“MALAYSIA IN A GLOBALISED WORLD: PROSPECTS AND CHALLENGES”
1. First and foremost, I would like to thank the United Nations Association of Malaysia (UNAM) for inviting me to this Dinner this evening to commemorate United Nations Day; and to thank its President, YM Tan Sri Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen for his welcoming remarks. Let me at this juncture also pay tribute to YM Tengku for his stewardship of UNAM since its founding in 1985. In fact, YM Tengku was its founding President when he was requested by our Prime Minister at that time, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, to assume this role when Tengku was then serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs. The continued existence of UNAM, an NGO dedicated to the promotion of the United Nations amongst the Malaysian public, is testimony to our continued strong belief in, and support for, the world body and what it stands for.
2. I find the subject of this Dinner address chosen for me by UNAM entitled“Malaysia in a Globalised World: Prospects and Challenges” to be most pertinent for two reasons. Firstly, because of the increasing public interest, both domestically and internationally, about the subject, particularly about the role that Malaysia will play in the globalised international community, under this Government. Secondly, for the reason that I had only recently participated in the 65thsession of the UN General Assembly and other side meetings while in New York, including the ASEAN Leaders Summit with President Obama. I think this would be a good occasion for me expand a bit more on what I had said in New York. What I am going to say this evening may not be entirely new to some of you, but I believe that some things bear repeating, if only to remind the world about what we believe is the best way forward.
3. Let me begin by addressing this much-used but not so well-understood term, “globalisation”. While it is not really a new phenomenon, having started as far back as the late 15th Century marking the emergence of modern western imperialism and economic competition, the concept of Globalization in its contemporary form, it is the most far-reaching and pervasive. I think Thomas Friedman, the well-known American journalist, columnist and author, put it best when he described globalization as “the inexorable integration of markets, capital, nation-states, and technologies to a degree never seen before”. From this perspective, globalisation is therefore a whole-scale process of the shrinking or “miniaturisation” of the world, not in terms of its size, but through the standardisation of norms and the “universalisation” of ideas and values, which, not surprisingly, is largely rooted in and dominated by the West. What is most important for us to bear in mind is that globalisation is here to stay and constitutes one of the principal characteristics of our modern era. It is now no longer confined to economics and trade, but encompasses the whole gamut of human activities.
4. Through increased interaction and closer engagement amongst nations and peoples, the world is already –to use modern IT jargon- “morphing” into the so-called “Global Village” in which the denizens are inextricably connected and are confronted with similar issues and challenges. I found this to be very apparent while attending the UN General Assembly and listening to the speeches of world leaders and partaking in bilateral discussions with them. The issues discussed there were not only global in character but also had impact and import, directly or indirectly, on every Member State of the United Nations.
5. For me, an issue of paramount importance today is the need for the international community to ensure a more secure and equitable world through collective leadership and action amongst nations and peoples centring on building a culture of moderation and rejection of extremism. I strongly feel that in this globalised era in which we live, the moderate centre, which represents the overwhelming majority in the world, should assert itself and not allow the extremist or “lunatic fringe” to set the agenda of relations among states and peoples. That is why I had proposed in my speech at the UN General Assembly for the establishment of a “Global Movement of the Moderates” to reclaim the centre and the moral high ground that has been usurped from us and to choose moderation over extremism, negotiations over confrontation. For this to succeed, the moderate centre must be more bold and pro-active in taking the initiatives on issues that affect international peace and security.
6. This is particularly important in the context of the alarming rise in Islamophobia in the West, following the heinous attacks of 11 September 2001 against the United States which had created a huge chasm between the West and the Islamic world. I think this is certainly one area in which Malaysia could play a constructive role in trying to bridge the gap between the two sides, given its own rich experience in managing issues of diversity as a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural and democratic society that has benefited from the positive interaction and synergy between the various communities. This unique position of Malaysia, which we are proud of and should make every effort to preserve, is well recognised and was acknowledged by the President of the United States. As we begin to play a bigger role in the global arena, we must remind ourselves that to be a credible bridge-builder at the international level, we will also have to strengthen our own unity at home and not take the ethnic harmony that prevails amongst our people for granted. Herein, of course, lies the importance of the “1Malaysia” approach that I have taken to spur us towards a more united and cohesive nation. Meanwhile we continue to our willingness to contribute to the global process to reclaim the center and I have in fact begun talks and discussions with several parties on how we can begin this movement of the moderates in earnest . I will certainly encourage Wisma Putra to be more pro-active in pursuing this direction of our diplomacy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
7. The global community will have to deal with international terrorism, the scourge of our times, in a more effective way. While we should take a more coordinated and concerted approach in countering the menace, it should be carried out in a more sophisticated fashion rather than taking on whole groups of peoples or countries as the “enemy” on account of their cultural or religious affinity. As a modern and moderate Muslim nation, but a multi-religious one as well, Malaysia will be ready to join in these efforts while at the same time continuing to play the role of a bridge-builder between the Muslim world and the West so as to close the widening gap between the two sides. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the successful bridging of this cultural, indeed, civilisational divide would very much ease the tension and animosity that is building up between the two worlds, and would certainly weaken the base of support for militancy and extremism.
