In Asia, and around the world, governments are increasingly facing new and unprecedented threats to peace and security. As we have seen in recent months, Malaysia and Thailand are not immune to these threats. In August, a series of bombings took place in Thailand, while in June, Malaysia suffered the first attack linked to the Islamic State.
Having discussed this with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, I know that the leadership of both Thailand and Malaysia understand not only the necessity of working together but also the need for firm government action to address these threats.
As Malaysian premier, my first and foremost priority is the safety and security of our nation and its people. I will never apologise for that. This means putting national security first.
The balance between liberty and safety has always been delicate. And in recent years following the nihilistic threat of extremism, it’s clear that this balance has shifted. However, we will always protect the rights of our citizens, including safeguards such as independent court process.
Across the world, governments are having to put in place new legislation to deal with new threats. For instance, new communication networks that help radicalise people faster but make detecting extremists ever harder. If we are to truly combat these threats, we cannot afford delays when there is information that must be acted on to save lives.
However, there are still some who would endanger the people by insisting on supposed freedoms that in fact facilitate terrorists. Indeed, there are some who have accused Thailand and Malaysia, and others in the region, of using the threat of terrorism as a pretext to introduce legislation.
This is an ill-informed and often politically-motivated view that vastly underestimates both the dangers we face, and the many terrorist atrocities that have been foiled because of the work of the brave police and armed forces in Malaysia and Thailand. This work is often conducted behind the scenes, without any credit being given to those on the front line. But the collaboration between our security services has been essential to the safety of our peoples and is an example of what our two countries can achieve together.
Many of these critics hail not from our countries or even our region, but from far away. They have little knowledge or understanding of our local security environment or culture. To them, I say that Malaysia and Thailand are sovereign states, where the governments of the day should be allowed to pursue their agenda for the betterment of the people without foreign interference.
The days of old powers coercing developing countries into doing what they want are over. We are proud of our history and culture, and we will defend our values against those who try to impose theirs on us — just as we will defend the sovereignty of our nations at all costs.
The people of Thailand recently voted for a new constitution. That is their right, and it is not for outsiders to say otherwise. Likewise, the government of Malaysia was elected by the people, and it is not for outsiders and their political allies in Malaysia to try and subvert democratic process in between elections.
This is non-negotiable, as is our commitment to working for the improvements of our peoples’ lives. Our two governments are committed to furthering our existing strong cooperation. One example of this is the role Malaysia stands ready to play in helping the Thai government achieve peace in southern Thailand. This is a major responsibility, and one we take very seriously, but we are honoured to be the facilitator of the peace process.
In addition, under the Joint Development Strategy for Border Areas, both countries are working to bring capacity building programmes and vocational training to vulnerable groups in southern Thailand, particularly single mothers and youths. We will continue to participate in these confidence-building measures, and hope the resulting stability and prosperity will reduce the likelihood of those on the margins falling prey to extremists.
Malaysia is also grateful to the Thai authorities for their help and assistance over border, maritime and intelligence sharing issues. But the partnership between our countries is not limited to security itself; it also encompasses the economic sphere and international relations.
We have an agreed goal of raising bilateral trade to US$30 billion (one trillion baht) by 2018, which will create new jobs and support families in both countries. And as co-signatories of the Bangkok Declaration which founded Asean, we are driving forces behind greater economic integration across the region that will result in huge benefits for our peoples.
Yet, there is more to do and we want to strengthen our ties and partnership even further, so that Malaysia and Thailand can not only celebrate our long history and friendship, but also continue to play a leading role in Asean and beyond.
Stable. Secure. Peaceful. Prosperous. I believe this is the future of our two countries, and with our governments united and determined, I am sure it is the destiny we will build for our peoples.
This Opinion ed was first published in Bangkok Post. You can read it here