July 25, 2018
Foreign Policy: ASEAN is Priority, says Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah
by Yiswaree Palansamy
Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah and his Indonesian counterpart, Retno Marsudi, in Jakarta
Malaysia’s foreign policy will continue to be focused on strengthening ties with its South-east Asian neighbours, Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said as China flexes its muscle over the resource-rich region.
But he added that the full extent of the country’s foreign policy will be spelt out by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, Straits Times reported today.
“ASEAN is always premium. ASEAN member states really have to come together, be on the same page, not only with China, but any superpower,” Saifuddin told the Singapore daily in an interview yesterday.
The Malaysian Foreign Minister admitted that it will not be easy to manage ties with China, which is also Malaysia’s largest trade partner, noting that other ASEAN members too have significant trade and other bilateral interests with the Asian superpower.
“Security is another story altogether, and ASEAN centrality is missing. We can speak in one voice and negotiate and explain our position better. Hopefully, then China and others will appreciate our position and concerns,” he was quoted saying.
While Malaysia still holds to the “fundamental principles of non-alignment, non-interference” and does not support violent actions by sovereign powers, Saifuddin expressed confidence that the business community in the 10-member ASEAN will look to Dr Mahathir to play a key role as he has done in the past to safeguard their economic interests.
“The grassroots, the small businessmen, the small-medium enterprises don’t really feel (ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) represents them. Social entrepreneurship is where you can strike a common denominator where people in all 10 member states can benefit.
“We need to bring them as government contractors, if you like, or as empowered non-state actors to play a more active role,” he told the Singapore paper.
Saifuddin also said he hopes to engage Singapore — one of the five founding members of ASEAN — on ways to bring other parties into discussions to enlarge the ASEAN Economic Community and to move away from the concept that the grouping is only for “big people and big companies”.