Keynote Address at the 7th Heads of Mission Conference – Malaysian Foreign Policy : Future Direction for 2009-2015

By Monday June 22nd, 2009 No Comments

Keynote Address by
YAB Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak,
Prime Minister of Malaysia
at the
7th Heads of Mission Conference,





YB Datuk Anifah Aman,
Menteri Luar Negeri

YB Senator Kohilan Pillay
YB Dato Lee Chee Leong
Timbalan – Timbalan Menteri Luar Negeri

YBhg. Tan Sri Rastam Mohd Isa
Ketua Setiausaha, Kementerian Luar Negeri

Ketua – ketua Perwakilan Asing,

Ketua – Ketua Perwakilan,

Konsul – Konsul Kehormat dan Wakil – Wakil Perdagangan Malaysia di Luar negeri,

Tuan-Tuan dan Puan-Puan sekalian,

Terlebih dahulu saya memanjatkan rasa kesyukuran kepada Allah S.W.T. kerana kita dapat bertemu di majlis hari ini. Inilah buat pertama kalinya saya berpeluang sebagai Perdana Menteri bertemu dengan ketua-ketua perwakilan Malaysia, Konsul- konsul kehormat dan wakil – wakil perdagangan kita dari seberang laut. Saya berbangga dengan inisiatif Kementerian Luar Negeri mengadakan Persidangan Ketua-Ketua Perwakilan dan Mesyuarat Konsul kehormat pada kali ini. Saya juga difahamkan bahawa Kementerian Perdagangan Antarabangsa dan Industri (MITI) sedang mengadakan Mesyuarat Wakil – wakil Perdagangan Malaysia di masa yang sama.

Saya berpendapat persidangan kali ini amat penting dan bertepatan memandangkan terdapat pelbagai perubahan dan cabaran yang begitu ketara yang berlaku di dalam dan di luar Negara. Semenjak persidangan yang seumpama ini di adakan dua tahun yang lalu ia itu pada bulan April 2007, kita telah melihat banyak peristiwa penting berlaku. Dunia telah dan masih lagi dilanda krisis ekonomi dan kewangan yang dahsyat. Malaysia juga turut merasakan impaknya. Di dalam negara, kita telah mengalami pelbagai perkembangan dan peristiwa politik termasuk peralihan kuasa di peringkat pucuk pimpinan negara. Oleh itu, Persidangan Ketua – Ketua Perwakilan pada kali ini adalah amat tepat sekali. Ia memberi peluang kepada tuan – tuan dan puan – puan untuk mendapat pandangan dan berbincang mengenai pelbagai hal kepentingan negara untuk membolehkan tuan – tuan dan puan – puan menjalankan tugas di luar negara dengan lebih jaya, efisien dan berkesan.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When I became Prime Minister two months ago, I said our government would focus on performance for the people, and I spoke of my hope that our nation would move forward under the theme of “1Malaysia, People First, Performance Now”. I have emphasized these principles at home, and they are also the principles that will shape our foreign policy. Just as we depend on each other to create a strong and united Malaysia, so, in this interconnected world, every country depends on each other to create a prosperous and harmonious planet.

Globalisation has meant that most countries and peoples have shared in the good times – and are at risk of suffering in the bad. Malaysia has made intelligent, careful decisions regarding our development goals for many years. These have mitigated the damage caused in the current global economic crisis, a crisis that originated elsewhere. But we too have suffered, and many of our citizens have had to worry about how to pay their bills and plan for the future of their families.

Similarly, when countries far away from us are at war, or are seen as perpetuating injustice to their own people or those around them, the ramifications can reach far beyond their own borders and affect many others. This interconnectedness is not only true of economic security and human security, but of the natural environment in which we share and all derive sustenance and benefit.

Just as we will guard the sovereignty and autonomy of Malaysia, it is never our wish to tell other countries what to do. But to protect ourselves, safeguard our future and ensure our place in world affairs, we must communicate our views and assert our interests beyond our borders, stretching across the continents and the oceans, reaching the major political and population centres of the world.

