The workshop on Managing Global Challenges at Kuala Lumpur was led by Sundeep Waslekar and Frank-Jürgen Richter. It concluded with both of them conducting a dialogue with Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak, Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, on the future of Malaysia and the world. Here are excerpts from comments made by Dato’ Sri Najib in the course of the conversation
On Scenarios for Malaysia
I am quite sanguine about the future. The 9th Malaysian Plan is more bullish on government investment and private growth. We are determined to achieve 6% rate of growth. Projects of the 9th Plan and others, which are to be announced, are strong on public-private partnership. We are on track to achieve the target. With this kind of a commitment, there is a promise for balanced and sustainable growth. However, the quality of growth is important. We need more equitable growth. Therefore, I don’t know if we are in the Forever Dawn or Shining Star scenario, the Scenarios developed at the workshop, but we are very confident of the future.
On Malaysia’s role in the world
Malaysia is looked upon as a role model. When countries need help, they come to Malaysia. We were recently approached by the Prime Minister of East Timor for help. Malaysia has also volunteered in Southern Philippines and Aceh. We do want to contribute towards peace in the region. Besides, Malaysia has the potential to play a positive role between West and Islam. We want to show that Islam is consonant with growth and development.
On Malaysia’s model of social harmony
Our first Prime Minister believed in given and take. Tunku is valued more today than during his time because he set the national psyche and political structure. Then we realized that laissez faire can be disastrous and that social justice is important.
My late father brought about the New Economic Policy (NEP) and we recovered very quickly after the 13th May 1969 racial riots. For any country to be successful, a strong value system is required. We have strong values here in Malaysia. My late father was scared of the immense powers he had. He used all the opportunities that he had to introduce parliamentary democracy. This was extraordinary, as people then had the nation’s welfare at heart, rather than self-interest.
Malaysia has an amazing political structure called Barisan Nasional. It is government based on the principle of consensus. There is no policy decided by cabinet, unless everyone agrees. There is no danger of extreme policies or one that is unjust or unfair. This tends to reduce racial tensions in the country. We can share some of these, but no country is the same. We need to tinker with the system to adapt it for others. We have the Westminster system here that has been fine-tuned to our history and our culture.
On internal challenges to Malaysia
The challenges that we face are similar to those being faced by other countries. The first is to remain competitive with the opening up of markets. The Proton has to be competitive. MAS (Malaysian Airlines System) have to be competitive. We need to choose the right strategies to have long-term edge. Secondly, we need to have very heavy investment in human capital. Presently there is a 20% investment in education. We need to increase this. Thirdly, we need to adopt a culture of high performance. There is still room for improvement. We need to talk in terms of precision culture. For example, Germany has high precision. We need to replace Bekuran by precision culture. We have the infrastructure, but we need to develop the culture.
On China and India
If you can’t beat them, join them! You don’t try and fight an elephant, but you can get between an elephant’s legs! China is a big market. It buys a lot of Malaysian goods, including palm oil. I recently bought furniture from a Malaysian company that is making furniture in China. We are becoming part of a global supply chain. We can take advantage of the growing markets in China and India.
Malaysia is well poised to be the hub in the ASEAN region. Geographically, we are in the centre of ASEAN. We have good links with all the countries and can reach out to all of them.
On ASEAN plus 3 plus 2
ASEAN should form the core of the East Asian community. But we want it to be inclusive. That is why it became ASEAN plus 3 plus 2. We want to involve all the stakeholders. We believe that the Australians and the New Zealanders can contribute; therefore we have a more inclusive approach.
We see Malaysia as a driving force. If leadership role can be played by ASEAN, we will see the emergence of the East Asia community. As we see greater integration on the economic sphere, market policies, people to people contact will also grow.
On North America and Europe
The United States has allowed innovative and creative thinking to flourish; therefore, they will continue to be strong. Europe is doing some rethinking. The Dutch and the French have rejected the European Union constitution. However, there is no way that there will be war between any two European countries. This cannot be said of the Asia-Pacific region.
There are some negative characteristics of today’s Europe, such as the work ethic. They need to come to terms with this to become competitive with the rest of the world, especially with the rising India and China.
On security environment
We are on the top of domestic security threat. I don’t see terrorism as a major threat in Malaysia. We have exported two JI operatives to Indonesia! They received guidance from their guru in Indonesia.
Internal security is well under control. However, you cannot take your eye off the ball- to use golf terminology- something may happen at any time. Global terrorism can move rapidly from one country to another. However, a war between two states is unlikely to happen in our region.
China is not a threat. It is an economic challenge, but not a security threat. Given its capability to launch operations in the South China Sea, it is not a threat to Malaysia. Generally, we are comfortable with the security situation in the region. However, it would help global security if the Palestine issue is resolved. This would also help the overall security of the region. We need to find a solution to the Israel-Palestine issue based on the two state systems.
On key concerns
Basically, it is a worry about the unexpected. Looking back at history, the financial crisis and SARS hit us. We had not anticipated them. There are unforeseen things that could torpedo our trajectory. The main thing is in terms of numbers. We need to see whether we can push our achievements higher. Politically, we need to maintain our majority in the parliament. We have been successful in the last 11 elections. In the last election we got we 90% of the votes. But one has to be concerned about the future.
At the global level, we need mechanisms to deal with problems in the future. So far we have only the UN. We need more mechanisms in place. There will be conflicts of different kinds. We need to be able to deal with conflicts, with natural disasters, and other crises.
And how can one factor in North Korea? They may test their long-range missiles. There are some uncertainties that cannot be fully ascertained. We need mechanisms to deal with untoward things happening. The use of nuclear devices is unlikely but not impossible. We have to deal with the war on terror. The world is less secure now than it was earlier and we need innovative mechanisms to deal with uncertainties of the future.
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