As part of the commemorative ceremonies marking the United Nations 25th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter the summer session of ECOSOC which normally was represented by the ambassadors of the member countries was held in Geneva in July 1970 at a ministerial level. The leader of the Indonesian delegation was the Foreign Minister Adam Malik.
One day during the session, I was invited by Adam Malik for a chat in his hotel room. As I was at that time the president of ECSOC, he wanted to know about ECOSOC programmes and activities in greater details. We talked at length about the Council’s agenda.
Besides myself and Mr. Adam Malik, the other person present was Mr. Elkana Tobing one of his close advisor. Adam Malik seemed satisfied with my explanation and I sensed this was the opportune time to bring up a matter of even greater relevance and importance.
The following year 1971 would be the turn of an Asian to become President of the United Nation General Assembly. The presidency rotated every year among the five regional groups, namely the West, the Eastern bloc, Latin America, Africa and Asia. The last Asian president of the General Assembly held the post in 1966 and so 1971 was to be the turn of an Asian candidate once again. I informed Pak Adam that a number of Asian countries had already occupied that high office, including the Philippines, Thailand, India Pakistan and Iran. I noted that Indonesia stood a good chance of being elected that year. I stressed in particular that Adam Malik himself would be our best candidate since he was already well known internationally.
Should this chance pass us by, I reasoned than we would have to wait for another 5 years until 1976 to be considered for the presidency. And who knows what would happen in those 5 years. I wondered aloud.
Mr. Adam Malik was very surprised that I should raise this issue. His first reaction was quite negative. He argued that he could not even solve Indonesia’s domestic problems, let alone the problems of the world. The year 1971 was also an election year in Indonesia, and he would be busy campaigning that year. I was lucky to have had a firm supporter in Elkana Tobing, who was quick to realize the significance of an Indonesian presidency of the General Assembly. After further discussions, Adam Malik seemed to be more open to the idea. At the end of our conversation he said that he would think about it and would also consult president Suharto. As he would be in New York in September to lead the Indonesian Delegation to the General Assembly, he would give his reply at that time. This gave me enough time to set the wheels in motion for Indonesia’s bid for the Presidency of the General Assembly.
Upon my return to New York after the ECOSOC session I immediately approached several important Asian countries to seek their reaction to Foreign Minister Adam Malik’s possible candidacy for the presidency of the General Assembly in 1971. Their reactions were generally very favourable.
When Pak Adam arrived in New York in September I immediately ask him for his reply. He nodded in agreement. I was delighted. Now I had really to start intense lobbying to secure his candidacy. I requested to have an additional assistant in the person of H. Rudy Gontha, a good friend and colleague of mine at the Foreign Ministry.
Mr. Gontha assistance and advise would be of great value in ensuring that Adam Malik’s performance as president to be effective. The fact that Mr. Gontha enjoyed the full confidence of Foreign Minister Adam Malik greatly facilitated our own duties and obligations.
I knew that during that time I could not count on the full support of our first ambassador Mr. Roeslan Abdul Gani as his own term of office was going to end by mid-1971.
In our lobbying we encountered one serious obstacle. The representative of Saudi Arabia apparently was also lobbying on behalf of the twin sister of the Shah of Iran, princess Asraf. We realized, however, that an Iranian, the former Foreign Minister Roeslah Entezam, had already occupied the post in 1951. In pressing the fact that Iran had once had the privilege of that office, we gained considerable support for our candidate. We could also count on the enormous respect Asian members had for him. When the Saudian envoy finally realized that his candidate had only a slim chance, he gave up his efforts and switched his support to Adam Malik. Adam Malik was subsequently endorsed by the Asian group as their sole candidate.
By this time ambassador Roeslan Abdul Gani had already left New York and as Charge d’Affairs ad interim I was officially in charge of the Indonesian Mission in the United Nations. I realized that Adam Malik’s presidency was a heavy responsibility for our mission. I mobilized all my staff, including members of the delegation to make Adan malik’s presidency a success.
We gave him intensive briefings on United Nations rules and procedures and in-depth background information on some pending issues. We realized, however, that once he was in the chair, we had no means of communicating with him. He was on his own. He did have 18 vice presidents he could call upon to assist him. We even advised him to have one of the vice presidents takes the chair when the difficult issues were to be debated. He refused.
Among the many items to be discussed during Adam Malik’s presidency of the General Assembly, three issues on the agenda were of crucial and historical importance – the Indo-Pakistan war, membership of the People’s Republic of China and the election of a new Secretary General.