As the past year’s global economic crisis has demonstrated, and as we saw regionally more than a decade ago, change for good or bad can be sudden and rapid. We have to respond to these changes through measures that are careful and deliberate, and also vigorous and prompt. We must maintain Malaysia’s political stability, economic vibrancy and social harmony. But we must also reshape and adjust our domestic and foreign policy priorities to meet the changing world order.

With these principles in mind, I recently visited China at the invitation of Premier Wen Jibao. The visit came 35 years to the day since my late father established diplomatic relations with China. But I wasn’t just retracing his footsteps. It was to cover new ground, to walk further and faster to deepen and broaden our long standing relations. This, my official first visit to a non-ASEAN country, was made because our relationship with China is fundamental to our national interests, and because there are many mutual lessons to be learnt and shared between our countries.

One lesson is the realisation that for China, like Malaysia, an open door economic policy has brought extraordinary economic progress. For the past 20 years or so, China had enjoyed an annual average growth rate of more than 9.5 %. Given her size, this is indeed a remarkable achievement unequalled in human history. During that period, more than 400 million people had been lifted out of poverty. Bicycles, once ubiquitous on China’s roads and streets, are fast disappearing, being replaced by local and foreign automobiles on wide boulevards and modern highways.

Even today, while other economies are suffering from the impact of the global economic crisis, China continues to register positive growth. China’s economy had expanded by 6.1 % in the first quarter of 2009 while other countries, including Malaysia, are contracting. Some economists predict that, at this rate, China, by as early as 2025, would surpass the United States as the largest economy in the world. By opening up to the rest of the world, China transformed itself from a marginal bystander to emerge a world player in less than a generation. China always had this potential. But it took the decision to open up, which turned this potential into reality.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Malaysia has undertaken a similar strategy for several decades, and this strategy has been successful. With our own formula, we weathered the 1997 Asian financial crisis and found acceptance of our approach among the hitherto ‘doubting Thomases’ at the international financial institutions. Much credit has and should be given to the political leadership then for having the wisdom and gumption to chart a course away from the Washington consensus and economic orthodoxy at the time.

At Independence, we began as a poor country, with more than 50% of our population living in poverty. Malaysia was an agro-based economy, vulnerable to fluctuating commodity prices. Some 80% of our economy then was largely dependent on the exports of two commodities – tin and rubber. Today, five decades later, Malaysia has made great strides. We are a modern industrialising, middle income economy and rank as the 19th largest trading nation in the world. We pursued a national strategy of growth with equity, a strategy that was embraced and accepted by all communities, and we succeeded in reducing poverty to 3.6%. Malaysians in general are now able to enjoy a high standard of living and decent quality of life. Quite a feat for a young nation not given much hope at our conception.

This success was not accidental. It has been achieved by hard work and determination, facilitated by our policy of opening up to and engagement with the rest of the world. Because we chose earlier than most not to become isolated, not to look inward, we were able to harness the talents of our people to achieve prosperity that would have astonished our forefathers.

Now, at this time of great change, we will need to re-forge our economy again. We must become a globally recognised centre of high-value added services. This requires education and training, commitment and hard work, and a government that serves the people effectively by helping them to unleash their abilities, drive and ingenuity.

There is much to do to achieve developed nation status by 2020. I have talked before about the importance of managing performance of Government, of ensuring we rigorously measure and deliver value using tools such as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). I want not only our civil servants to be held accountable, but your Ministers as well. But while a disciplined and systematic approach to managing performance is important, I recognise it is no substitute for clear vision and direction. And that is why I want to focus again on the concept of 1Malaysia. It is central not just to how we should view our domestic national priorities, but also to how we should approach our efforts in diplomacy and foreign relations.

This concept and call for unity in nation-building is not new. It has been the basic tenet of our national philosophy since the days of our first Prime Minister, Almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra. At home, 1Malaysia means realising that it is our diversity that is our strength. It means accepting fellow Malaysians, regardless of colour, creed or religious belief. It also means accepting the circumstances that brought us together as a nation, and respecting the rights and responsibilities of each community that form this country.

1Malaysia does not reject our past in order to secure our future. Rather it is a clear reaffirmation of the “documents of destiny” that have shaped this great nation and bound it together since our Independence – the Federal Constitution, the Rukun Negara, the guiding principles of the NEP, Wawasan 2020 and the National Mission.

