The Jamal Khashoggi Murder and Malaysia’s Foreign Policy


The Jamal Khashoggi Murder and Malaysia’s Foreign Policy

by Dato Amb. (Rtd.) Dennis Ignatius

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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Malaysia’s Novice Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah

Amid growing international outrage over the brutal and gruesome murder of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (pic above) reiterated that “Malaysia’s bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia remain strong”, to quote one local report covering Putrajaya’s response to the killing. He was further quoted as saying that, “We are a friendly nation. We look at the big picture.” There was not even a hint of concern.

Many Malaysians, no doubt, found his comments deeply troubling. Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, however, quickly set the record straight: not mincing any words, and dismissing all that “big picture” nonsense, he asserted that Khashoggi’s killing was “an extreme and unacceptable act of tyranny” that “cannot be condoned”. He added that it is not something that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government can accept.

Murder most foul

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad addresses the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28, 2018. — Bernama pic

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad @ UNGA, New York

According to Turkish authorities, the murder of Khashoggi was carried out by a professional team of Saudi officials who lay in wait for him at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. After being overpowered, he was reportedly dismembered while still alive by a forensic specialist (part of the Saudi team) and his remains disposed of.

The official Saudi narrative of the murder has been anything but credible. After insisting for days that Khashoggi had left the consulate alive, the Saudis, faced with mounting evidence of their complicity, now admit that Khashoggi was indeed killed in the consulate. However, they conveniently maintain that it was the work of rogue agents acting without official sanction.

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Observers familiar with the way the Saudi Kingdom operates insist that such an operation could not have been carried out without the knowledge of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (also known as MBS), the real power behind the throne. The Prince has, in fact, a history of rash and reckless behaviour.

Whatever it is, Khashoggi’s  brutal murder has shocked the world. Even some of Jeddah’s strongest supporters were disturbed by the sheer barbarity of it all and are demanding a full and transparent investigation. In the meantime, many senior business and political leaders are boycotting the ongoing “Davos in the Desert” conference (a key initiative of MBS) while both the German Chancellor and the Canadian prime minister have called for a ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

A Foreign Policy that reflects the new Malaysia

Under such circumstances, the  novice Malaysian Foreign Minister’s reiteration of business as usual with the Saudi government was clearly inappropriate.

More than that, it is an indication that the Foreign Ministry (Wisma Putra) has yet to think through what the new Malaysia stands for and how best to reflect the values and hopes of a free and democratic society premised upon respect for the Rule of Law.

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Wisma Putra

The Prime Minister’s Address and his pledge to ratify all outstanding UN human rights conventions should have been seen as an indication of Malaysia’s new commitment to human rights, among other matters.

It is one thing for the Foreign Ministry to table the Prime Minister’s UNGA Address  in Parliament and declare it to be our policy; it is quite another to give it  well thought expression in the positions we take on international issues.

The limits of Islamic solidarity

Clearly, one of the things that needs to be addressed going forward is the lack of a consistent human rights dimension in our Foreign Policy. Out of a misguided sense of Islamic solidarity, we have, for example, tended to keep silent when Muslim despots target their own people.

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Even now, we remain largely ambivalent to the carnage that Saudi Arabia (with US and UK support) is inflicting on Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world. More than 10,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed while millions are on the brink of what the UN warns might be the “largest famine the world has seen for many decades”. What the Saudis are doing to Yemen is nothing short of a crime against humanity; silence is simply not an option anymore.

With MBS now working with the hawks in Washington and Tel Aviv to plot regime change in Tehran, things are about to get a lot worse. Hasn’t the slaughter and destruction in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria been enough? Have we learned nothing of the horrendous consequences of regime change? How many more bombed-out cities, how much more death and destruction do we need to see before we demand that the Saudis and their backers in Washington stop this madness?

Before they came to power, many PH leaders expressed outrage against the carnage in Yemen and pressed for the withdrawal of all Malaysian armed forces support personnel from the Saudi-led coalition. There was no talk then about “big picture” diplomacy.

A principled Foreign Policy

With his remarks on the Khashoggi murder, Mahathir has sent a clear message that there are limits to Islamic solidarity, that a principled foreign policy obliges us to speak out against injustice and to actively promote the cause of peace in the world.

