocracy and widespread corruption.
He also advised Asean countries in particular to remain steadfast in defending their national integrity and not allow any foreign power to dictate terms or interfere in their internal affairs.
Most countries, he said, preferred that their domestic affairs be left to themselves and not be interfered with by foreign powers.
However, he said there were some exceptions to the rule. “There might be some extreme cases, like during the Khmer Rouge period in Cambodia, for example, where it was important for powerful nations to intervene.
“The Khmer Rouge period is an extremely unfortunate one in Cambodian history because the global powers knew about the widespread massacres and torture of Cambodians but did nothing.
“And now we all see what is happening in Myanmar, where the Rohingya are being murdered and massacred and the foreign powers simply give advice to the government and nothing else but that.
“But in the case of the US’ quarrel with Iran, it is willing to apply trade sanctions and other measures to punish that country.
“So, in my view, global powers care more about their own interests than about the interests of developing countries.
“And in any case, they are showing that they are not perfect either. Britain’s prime minister has just suspended its parliament, which is the most undemocratic thing to do,” he said when explaining the hypocritical manner in which some global powers behaved.
So what is the way forward to stop global powers from interfering in a sovereign nation’s internal affairs?
Mahathir said: “If Western powers are told not to interfere, they will not listen. We can’t do very much because they are very powerful. But I think if we band together like in the Asean grouping, and if we are united and take action together, we will be more effective.
As the world’s oldest leader at the age of 94, Mahathir also said he had learned a lot over 22 years of being prime minister for the first time.
“I have particularly learned a lot about what can and cannot be done, and about how people behave, among others.
“But even when I stepped down, I believed that the tried, tested and proven policies that I had initiated would be continued.
“But new leaders have their own ideas, and they change systems and policies for their own egos and just to leave their legacy. This resulted in the poor economic performance of Malaysia.
“So one has to be very careful . . . My advice to young people the world over is to really know the people they choose. They must be as sure as possible to choose the right people to lead their countries,” he stressed.