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Francis Yeoh on Hope for Humanity

   
Today we open the formal proceedings of this Pangkor Retreat. It is my pleasant duty to welcome you all and to thank you for your attendance. We are privileged.

At the same time this promises to be an unusual experience. The premise on which this whole Forum is based poses a strange conundrum.

We find ourselves in a uniquely paradoxical situation. Here we are, Ladies and Gentlemen, in one of the loveliest places on earth – the very epitome of peace. Not for nothing has it been described as a Paradise for here is ample evidence of God’s handiwork. All around us we see God’s finger prints. The miracle of Creation.

Yet conversely what brings us here is the work of Man and an act of destruction. A year ago in one brief tragic moment the forces of violence and hatred were unleashed in a single blinding act of annihilation – in a striking illustration of man’s inhumanity to man.

Nor was it an isolated incident. This terrible breach of what I for one believe is the essential goodness of man was no aberration, but a sad reflection of the times in which we live. Its roots lay in a universal anger and in an all too pervasive bitterness that has soured the relations between men. We have seen the remorseless deterioration in the state of the world, where conflict is the norm rather than fellowship; where greed has overtaken compassion and a concern for the plight of others; where hunger and deprivation have become a commonplace of the lives of all too many of our fellow human beings; where new and frightening elements menace our society – the scourge of AIDS, drugs, crime and violence. Ground Zero was a symptom of the rot that pervades our present civilisation. It also threatens to destroy hope.

I was brought up, Ladies and Gentlemen, in a generation where hope was the first article of faith. I was of the post World War II generation. I was young and idealistic, and marvelled at our liberation from conflict, when that War ended, at the new lease of life we had been given and the promise of the new world people had died for. We were all imbued with hope. And there was ample evidence before us that justified that hope. As we strove to win the peace, we were witness to many acts that revealed the nobler side of human nature. We lived up then to our remit – of being made in the image of God. First there was the charity of the Marshall Plan helping to rebuild Germany and Japan. I read about the generosity of the US toward Britain in forgoing the debt it was owed. We in Malaysia encountered the Peace Corps – volunteers – aptly named, that touched the lives of so many around the world. The World Bank bolstered the development process in the poorer countries with solid results.

Then came that spectacular moment in which we all could share wherever we were, when the Americans put the first man on the Moon. One cannot but contrast this with September 11th. It was even more dramatic and, in the same way it repercussed throughout the whole world in one single unforgettable moment. But this time it united and inspired mankind with new hope for the future. There was no human being on that day that was not proud to be part of humanity. The words of the poet Wordsworth come to mind describing the exhilaration of another great chapter in human history the French Revolution.

“Bliss was it in that Dawn to be alive
And to be young was very Heaven”

We too felt a new Dawn had come. To be confirmed when the Berlin Wall came down and the Cold War ended. Now the planes that flew the skies on September 11th have left a pall of gloom over that horizon. What has happened to the world to turn hope into despair and hopelessness?

That is for us to deliberate over the next two days. The choice before us is stark – good or evil – love or hatred – peace or confrontation.

We have reached a crisis of global proportions that will require a global effort at solution. The Chinese believe a crisis acts as a catalyst for constructive change and new hope. Our word for it is “Wei Chi” – which has two components. The first is the usual one of “danger” but the other is “opportunity”. Many of the great advances of history have arisen out of crisis. We must see all that has happened to us in the past year as opportunity – a chance of Renewal.

That is why we came up with this idea of a Global Leadership Forum. It was derived from special Malaysian custom we call a Mesyuarat. In every Malay village there is a time honoured tradition where the elders and the community sit down to thrash out their problems to solution. Solution means consensus. Malaysia is a very consensual society. I am pleased to welcome you today to this global Mesyuarat. The principle is the same. We have assembled a cast of thinkers, which we have called a Coalition of Minds for an intellectual assault on the present global issues. We do not wish to retaliate. We wish to reconcile. Our Mesyuarat will call on statesmen, on corporate and community leaders, the movers and the shakers. The Speakers, Respondents and the voices from the floor will span many constituencies political, social and economic, and a wide range of academic and professional disciplines from countries and cultures far and wide. What we search for is a Peace Proposition for a very troubled world – Peace and the prosperity dividend it brings. Making the world a safer and a better place.

In welcoming you to our country for this purpose may I say you have come to just the right place. This may sound surprising since we are a Muslim country albeit of a tolerant, moderate, peace loving and safe dispensation. In this regard your coming here is an act of faith in itself. There is a precedent. You will recall that shortly after September 11th, the next Davos meeting was moved from Switzerland to New York, the target of the terrorists. It was a re-affirmation of the belief and the hope that goodness would prevail over evil.

Malaysia is peculiarly appropriate to our endeavors today. We are a small, relatively insignificant country. We are reminded however the salvation of mankind came through a little nation. God has chosen little nations as the vessels by which He carries His choicest wines to the lips of humanity, to rejoice their hearts, to exalt their vision, to stimulate and strengthen their faith; But if we have any niche at all, any claim to fame, it lies in our successful experiment in peaceful co-existence. All the great cultures in the world converge here including the oldest – the Chinese, and the newest – the American appropriately called the “New World”. Most of the great religions of the world are to be found here. Survival in this multi ethnic, multicultural, multi religious society depends on our finding a way to live together in harmony. That is why we have perfected our system of consensus and some of the technique of peaceful interaction like the Mesyuarat.

As a Malaysian-Chinese citizen with a Christian faith, I am a witness to the power of understanding and communication to create prosperity and peace. Malaysia’s respect for the religious and cultural right of minorities within the structure of a Muslim – majority state should be considered a world model.

The stage is set. We are not here to repeat the old platitudes, to reiterate the same positions and ideas that have themselves been barriers to true understanding. We are here to break the barriers, to brainstorm, to reinvent the dialogue and to be renewed ourselves. But there is one last vital ingredient that will be needed for success. There is no doubt of the collective capability in our Coalition of Minds.

But we need hope, ripples of hope, – the emotional and psychological stimulus. We must sincerely hope that we can make a difference.

I thank you for your contribution.

Speech by Tan Sri Francis Yeoh,
MD of YTL Corporation,
Co-Chair of Asian Global Leadership Forum
at Pangkor Laut, Malaysia
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