The days when we close our eyes to human rights abuses and war-mongering for the sake of political expediency are now over. Wisma Putra, like other ministries, must rise to the challenge of Malaysia Baru and give expression to the values that premise it. The people expect no less.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

Mahathir’s UN speech proposed as basis of Foreign Policy


October 16, 2018

Mahathir’s UN Speech proposed as basis of Foreign Policy

 

PARLIAMENT | The Foreign Ministry today tabled a motion in the Dewan Rakyat for the speech of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept 28 to be set as the basis of Malaysia’s foreign policy.Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah also proposed that the Dewan Rakyat agree with the direction of the country’s foreign policy as stated in the Address of the Prime Minister.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Salahuddin Ayub seconded the motion.

In tabling the motion, Saifuddin said the prime minister’s speech outlined, among others, the position and foreign policy of the country based on principles such as not favouring any power, neutrality and practising the “prosper thy neighbour” philosophy.

“The Prime Minister also emphasised Malaysia’s relations with the world’s major powers, as well as other issues such as the situation in Palestine, the plight of the Muslims in Rakhine (Myanmar) and the trade war between the economic powers,” he said.

Saifuddin said Mahathir also noted the importance of the UN as a key platform to resolve universal issues and expressed the hope that the UN will continue to play an important role in maintaining international peace and security.

“The Prime Minister’s speech also outlined the objectives and plans of the foreign policy of the New Malaysia to support the sustainability of economic, political and social developments within our own country,” he said.

Saifuddin said the motion was tabled to enable the government to obtain inputs, views and feedback from the members of the Dewan Rakyat because the government needed to have a foreign policy framework as a select committee on foreign policy has yet to be formed and the new Parliament has yet to have a caucus of MPs on foreign relations.

“We propose that Malaysia’s foreign policy framework comprises four key components, the major strands of foreign policy which have been largely disclosed in the Prime Minister’s speech at the UN; empowering the foreign ministry; strengthening inter-agency cooperation; and increasing the people’s participation,” he said.

Bernama

Better to be honest than diplomatic


Better to be honest than diplomatic

Opinion  |  Phar Kim Beng
 

COMMENT | Diplomacy, as some would have it, is the art of “telling someone to go to hell in a way they look forward to the trip”.

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Although this quote might appear on the favourite coffee mug of many United Nations officials and diplomats, the truth of the matter is, diplomacy is meant to be a life saver and invariably, a geopolitical game changer, at critical moments in history.

Take the crisis in Myanmar and China, for instance. Close to 700,000 Rohingyas are being persecuted in Myanmar, of which another one million are in “re-education” camp in China.

If Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah is expected to be gingerly tactful and polite – which he already has been since day one – such humanitarian crisis could careen into what political scientists call “complex humanitarian emergencies” (CHE).

A CHE is when an originally solvable problem degenerates into an intractable issue that now confronts the international community, whether to resort to war to separate the enemy combatants or to persist with the use of forceful, perhaps coercive, diplomacy to divert the issues from the path of disaster back to the normal trajectory of peace and civility.

Either way, diplomacy cannot be built on deceit let alone deception.

When a foreign minister feels deeply about another country, he or she should say it outright. Saifuddin, in a sense, was not wrong to tweet about his dislike of two countries which he was about to visit.

If one goes by the gold standard of contemporary diplomacy, there are two templates at the UN now. Both contradict one another in form and style.

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The first kind takes place at the UN General Assembly, where diplomats from all over the world, and their leaders too, converge in New York City to “vent”; Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is about to let it rip when he speaks at the United Nations tomorrow.

On the other hand, at the UN Security Council, as far back as 2000, the council’s five permanent members have resorted to using secret, back-room and stealth-like diplomacy, to do whatever they want, without the consent of the council’s non-permanent members.

Meaning, the US, China, UK, France and Russia often do things away from the prying eyes of the non-permanent members.

The net effect in the UN General Assembly, however, while normally hortatory (full of talk and no action) does become what the late US permanent representative to UN Jeanne Kirkpatrick called “the Turkish bath”. The general assembly is where the whole world lets off steam, express their frustrations, and some even walk out. Unseemly as these diplomatic practices are, they help countries, great and small, to keep their frustrations well managed.

At the UN Security Council, there is also another diplomatic method and ethos applied, where the five permanent members either attack each other’s views and values by exercising their right to veto any decision or to abstain themselves (from their vote of hands).

Either way, diplomacy cannot be understood as purely being “nice”. The Foreign Affairs Ministry is not a five-star hotel where the customer is always right and smiles must always be the fixture of all the staffs. Diplomats are trained to speak their mind, either firmly or politely, short of triggering a wild fire of outlandish conflicts and verbal tit for tat.

