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50 Years of Malaysia-British Partnership: Moving Forward

Sunday, October 28, 2007

At a conference held in London to celebrate 50 years of Malaysian independence Meg gave the following speech.


I’m delighted to be here for this opening session of what promises to be a day of interesting debate, focussing on how we can further strengthen what is already a most valuable relationship between our two countries.  I’d like to start my contribution by thanking the Malaysian Foreign Minister, H.E. Dato’ Seri Syed Hamid Albar, for giving his keynote address this morning.  


2007 is of course a landmark year for Malaysia, we celebrate together 50 years of Malaysian Independence.  In those 50 years Malaysia has made huge strides, becoming a modern and prosperous country with a bright future.  Indeed Malaysia has just put its first man in space.  I congratulate Malaysia on the spectacular success of Angkasawan’s [lit: Astronaut] mission, and am pleased that he has recently returned safely to Earth.  Nothing could more clearly demonstrate how far Malaysia has travelled (literally in this case) in 50 years.


In a letter to the Malaysian Prime Minister this week, the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, passed on his personal congratulations for the 50th anniversary of Malaysian independence and said he hoped that UK-Malaysia relations would continue to thrive in the future. 


We are proud of the strength of the ties that have bound the UK and Malaysia since independence.  It is true that sometimes we have had our ups and downs.  But when difficult times arise those ties of friendship have stood the test.  Not least during the early years of the Emergency and Confrontation, when tens of thousands of British soldiers served shoulder to shoulder with Malaysian armed forces.  Together they laid the foundations of democracy and respect for the rule of law that helped form today’s modern Malaysia. 


Over 1000 of those British soldiers gave their lives and many more were wounded.  On occasions like this it is appropriate we remember the sacrifice of those individuals and I appreciate the Malaysian Government awarding the veterans the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal to mark the important contribution they made.


The UK and Malaysia continue to be friends and partners in a number of fields.  I will talk this morning specifically about education; trade and investment; and climate change and sustainable development.  But it is important to say that co-operation goes well beyond these issues.



Our two countries have strong education links, and I know that Malaysia regards the development of a knowledge economy as vital to achieving its goal of developed nation status by 2020.  Malaysia has already made enormous strides towards this goal.


For many years, the UK has been the learning destination of choice for countless aspiring lawyers, doctors and dentists - something in the region of 75% of Malaysian barristers were trained here.  More Malaysians have trained at Sandhurst than from any other nation outside of the UK.  The current Agong [King] trained there.


It would be very remiss not to mention Jimmy Choo whose shoes and accessories have taken on such iconic status across the world.  He is probably the most talked about Malaysian in the UK.  He too studied in the UK at the London College of Fashion. 


Today there are around 11,500 Malaysian studying here.  We hope they will go on to enjoy success in their chosen fields to rival that of Jimmy Choo!


In the Foreign Office we recognise Malaysia’s importance as an education partner Malaysia receives one of the largest allocations of Chevening scholarships.  Over a thousand of Malaysia’s brightest and best have benefited from these scholarships.  I am delighted that as a result of co-funding partnerships with UK universities and business we have been able to increase significantly the number of scholarships on offer for the next academic year. 


A further 30,000 Malaysians are studying for UK qualifications in Malaysia.  This is made possible by initiatives like that of the University of Nottingham which opened a 12 million campus in Malaysia two years ago.  This is the first branch campus of a UK university in Malaysia and one of the first anywhere in the world.  This far-sightedness of Nottingham is to be expected; after all they let me study there for my higher degree.


I hope that the Memorandum of Understanding on bilateral co-operation in education signed by my colleague Bill Rammell in February will pave the way for more education initiatives.  It is encouraging to hear that Newcastle University’s plans for a medical school in Johor are making steady progress.  Together more than 80 tertiary institutions in the UK currently have links or collaborative arrangements with Malaysian counterparts and I hope that these numbers will continue to expand.


Both our nations recognise that developing capacity for science and innovation is a key factor to economic success.  I’m delighted that science and innovation links between our two countries is a strong focus of the British High Commission’s UK/Malaysia forward together campaign to celebrate 50 years of independence.