For over three decades, the United Nations had been concerned with the dispute between India and Pakistan over Khasmir. In 1971 another conflict broke out between India and Pakistan, this time in connection with the civil strife in East Pakistan, which later became the independent state of Bangladesh. As millions of refugees of East Pakistan streamed into India, tensions increased in the region. Thus at the General Assembly session, the discussions on the Indo-Pakistan war quickly erupted into heated exchanges between the two parties concerned. Each time either India or Pakistan took the floor they were interrupted by point of order, which according to the rule should be given priority. Both the Indian and Pakistan representatives even asked the president to make a ruling. Adam Malik refused and allowed the debate to continue until lunchtime for adjournment.
During the lunch I asked him why he did not make any ruling as was requested. His answer was simple. “I know these people” he said.
“Let them fight it out until they get tired. Everything would then pass calmly”. He was indeed right as both parties eventually accepted a cease -fire resolution calling for a withdrawal of their armed forces. The resolution further called for intensified efforts to ensure the voluntary return of the East Pakistani refugees to their homes. After the resolution was passed, the representatives of both India and Pakistan came up to Adam Malik to congratulate him on his leadership.
The question of the People’s Republic of China’s membership in the United Nations proved to be a more contentious issue. China had become an increasingly insular society after the victory of the communist forces, effectively putting off all contacts with the outside world. In the absence of PRC in the world arena, Taiwan had come to represent China at the United Nations, and other international forums. This situation gradually became untenable as the People’s Republic of China began to assert its rightful place in the world community, raising the issue of “one China”.
Within the United Nations a growing number of members supported the PCR claim to membership. This issue culminated in the General Assembly debate on the China question under Adam Maliik” presidency. It was a vote of historical significance, the political ramification of which were not lost on Adam Malik.
It became evident during the debate that a majority of members supported the PRC claim. Once it became known that the Secretary of stae, Henry Kissinger, was at that very time visiting Beijing on president Nixon’s instructions, the majority tended to become an absolute majority. Realizing this turn of events, Adam Malik forced the Assembly to vote on the China question, despite the very late hour (it was then close to midnight) and in spite of the objection of several members, who preferred the voting until the following day, Adam Malik rightly viewed their proposal as mere delaying tactics.
At his insistence a vote was then taken. The result of the vote was indeed in favour of the People’s Republic of china, with 76 votes in favour, 35 against and 17 abstentions. China thus acquired the necessary two-thirds majority votes as required by the rules to overturn a previ9us decision. The resolution on the lawful rights of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations and to expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai Shek from the place they had unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and all organizations related to it. As of 1971 the People’s Republic of China occupied its lawful seat in the United Nations.
The last item on the agenda was the choice for successor to the outgoing United Nations Secretary General U Thant. There were several candidates in the running representing the regions of Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe. One day during the session, the Foreign Minister of Austria met with Adam Malik to request Indonesia’s support for the candidacy of Dr. Kurt Waldheim, who was at that time Austrian Ambassador to the United Nations. Dr. Waldheim was also present at the meeting. Adam Mailk promptly gave his support to the Austrian candidate, for which Dr. Waldheim was so grateful that he promised Adam Malik to appoint a qualified Indonesian national should he be elected, since no Indonesian had as yet attained the rank of Under-Secretary General or Assistant-Secretary General in the United Nations.
When the Foreign Minister and Dr. Waldheim left the office, I immediately asked Adam Malik why he had been so quick to endorse Kurt Waldheim’s candidacy.
There were after all other capable candidates as well. I myself had no idea who would be the eventual winner since the race seemed to close to call. Adam Malik just smiled and replied confidently ”You’ll see. He will be the winner”.
Adam Malik’s premonition proved to be correct as. Dr. Kurt Waldheim eventually was elected by acclamation by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council. Dr. Waldheim was appointed as the new Secretary General of the United Nations for a term of office of five years commencing 1 January 1972. He was later re-elected for an additional five years and served the United Nations until 1981. Aside from thee three critical issues, the 26th General Assembly under Mr. Malik’ presidency also adopted a number of other important resolutions. One such resolution pertaining to the right of self-determination “reaffirmed the legitimacy of the struggle of the colonial peoples and peoples under alien domination to exercise their right to self-determination and independence” Another resolution concerned the rationalization of the procedures and Organization of the General Assembly which amended previous rules on , among others, time limitation of each speakers organization of the work of the main committees; submission of draft resolutions, their contents an financial implications and voting procedures. The proposed measures were based on the conclusion of the Special Committee on rationalization and procedures and organization of the General Assembly. Under Adam Malik’s presidency a real effort was made to streamline the procedures of the General Assembly, which at time could be unwieldy and time consuming.