On the evening of 2 June 1953, there was a rapturous mood across parts of Malaya. People were rejoicing under firework-filled skies, as the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place in Westminster. Later on, the newly-crowned Queen took to the airwaves, and those tuning in across the UK and around the world heard Her Majesty’s pledge: “Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust”. While no one doubted the sincerity of those words, it is extraordinary to consider how the Queen has lived up to them.
I speak for all Malaysians in expressing my admiration for the Queen and the grace, poise and selflessness with which she has carried out her duties during her long reign. She represents the very best of British traits: dignity, resilience and hard work. So it was with great honour yesterday that I welcomed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Malaysia as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
The Royal Couple are great ambassadors for the UK and I was delighted to spend time with them over lunch. The Duchess seemed particularly interested in our tropical fruit selection, and, in particular, the durian. Many in Southeast Asia herald this as the ‘King of Fruits’, but it also has an odour so strong that it is banned on some forms of public transport.
We discussed the bonds that exist between our countries, because while much has changed in the six decades since the Queen assumed the throne – for a start, Malaya became Malaysia as we gained independence from Britain in 1957 – this relationship, so deep-rooted in history, has remained steadfast.
This April, we also had the honour of a hosting Prime Minister David Cameron – the first British Prime Minister to visit Malaysia for nearly 20 years. And during the trip, the Prime Minister and I pledged that we would never allow the special relationship between our countries to fall by the wayside. Instead, we would reinvigorate and nurture it, build on our common values and our common interests.
We agreed to deepen political and diplomatic ties, as well as set a target to double trade to £8billion by 2016. Malaysia has benefited from British influence and investment over the years. British colonial engineers built the Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur and the Old Town Hall in Georgetown, while Topshop and Marks & Spencer are ever-present British symbols in our contemporary shopping malls. Today the UK is also benefiting from an increasingly powerful Malaysian economy and business community.
Just a couple of months ago, this included the announcement that Malaysian investors would be redeveloping an icon of London: the Battersea Power Station. Having fallen into a semi-derelict state, the £8bn revamp plan will see the site transformed into a bustling riverside complex, a hub of economic activity, creating around 30,000 jobs.
As someone who has been a beneficiary of the UK’s world class education system, I am also delighted that we will see a greater collaboration between educational institutions. More than 13,000 Malaysians travel to the UK to study in British universities every year. Meanwhile, in Malaysia, students from both our countries study at the Nottingham University campus in Semenyih, the first full campus of a British university overseas. Marlborough College, where the Duchess of Cambridge studied, has just opened the doors of its new school in Iskandar Malaysia. I hope these students take away skills and experiences as rich and varied as the ones I did all those years ago during my studies at Nottingham.
Economically, culturally and politically, our bilateral relationship has stood the test of time. And it has done so precisely because our history and our values are so intricately intertwined. Both our countries believe in the power of moderation, the strength of civil liberties as well as the need to increase prosperity by building open, outward-facing economies.
Our commonalities even include a love of afternoon tea – and the Malaysian tea manufacturer, Boh, have created a new blend in honour of the Diamond Jubilee. This mutual affection for a cuppa is something that the Duke and Duchess will indulge in during a tea party at the British High Commissioner’s residence. The attendees will include two lucky Malaysians who, having won a competition, will get the chance to meet the Royal Couple.
In this Diamond Jubilee year of Her Majesty the Queen, this is entirely apt. For as well as celebrating her magnificent reign, we should be celebrating the historic ties, both big and small, between our nations. Just as the Queen more than fulfilled the pledge she made at her coronation 60 years ago, I hope that the pledge that Prime Minister Cameron and I made to renew our relationship will also stand the test of time.