But let us also recognise that we have grown up occasionally as one divided nation for the last five decades. For many, the time has come to discard our communal, geographic and religious silos. Let us forge a better Malaysia. A country that has its people moving from strength to strength as a single community yet secure in its diversity.

Tun Abdul Razak once said, “We Malaysians of all races must dedicate ourselves to one national aim. We can express that in a single word: unity.” As your Prime Minister today, I renew that pledge and call upon every Malaysian to unite, to build this great nation. Let us build a confident nation that seeks to capitalise on our diversity and celebrate it at every opportunity and occasion. We can and must embrace the challenges of defining Malaysia’s place in this complex world where nations, companies and communities both compete against and collaborate with one another at different times and on different occasions.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have said we must recognize that we live in an interdependent world. Of course we will not agree with the policies and practices of every nation. And there will be tipping points when a country threatens another, harbours terrorists, or acts with injustice towards its own people. But it is in our national and collective interest to join together with like-minded nations, both in the region and beyond. Nations whose principles, policies and actions are aligned with ours, with the notion that engagement and cooperation rather than isolationism and unilateral action, will best serve the interests of our people and our country.

All of you assembled here are at the front line of such engagement. Every day, heads of mission have to manage the interface between our objectives and the objectives of other states in what is today a very competitive and complex web of diplomatic relationships.

Our approach to economic development clearly recognises this accelerating interdependence with the rest of the world. We welcome others into Malaysia, while maintaining our own special identity and protecting our economic interests. In recognising that we will best flourish through incorporating the strengths of others, we have taken steps to liberalise some 27 subsectors of the services sector, including health and social services, tourism services, transport services, business services and computer and related services.

I have also announced the liberalisation of the financial services sector, an integral component of our economy. It is a sector that has been terribly wounded internationally but presents a special opportunity for future growth. I will be making a number of other significant announcements with respect to our liberalisation agenda in the coming weeks. With these measures, we hope that in due course the services sector will increase its contribution to the economy from 55% presently to over 70% in line with the structure of other fully matured, developed economies.

Let me state here that we are not liberalising to conform to some new economic orthodoxy. Nor is it for the sole purpose of attracting foreign investments and capital. Our objective is clear: to ensure that Malaysians – our people and our companies – benefit from the competitive dynamics that are shaping the global marketplace for ideas, talent and funds, so that Malaysian companies and Malaysians can emerge stronger, become more globalised and ultimately thrive in this new world order.

I am also seeking for us to develop a new economic model that will upgrade Malaysia’s status from an upper middle income to a high income country. We have established an Economic Advisory Council to be made up of Malaysian and international experts, which will advise the government on implementing and achieving the objectives of this new economic model. The new economic model will be premised on new sources based on innovation, creativity and high value.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Malaysia must play a greater regional role at a time when conflict continues to face some of our neighbours. We can do this by monitoring trouble early – and by keep our wits about us in deciding how and when we can help address threats. A problem on the border can stay on the other side of a border for only so long. For that reason, we must maintain close bilateral relationships with every one of our neighbours, enabling issues to be addressed through cooperation rather than confrontation. Towards this end, we must undertake cooperative arrangements with them. My visit to Singapore last month must be seen in this light.

We should also punch above our weight and beyond our region. We have special ties to China in light of the enormous contribution made to our society by Malaysian citizens of Chinese descent. But as other countries such as India and Brazil rise as economic powers, they too will have roles to play, and we will need to ensure we maintain and maximise our close working relations with them.

But it would not be wise for us to lessen our engagement with our closest traditional partners: the United States, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia and ASEAN. There will be much to do in the days to come. On energy and the environment; on the movement of peoples; on disaster assistance and relief; in countering cross-border crime and terrorism; in protecting human rights; and in countering other sources of instability.

Simultaneously, we must continue to explore trade and investment opportunities with our traditional partners. We must also develop strategic partnerships for trade and investment with countries in the Middle-East, Africa, Latin America and other parts of Asia.

This is where our heads of mission, as representatives of the government abroad, have an important role to play in applying the concept of 1Malaysia to our diplomacy. In an interconnected world, actions taken by governments far away will impact us. Vigilance, creativity, dynamic engagement that takes advantage of opportunities as they arise – this must be our raison d’être in the years ahead.

