As the head of one of the country’s most crucial ministries, the Minister is purposeful in his plans to make Malaysia play a more proactive role in maintaining security and stability in the ASEAN region. International Business Review sits down with him to discuss our government’s commitment to maintain friendly international relations.
Datuk Saifuddin is keen to address issues to improve trade and business arrangements that cater to both multinational corporations and SMES, all across the number of multilateral organisations that Malaysia is part of. To establish this feat, Malaysia will be working closely and on a number of measures with organisations like ASEAN, OIC, NAM, APEC and the Commonwealth. The minister believes that as an emerging mature democracy and a newly reformist government, our country has a lot of potential we can offer in terms of new solutions to old issues on facilitating trade and ensuring international cooperation.
Thus, MOFA recognises the importance of organisations like APEC as an important platform for Economies in the Asia Pacific region. It has become more of a thriving forum rather than an organisation, where its members work hard to pursue free and open trade with one another, as well as share best practices to achieve multinational cooperation and better investment. Malaysia is constantly pushing for open trade and opportunities to stimulate our regional economy and one of those prospects is APEC’s pursuit of the digital economy. It looks to be the main enabler of economic growth in the next decade and Malaysia will be working closely with all APEC members to encourage this progress in Malaysia’s economic future, while solidifying the cooperation they have among these successful economies.
MOFA will also be going into their diplomatic strategies with the Commonwealth and NAM with a new force, and a drive to help as much as they can. As two of the most important constructive multilateral platforms that can address issues of mutual concerns and good relations between all its members, Malaysia is committed to playing a more altruistic role in these organisations. MOFA will be assisting other developing countries that are members of these bodies by providing capacity building programmes under the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme (MTCP).
There will be a variety of advisory services, technical services and training courses that range from the short-term (1-3 weeks) and long-term (scholarships) to educated members on areas that are essential for the country’s development; health services, education, ICT, investment promotion, poverty alleviation and other crucial sectors. By providing such programmes, MOFA is hoping this will further strengthen bilateral relations between Malaysia and its neighbouring developing countries where the vast potential in the Commonwealth alone could offer huge trade opportunities for the nation.
When asked of future policies involving our diplomatic relations within ASEAN, Datuk Saifuddin responded, “Malaysia will continue to place ASEAN as the cornerstone of its foreign policy and emphasise ASEAN Community Building in the process of deepening relations and existing cooperation between ASEAN Member States.” MOFA is directing all their attempts to focus on all the key issues in the region that are instrumental in ensuring peace and security such as measures to counter human rights violations, promoting good governance and drawing up policies on sustainable development and counter-terrorism. This culminates in a document known as The ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together, a progressive roadmap that articulates the goals and aspirations Malaysia has for ASEAN as they enter a new phase of consolidation, integration and stronger cohesiveness – a Community that leaves behind a legacy.
One of the ways Datuk Saifuddin wants to position the New Malaysia in the world is that of a regional mediator against any and all human rights violations ASEAN, OIC and NAM encounter. There is an intensity in his speech as he discusses the spirited fight that MOF will put up in its efforts to keep peace, harmony and stability in the region. One pertinent issue that comes to the minister’s mind is the Counter of Violent Extremism that seeks to counter and prevent radicalism in the Southeast Asian region.
While religious extremism and violent radicalism were not products of the ASEAN region, Datuk Saifuddin acknowledges that unfortunately, we are a region that receives much of the heat. Regardless, it is a responsibility that MOFA takes very seriously and have thus established the Southeast Asia Center for Combating Terrorism (SEACAT) as an institution that Malaysia can leverage on and work together with other member countries to combat the atrocities of radicalism. Malaysia also serves as a steering group member in the Countering Violent Extremism Unit of the Commonwealth Secretariat and contributes their consultative and advisory services on how to prevent extremism. Datuk Saifuddin states that as a progressive Muslim country, we ought to be contributing more to cement this progressive version of Islam. He believes an important part of preventing radical acts is by giving a voice to the voiceless and showing the most hurt and marginalised groups of society empathy and a listening ear.
Furthermore, MOFA is firm on their stance that NAM is an important forum for member countries and that the voices of NAM must be heard and taken into consideration by bigger, international players. Malaysia is stressing this importance by enhancing their cooperating with NAM as a platform to address issues of global importance. One of the key issues MOFA will be tackling in the near future is their role under the NAM-established Committee on Palestine, where they will continue to champion for peace and stability in Palestine.
While he is determined to improve issues for the country from across our waters, Datuk Saifuddin is still committed to ensure that the manifesto promised by the Pakatan Harapan government is as successful as it can be in the coming years. “The process of writing this manifesto was very consultative – we enlisted members of civil society, academics, and professionals; in implementing our strategies, we have now recognised our stakeholders and keep in mind the policies that are most representative of our people and serve them best.”
Parliament is looking into the formation of select committees, where they can begin turning the manifesto into countless laws, policies and programmes. Including MOFA, there are a large number of the ministries already forming consultative councils at their own level. Datuk Saifuddin and his team have brought in a number of non-state actors that include academics, think tanks, civil society organisations and professional businesses to share ideas and converge on issues that could better reflect the needs and demands of the people.
Though Datuk Saifuddin is needed for his potential and vast number of ideas for Malaysia’s foreign affairs, his priority remains with his people back home. He believes there are many things that a New Malaysia can offer to its rakyat, and one of those things is hope.
“I want to see the New Malaysia with a new political model as well – one that brings about an end to the politics of race. It is something we can only truly create once we make everyone in this nation feel included in the plethora of opportunities this wonderful country provides. We want Malaysians to know that we are working hard to create this inclusivity, and we need all the support we can get.”
“Malaysia will continue to place ASEAN as the cornerstone of its foreign policy and emphasise ASEAN Community Building in the process of deepening relations and existing cooperation between ASEAN Member States.”– Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Datuk Saifuddin is a man of clear vision and a take-charge zest about him. While we as a country may experience doubt from a number of broken promises by our government, there is an assurance in his words and attitude that he will do the best he can, with all that his team and his nation can offer him. International Business Review anticipates big things from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and can’t wait to see how much change our New Malaysia promises.