8. It is also imperative that the new globalised world should be a fairer and more just one, in which major powers will eschew taking policy positions that smack of selectivity and double-standards. I would like to see, for instance, such an approach being taken in respect of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. In touching on this subject at the UN General Assembly, I strenuously asserted that the violation of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, should not be allowed to go on with impunity and that there must be a resolution of the problem on the basis of accountability and justice. In spite of widespread scepticism about the on-going direct talks between the two sides brokered by the United States, which we commend, I hope, perhaps against all odds, that reasonable minds will ultimately prevail and that a lasting solution to the problem can finally be found. We are supportive of a two-state solution, however, for this to happen, there must be a more balanced approach and the moderate centre on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides must be empowered. For more than half a century now the world has waited in vain for peace to come to that region, simply because the forces of moderation have not been allowed to set the agenda for peace.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
9. Aside from those issues, as a responsible member of the international community, Malaysia will continue to have a keen interest on matters concerning international peace and security, and will speak up and speak out whenever necessary in the interest of justice and equitability. Under the aegis of the United Nations we will contribute in whatever way we can towards the resolution of conflicts and maintenance of peace. Our Armed Forces personnel who have participated in these peace-keeping operations have conducted themselves in exemplary fashion and are ready and willing to respond to any call for assistance if and when required.
10. As a passionate supporter of the global campaign for nuclear disarmament, Malaysia will continue in the efforts to push the global disarmament agenda of ensuring the ultimate realisation of a world free of nuclear weapons. The international community should not be lulled into the complacency of accepting the belief that with the end of the Cold War and East-West ideological conflict, the possibility of a nuclear war between and among nations have receded to the point of improbability. With the continued existence of approximately 24,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the nuclear-weapons states — declared and undeclared — we cannot afford to be lackadaisical about the threat of a nuclear conflict, especially in a world that is still fraught with armed confrontations, not to mention the risks of such devastating weapons falling into the hands of international terrorists. This was also the point that I underscored in New York and at the Nuclear Summit that President Obama organized in Washington DC in April this year in the hope and expectation that the nuclear-weapons States accelerate the process of nuclear-arms reduction amongst them so that the ultimate goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons will not just remain an unrealized dream.
11. Meanwhile, In the larger context of international diplomacy, Malaysia will continue to champion the cause of justice, human rights, development and eradication of poverty, climate change and the environment, education and public health, fairer system of international trade and finance, among others. For all these to be realised there must be greater efforts and faith in the efficacy of multilateral mechanisms, such as the United Nations, World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Bretton Woods institutions and other instruments and processes of multilateral diplomacy. These organisations must be restructured and revitalized so as to reflect the realities of our times and to meet the expectations of the international community.
12. This is especially true in respect of the United Nations. In the globalised world of our era, multilateral diplomacy plays a vital. As a firm believer in, and supporter of, the United Nations, Malaysia will continue to work with other member states in efforts towards strengthening the world body, in the interest of enhancing the prestige and credibility of the UN. What is most needed but extremely difficult to achieve is the revamping and tweaking the mechanism of the UN Security Council, whose decision-making process remains antiquated and undemocratic, being a relic of the immediate post-World War II period.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
13. What is patently clear is that globalization involves a process of rapid and continual change, with new realities, inter-connectedness, cross-cultural interaction or engagement, and of course, increased competitiveness on all fronts, including ideas, principles and values. As it is virtually an unstoppable process, we will have to come to terms with this phenomenon of our times. Indeed, if we are to succeed in this highly competitive environment of the 21st Century, we should make the most out of globalisation and carve out a niche for ourselves within this juggernaut that is fast enveloping our contemporary world.
14. Given the challenges ahead, Malaysia could ill-afford to simply sit by and be content with global issues being settled by the major powers. We will have to play a pro-active role in the international arena, in tandem with other developing countries, and make our own modest contribution. As a relatively small nation, our role as an actor on the global stage would naturally be quite limited. However, what we might not be able to do individually could be done through combined efforts of a group of likeminded countries acting in concert. Clearly, for us to be active or pro-active and to make a significant impact we will have to go regional and international and to work within our own regional or international groupings acting on the maxim that strength lies in numbers, or simply put, unity is strength – which is, of course, our own national motto.