It is disingenuous that Kepala Batas MP Reezal Merican and Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin have asked Saifuddin Abdullah to shape up in his speech acts. “Behave as a diplomat,” Khairy tweeted, while Reezal told the minister to “consult with senior officials” before speaking. Both of them are wrong.

The Foreign Affairs Minister is given the leeway to walk out of the room, stand up to raise a point, even tweet about his feelings – especially when the countries in questions have been red flagged by the international community for a spectrum of egregious violations of rights and conventions.

Saifuddin is the diplomat-in-chief of Malaysia as well as of the Pakatan Harapan government.

At a time when Mahathir is about to speak on “The Future of Asian Democracy,” at the Chatham House in London, it is all the more important why Saifuddin should speak his mind.

It is here, the headquarters of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, that the “Chatham House Rule” was formed in 1927. The rule, which states that speakers can express their personal views even if they are not be in line with their organisation’s, is meant to increase openness of discussing public policies and current affairs.

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Being honest, in a glib or tactful manner, is not the equivalent of being grouchy and grunge. Saifuddin, one of the most genteel Malay politicians to have emerged in Malaysia, should be encouraged to speak his mind.

Those who are offended, such as Reezal and Khairy, seem to forget that they were once afraid to speak the truth to ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak too.

This contributed to a humongous 1MDB debt bomb, for which neither of them have offered an apology to Malaysians, who now carry a debt of about RM 34,000 each for decades to come.

The insistence on being polite in politics is rubbish, as there is just too much at stake to be nice all the time. Thumbs up for Saifuddin for calling a spade and spade, short of poking a stick into the eyeball of those countries he dislikes. Pakatan Harapan one; Barisan National (or what remains of it) zero.


PHAR KIM BENG was a multiple award-winning Head Teaching Fellow on China and Cultural Revolution in Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Jomo on China-Malaysia Ties


July 26, 2018

Jomo on China-Malaysia Ties

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

by Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram

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Malaysia’s Award Winning Economist and Author–Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Various media reports and even remarks by some close to the new government of Malaysia imply that it will be antagonistic to improving economic relations with China. This grossly misrepresents the popular Malaysian rejection of the corrupt kleptocracy that ruled the country in the last decade.

Rather than rely on an opportunistically compliant leader ever ready to serve those who pay him most, China is surely better off dealing with a Malaysian leader who desires peace, freedom and neutrality based on mutual respect and benefit, and truly commands the respect of the governments and peoples of the region.–Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram

To be sure, all Malaysian governments since independence in 1957 have invited foreign direct investment. For decades, some of us have been concerned with the Malaysian government’s seemingly uncritical view of foreign investments.

 

However, to be fair, both Prime Ministers Tun  Abdul Razak Hussein and Dr Mahathir Mohamad were, in fact, quite circumspect.

How else can we explain the takeovers of mainly British-owned investments in Malaysian trading agencies, plantations and mines of the 1970s? Or for that matter, the technology transfer, employment generation and domestic procurement requirements imposed in the following decade?

Caricaturing the recent Malaysian political debate over some investments associated with China risks misleading all concerned. This may have unpredictable, and even adverse consequences for future bilateral economic relations.

Since early 2017, some of us have been portrayed in some quarters as critics of all foreign investments from China.

ECRL

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In particular, I had (have) questioned the economic viability of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project as Malaysia would eventually have to pay well over three times the original cost estimates. Even at the much lower costs, the project would never ever pay for itself.

After discounting the original cargo and passenger projections to more realistic levels, the project would have implied permanent haemorrhage of operating costs, even after writing off the gargantuan development costs of RM81 billion plus interest.

As had become the norm with such projects in recent years, the contract was awarded following “direct nego” by the previous Malaysian government to a Chinese company without any competition and little transparency, but generous special privileges, including massive tax exemptions.

To be sure, ECRL would not have involved foreign investment from China, but rather, huge loans from China’s Export-Import Bank, ostensibly for 85% of projected costs. It was expedited to start early this year before the general election.

A few months later, with little work done, almost RM20 billion, or half the total loan, had already been disbursed in dubious circumstances.

The sagas of the two SSER gas pipelines are similar, with the loans almost all disbursed despite little actual progress on the ground. The huge safety risks for the multi-product pipeline and the likely ecological damage in Sabah only exacerbate the familiar tale of economic infeasibility.