As our top diplomats, you will need to be ever alert and sensitive to change and be acutely aware of the opportunities and challenges that impact Malaysia. We in the government can only perform as we should if you provide us prompt advice on how we can enhance our relations with other countries and take advantage of opportunities as soon as they present themselves.

Diplomacy is not just about dialogue between states. It now encompasses interaction involving governments, businesses, international organisations, civil society and the people at large. You must be able to cultivate and establish networking with the media, NGOs, think tanks and civil societies. In a globalised world, diplomacy is everybody’s business. This is a great deal of work – and an extraordinary opportunity. I expect our heads of mission to be proficient in the languages of the countries you serve, skilful in the art of diplomacy and adept in the heavy task of negotiating on Malaysia’s behalf. I expect you to serve with integrity, to be mindful of our duty to the people and willing to learn. I also expect you to tell me what you think. We do not need sugar coating. We need to know the truth to move ahead, to take action when action is needed, to exercise caution when caution is required. And perhaps above all, I expect you to be creative in overcoming our challenges of limited resources and a limited cadre of diplomatic talent. Whether you head a mission in small developing country or in one of the leading capitals of the world, I expect you to rise to the occasion and demonstrate that we can achieve extraordinary results and outcomes with the many limitations that we face. Sir Harold Nicholson once said, “The art of diplomacy, as that of watercolours, has suffered much from the fascination which it exercises on the amateur.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

One area on which we have reached agreement already is towards greater integration within ASEAN. With the association becoming a single community by 2015, Malaysia must capitalise on the opportunity of a single ASEAN market of more than 550 million consumers. The tremendous potential of ASEAN+3 should also continue to be pursued. The ASEAN+3 remains our most important multilateral framework for regional economic, political and security cooperation. We should not pause at this crucial stage.
I believe we must once again emerge as a leading light within ASEAN and contribute towards effective leadership of our region. As an example, our extensive experience in international peacekeeping, together with our long record of inter-ASEAN defence cooperation based on the many borders we share, makes us a potential focal point for generating ideas and further implementing the ASEAN Security Community. In a broader sense, Malaysia should position itself as the middle ground ASEAN member state, bridging a growing gap between the more recent ASEAN member states with our more established neighbours. I believe we have an important role to play in ensuring we bring the whole multilateral weight of ASEAN to bear on all issues – whether dealing with climate change, pandemic diseases, human rights and human trafficking, nuclear proliferation or terrorism – and that ASEAN’s collective voice is heard in the most crucial gatherings wherever they occur around the world.

Malaysia welcomes the positive foreign policy outlook under President Obama’s administration. Our relationship with the United States remains central and strategic at many levels and across many issues such as disarmament, revamping the global financial architecture, the Middle-East peace process and the environmental challenge. I am pleased with the warmth that has been so clearly signalled so early in the new President’s term. The clear friendship that has been struck between our Datuk Anifah and Secretary Clinton in their recent meeting, and the recognition of Malaysia’s achievements as a modern progressive Muslim country by President Obama in Cairo recently, are clear signs that we are moving to bring this relationship to a higher level. We will not agree on everything, but, with the new direction in Washington, I believe we are on the right track. I am looking forward to sitting down with President Obama to take advantage of the goodwill and atmospherics being generated on both sides of the relationship. I believe working closely together, we can achieve much more in the region and beyond.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me end my remarks by saying this: on behalf of our people and this Government, I thank you for your work. The practical solutions you are working on every day are vital. We cannot proceed without vision. My own begins with recognition of our interconnectedness, and with opening up to the world. I mean opening up to the dynamism, the diversity and the differences that exist both within our borders and among the global community. Opening up to the changing world order, new ideas and the opportunities they present. Opening up to the movement of skills and talents around the world as well as opening up to the free movement of goods, capital and services.

But any principle or goal can only provide a general direction. To achieve results, we need to be fact-based, practical, modest, diligent, and clear-headed about reality. You are not just the eye and ear of the country, but you are more than that. I know you live these values every day. And your country thanks you for your work. I hope and pray you will continue to rise to the occasion.

I wish you all great success in your deliberations. It is my pleasure to declare open the 7th Heads of Mission Conference.

Thank you.

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