15. Undoubtedly, focused as we are in building up the country, we must still give serious attention to strengthening the ASEAN process as a vehicle for regional cooperation as well as a platform for international activism in the collective interest. In my view, a strengthened and united ASEAN would be quite a force to be reckoned with in the councils of the world. To ensure our voice is heard on major international issues ASEAN must also add sinews to its linkages and alliances with other important international actors, such as its East Asian partners, namely, China, Japan and Korea, thereby strengthening the process of the emerging East Asian community — which, as is well known — Malaysia has been pushing for a number of decades now, beginning with Tun Dr. Mahathir’s idea of an East Asian Economic Grouping or EAEG, which later led to the formation of the East Asia Economic Caucus (EAEC), and its latest permutation as the East Asian Summit (EAS) which was also spearheaded by Malaysia.
16. In these days of economic inter-dependence, it is important for ASEAN to be pro-active in attracting trade and investments in competition with other Asian countries so that ASEAN as a whole could also serve both as markets as well as production bases for manufactured goods. It is important that, bilaterally and regionally, we identify the key areas and aspects of economic interdependence and linkages and build upon them, for mutual benefit. The business communities, in particular, must recognize that our countries, within the ASEAN entity, can, at the same time, be both their production bases and their markets.
17. Individually, ASEAN countries have done quite well competing in the international market-place on a range of industries. I firmly believe that with greater collaboration and increased synergy our private sectors could equally successfully compete as an entity, as others have done. What is required is for our ASEAN corporate sector to work harder towards a higher level of integration, with the necessary mechanisms and processes to bring about greater collaboration among them. They should be more bold and innovative and emulate successful mergers and tie-ups between cross-border rival companies on the basis of rationalisation of their industries as occurring in the developed countries, thereby reducing wasteful competition and be better able to compete globally.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
18. Clearly, the prospects and challenges for Malaysia in a globalized world are numerous and i cannot possibly cover the entire breadth of the topic in one speech unless we plan to be here all night. Let me conclude by saying that in international relations, as in many other areas of human endeavour, the only constant is change. This is especially true in this era of globalization. The important thing is the ability or the skill that we have developed to manage change.
19. Of course, as we move nearer to becoming a developed nation in 2020 and beyond, we will have to take a hard look at those policies that had served us well in the past because what had served us well once upon a time might no longer be relevant in under current circumstances. We will have to consider and decide if these same policies need to be updated, modified or even jettisoned altogether if they longer serve our needs. While these are being considered, equally important is the need to ensure that our foreign and trade policies will be conducted by diplomats of the first order – in other words, world-class diplomats that I had mentioned on another occasion sometime ago – diplomats who are confident, well-trained and equipped with knowledge and skills, creative and savoir faire in carrying out their duties and responsibilities effectively. Clearly, the selection and training of our diplomats are of utmost importance in projecting the nation’s image in the arena of international diplomacy.
20. In spite of the need for some necessary adjustments in our foreign policy, I do not, however, foresee any dramatic policy shifts in the next decade or so as we move forward to realise our 2020 target. Our foreign policy changes will be evolutionary in approach – one of change and continuity, anchored on a well-trodden path of the past, but perhaps a little more adventurous and innovative. As we adapt to the new situations, we will remain true to fundamental principles or precepts of our foreign policy that have been laid down by our Founding Fathers. Grounded on these principles, it would certainly be in our strategic interest to maintain good and beneficial relations with all countries and groupings, including the big and powerful ones that have a strong presence in the region, based on a mutuality of interests.
21. Finally, let me say that notwithstanding the importance of multilateral diplomacy and regional and global arrangements, equal importance should also be attached to bilateral relations, which in a real sense, is the mainstay of all relations between nations. Of particular importance are our relations with immediate neighbours namely: Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, with whom we share land or maritime borders and have a number of unresolved bilateral issues even as we had taken steps to upgrade bilateral ties with each of them. We must make every effort to put these bilateral ties on a sound footing because they form a pivotal tenet of regional cohesiveness. That is why since I assumed the premiership I had taken particular care to nurture these bilateral bonds through my visits to the various ASEAN capitals as well as my constant contacts with my counterparts, keeping a tradition that had been long established by my predecessors. I am very glad to say that my overtures have been well received and Malaysia’s ties with her neighbours are strong and extremely cordial.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
22. The challenges ahead are quite a few, to say the least, but they are not insurmountable. Indeed, with our eyes wide open and with our wits about us, we should be able to plan, strategise and put in the necessary efforts to place ourselves in the front ranks of high-performance countries. What is required is commitment and effort from all parties whether they are directly involved with diplomacy or not. There is a lot of goodwill on our side, and there are high expectations for us to play a vital role regionally and globally. As the saying goes “we live in interesting times” and I do look forward to working with all of you as we continue to improve ourselves and further project Malaysia as an important voice on the international stage.
Wabillahitaufiq Walhidayah Wassalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.