Unsurprisingly, there has been considerable public opposition to such projects and associated debt liabilities, involving likely fraudulent hands already greatly resented by most Malaysians. Needless to say, the mammoth resulting debt burdens will be borne by future generations of Malaysians.

China’s Xi Jinping opposes fraud

On May 9, Malaysians resoundingly rejected such irresponsible foreign investments and dubious loans that will burden and ruin our economy, and their greedy enablers. However, public opposition to such abuses does not constitute blanket opposition to all investments from China.

Unfortunately, the undiscriminating tend to lump all investments from China together.

Recent full employment, assured by ballooning public sector employment, has obscured the lacklustre growth since the 1997-1998 Asian crisis, especially in the last decade following premature deindustrialization. The promise of services employment has mainly involved traditional, rather than modern services, despite misleading official hype to the contrary.

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Like the government of China, the new Malaysian government is much more discerning, and recognises that foreign direct investment and technology transfers from abroad will be crucial to future progress.

Undoubtedly, there are some dodgy foreign investments in Malaysia involving investors from China, as it is from elsewhere. But it is important to recognise that China’s authorities are embarrassed by such opportunistic, irresponsible, and even corrupt behaviour. Hence, they have already taken action to regulate outward capital flows.

Before that, a serving Chinese Ambassador famously criticised such investors from China, and publicly apologised for their bad conduct.

For over half a decade, Chinese President Xi Jinping has led an ongoing campaign against graft, promising to quash deep-seated corruption at all levels. China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has taken the fight abroad since 2015, and can be expected to cooperate, not least because of the reputational risks for China, especially after recent attempts to diplomatically isolate it by its strategic rivals.

Making cars

While many Malaysians are understandably wary of a “Perotiga”, we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We should consider Mahathir’s plea for a renewed commitment to more technologically advanced industrialisation despite earlier failed “heavy industrial” investments.

For example, Geely should be persuaded to work with Proton to make the country their major export hub for right-hand drive mid-size car production for the world. The collaboration may also build on prescient Mahathir-inspired efforts to develop an electric car in the 1990s, well before the now near universal appreciation of the urgent need to address global warming and air pollution due to fossil fuels.

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Electric Cars for Malaysia and ASEAN?

After all, electric cars will also dispense with the need for traditional engines, which was the last challenge in developing a Malaysian made car decades ago. Of course, the world has changed, and it would be crucial to reconsider what would be viable and internationally competitive going forward.

Malaysians appreciate investments which will contribute to the country’s progress, for example, in 5G telecommunications technologies, useful artificial intelligence applications, new financial technologies, renewable energy, new medicines and electric vehicles.

The new government clearly favours productive industrial investments, especially with Mahathir’s well-known commitment to accelerating Malaysian technological progress.

Zopfan

Of all ASEAN leaders, Tun Dr,Mahathir has been the most committed to the 1955 Bandung principles and the Asean commitment to make Southeast Asia a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (Zopfan), recently reiterated as keeping foreign warships out of the region. This must surely give comfort to China, which has long strived to break out of decades-long efforts to encircle it.

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Rather than rely on an opportunistically compliant leader ever ready to serve those who pay him most, China is surely better off dealing with a Malaysian leader who desires peace, freedom and neutrality based on mutual respect and benefit, and truly commands the respect of the governments and peoples of the region.

Dr. Jomo KS is a member of the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Will Mahathir Reset China-Malaysia Trade Relations? – Analysis


July 26, 2018

Will Mahathir Reset China-Malaysia Trade Relations? – Analysis

By Mathew Maavak

https://www.eurasiareview.com/16052018-will-mahathir-reset-china-malaysia-trade-relations-analysis/

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China President Xi Jinping met with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during a state visit to Malaysia in 2013.

A shock electoral upset has just returned 92-year-old Dr Mahathir Mohamad to the prime ministerial chair in Malaysia. The run-up to this climax was muddled by a miasma of fake news, lurid allegations and outright conspiracy theories from either side of the political divide. China-baiting was inevitably drawn into this tawdry mix despite mainland investments being a stabilizing main stay of the local economy.

According to an Economic Intelligence Unit report last year, Malaysia was the fourth-largest recipient of mainland Chinese direct investments – right behind Singapore, United States and the autonomous Chinese province of Hong Kong. Although the sum total of Chinese investments in Malaysia has not been adequately tallied,the US$100 billion Forest City project provides a snapshot of the staggering amounts being invested into the local economy.