Leading UK companies operating in Malaysia today include Shell, BP, Tesco, Jardines, Hanson, Glaxo SmithKline and Dyson (who manufacture all their vacuum cleaners there).  The list goes on with HSBC, Standard Chartered and Prudential, Rolls Royce, LogicaCMG and BT.  These companies have recognised Malaysia’s rapid development, strategic location and political and social stability and have made the astute decision to invest there.  The development of projects such as the Multimedia Super Corridor and the recently announced Iskandar Development Region in Johor will make Malaysia all the more attractive to British investors. 


Malaysian investment in UK is also well established and growing.  YTL owns Wessex Water; Proton owns Lotus; MUI owns Laura Ashley and the Corus hotel chain.  Most recently, Malaysian national oil company, Petronas decided to take an 80 million share in a large Liquid National Gas terminal in Wales and a 338 million share in the gas distribution firm Centrica. 


Annual two-way trade between our countries is 3 billion, which represents a huge investment in the development of each other’s economies.  Britain has invested over 20 billion in Malaysia over the past 30 years.  The UK is Malaysia’s largest direct goods export market in Europe at just under 2 billion a year, whilst Malaysia is the second largest market for British goods in South East Asia at around 1 billion.


We constantly look for new areas of partnership.  Take Islamic finance for example, where both countries are emerging as global hubs.  British firms have recognised the expanding market for Shari’a compliant financial services and this year’s UK Budget included a series of measures aimed at facilitating and encouraging the development of Islamic finance in the UK. 


Malaysia is a leading force in one of the most economically dynamic regions of the world and our partnership is hugely important to the UK.


Climate Change/Sustainable Development

It’s hard to imagine, in an age of 24 hour media, where so many of us have access to the World Wide Web from our living rooms, that 50 years ago we were just getting the hang of transistor radios.  The scope of the technological revolution my generation has experienced has generally been a force for good, but there are unintended global consequences that we have a responsibility to address.  


Malaysia’s commitment to combating climate change makes for a valuable global partnership on an issue, which is of crucial importance to future generations.  Here in the UK we are also facing the challenges of this phenomenon.  Sir Nicholas Stern’s report flags up a cruel irony - that is that the least developed and poorest communities, those who have contributed least to global warning, that are likely to be hardest hit by its effects.  I hope that Malaysia’s participation in the forthcoming UK funded South East Asia region specific Review of the Economics of Climate Change, will help produce a realistic view of the way forward.


The UK government is also part funding a Regional Climate Change Conference in Kuala Lumpur next week [29-30 October].  This will bring together Ministers, senior experts and policy-makers from participating governments, as well as NGOs, academia, multi-lateral organisations and industry players to debate the impact of climate change regionally and highlight the importance of climate considerations in national and regional decision making.


I know that Malaysia is also doing valuable work to promote sustainable development at a regional level signing a tri-government declaration with Indonesia and Brunei on trans-boundary co-operation to preserve the Heart of Borneo.  The UK is supporting the development of a tri-national action plan, which will help to conserve and sustainably manage forest resources, resulting in benefits to local people.  



Before closing, I should also mention the excellent defence relationship which has been a pillar of UK/Malaysia bilateral relations for the last 50 years.  These days our defence co-operation is based on the Five Power Defence Arrangement, through which we collaborate on training, the sharing of expertise and equipment.  The UK views the FPDA as a successful and enduring defence arrangement and as such we are committed to contributing significant resources to keep it active and healthy.


Back in 1957, when Tunku Abdul Rahman began his administration of Malaysia, he called on his country to rid itself of terrorism so people could be free to move wherever they chose, unharrassed, unafraid and undisturbed.  Sadly, his sentiment is still relevant in today’s world as we meet the challenge of global terrorism fed by extremism.  Malaysia is voice of moderation in these troubled times and a valuable ally as we try and build bridges between East and West.  As Chair of the OIC [Organisation of the Islamic Conference] Malaysia wields significant influence and is well placed to support our common agenda of promoting moderate Islam internationally.  We acknowledge and appreciate those efforts. 



I hope that this conference will provide a useful platform from which to take our relationship forward.  I’m particularly encouraged that the conference includes a session on the perspectives of the younger generation.  It is they who are, after all, the policy makers and business brains of tomorrow.  We will be relying on them, not just to sustain the links between our two countries but also to work together to build a safer and more prosperous global community.


I wish you a productive day and look forward to welcoming many of you this evening to the Foreign Office as we celebrate 50 years of Malaysian Independence.

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