While former Prime Minister Najib Razak hailed these investments as an imprimatur of his government’s investor-friendly policies, the opposition camp (and new government) accused him of “selling out to China”. In reality, one doubts whether foreign consortia can match the scale, cost-effectiveness and speed of execution of many Chinese-led projects in Malaysia.

Business Compradors

Dr. Mahathir has particularly taken issue with the inadequate number of local jobs created by Chinese investments in Malaysia. It is an argument not without merit.Overseas Chinese infrastructure projects are known for their heavy reliance on mainland labour, machines and supplies – of the lock, stock and barrel variety – tokeep costs, graft and middlemen interference to the lowest possible scale.

Curiously, the backbone of Dr Mahathir’s electoral tsunami came from the ethnic Malaysian Chinese community who openly hailed the global ascent of China. That was until they discovered that mainland business models accommodated as few middlemen as possible.It was Alibaba on a massive scale, missing 40 thieves and in perennial need of 40 innovators.

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Robert Kuok’s appointment as a member of the Council of Eminent Person is a strategic move, given the billionaire’s ties to China

 

Many Malaysian consumers save thousands of ringgit each year by purchasing a variety of consumer products directly from China instead of forking out a hefty mark-up at local stores.Unsurprisingly, there are now growing calls to tax online purchases from China. This is not going to help budget-strapped Malaysians who voted in the new administration on the back of complaints over rising living costs. Malaysia’s shadow economy has been estimated by various studies to range between 30 percent and 47 percent of its GDP up till 2010.

The anti-China narrative therefore may be couched in terms of multifaceted grievances like jobs and the South China Sea but it primarily boils down to incentives for middlemen who contribute little or nothing in terms of value-additions to projects, products or services offered by mainland companies. These modern-day compradors have an ally in another area bereft of value – added or otherwise.

Media Compradors

The biggest impediment to the Malaysian economy is not China, its business modus operandi or the lack of local talent. It is the Malaysian media which has abjectly failed to relay grassroots ideas and innovations to national policy-makers for decades.

The author himself vividly remembers the lament of Dr Mahathir’s former national science advisor on the dearth of science journalists in Malaysia. This translates to recurring losses in taxpayer money.There is an oft-told account of how a fact-finding delegation to the United States, seeking particular expertise in renewable energy technology,were told that the expert they were looking for was a Malaysian academic back in Kuala Lumpur!

Researchers needing critical economic or scientific data on Malaysia are likely to get them from foreign sources as even google cannot cope with the bottomless insipidity and juvenile meanderings of the local media. Publicity-seeking experts with dodgy backgrounds are routinely sought for their banal insights and quotes in return for guaranteed filler spaces in a lack lustre media. Malaysia is gradually losing its economic and intellectual competitiveness due to the entrenched practice of mediocrity promoting mediocrity – egged on by Western interests.This forms the main backdrop to the current anti-China narrative.

Local media stalwarts privately blame politicians, in particular Dr Mahathir himself (during his previous 22-year reign) for the lack of media vigour and freedom in Malaysia. While media restrictions undeniably exist, one wonders how proposed articles on topics such as Open Governance could be seen as subversive.

It is high time to drain the swamp in Malaysia. Dr Mahathir has already indicated that the bloated 1.6 million-strong civil service in Malaysia would be pruned to promote economic and government transparency. For decades, successive governments had rewarded personal loyalty with plush posts and contracts. Malaysians now have another chance to demand efficient, meritocratic and transparent governance. Not mass-mediated bogeymen, viral passions and pies-in-the-skies.

The billion-dollar question now is whether the new administration will be able tougher in a transparent and vibrant media – one that can explore greater synergies within and abroad.Otherwise, Malaysia’s relations with its neighbors and trading partners are bound to deteriorate, along with its economy.

An abridged version of this article was published by CCTV’s Panview on May 14, 2018

ASEAN is Priority, says Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah


July 25, 2018

Foreign Policy: ASEAN is Priority, says Malaysia’s Foreign Minister  Saifuddin Abdullah

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by  Yiswaree Palansamy

https://www.malaymail.com/s/1655704/foreign-minister-asean-is-always-premium

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Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah and his Indonesian counterpart, Retno Marsudi, in Jakarta

“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

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.

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 “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.

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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”.