5 June, 2011

A Lengthy Blog for a Lengthy Trip


The month of May was a period for renewing international relations with investor countries. I must have clocked over 44,000 miles travelling across three continents – Europe, North America, and of course, Asia. As my visits are never leisurely, you must excuse me for this lengthy blog as I try to summarise the numerous highlights of my trips.

I first headed to Saudi Arabia to attend a private royal luncheon with His Majesty King Abdullah, which is a rare and great honour. During the private audience with His Majesty, we discussed issues in the Middle East, among others. His Majesty was very gracious with his time, despite having only recently recovered from a medical operation.

My next working visit took me to Qatar, where I met with my counterpart, Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Jassim Jabar al-Thani in a four-eyed meeting. As it was my first official visit there since helming the Government, it was crucial that my visit reinforces Malaysia’s relationship with the Gulf nation. While there, I also took several individual meetings with Malaysian business owners and Qatari investors. In my meeting with the Qatari Businessmen Association, we highlighted the investment opportunities in both countries, namely in infrastructure, oil and gas, and tourism development. As Qatar prepares to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, a massive number of infrastructure projects have been launched in the range of US$140 billion.This paves the way for Malaysian companies to increase our economic presence there, and I urge our firms to make the most of these opportunities.

From the Middle East, I flew to England, arriving in London on Sunday evening. My visit was arranged on the invitation by the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (OXCIS) to visit the centre’s new building site, and to deliver a lecture at the historic Sheldonian Theatre. In my lecture to a diverse audience of about 600, I reiterated my stand on moderation in religion and Islam, urging the audience to recognise that the real divide is neither between the East and West nor between people of different faith, but between the extremists and moderates. I encourage you to read the text of my lecture here, entitIed ‘Coalition of Moderates and Inter-Civilisational Understanding.

I spent about 45 minutes touring the OXCIS building construction, co-funded by Malaysia and several other Islamic countries. Hopefully, this remarkable building and the institution it houses will be a beacon of tolerance and understanding between Islam and the West. As always, I also try to make myself available to meet with the Malaysian community overseas when I visit, so the opportunity to meet with the our students there was not missed.

After a two-day visit, it was off to the United States. Following my bilateral meeting with President Obama in April last year, our countries had expressed commitment to broaden cooperation. My visit this time focused on attracting business investors and My first stop was New York, where I launched Invest Malaysia 2011 at the NYSE to an audience of over 360 potential investors. As the largest foreign investment partner for Malaysia, the confidence of American firms in our economic climate must be bolstered. From my interactions with the business community there, I am optimistic that foreign direct investment will continue to pour in, as a several multinational companies have already stated their intention to invest up to US$6 billion. This means more jobs for Malaysians.

Another highlight of the trip was the inaugural Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council (GSIAC) meeting, which I chaired, at the New York Academy of Sciences. Here, I spoke about a Digital Malaysia Masterplan in development, which is a centralised approach to capitalise on key opportunities from the increasing digitalisation of the world. Hopefully, this council, whose members comprise prominent scientists and experts from various fields, will help Malaysia seek innovative technological solutions to carry ourselves forward and out of the middle-income trap.

I also partook in a roundtable meeting with the US Chamber of Commerce, as well as individual meetings with some US corporate leaders, and witnessed the signing of three MoUs.

From New York I travelled on to Washington, and then Maryland, the home of the renowned Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. While there I was thrilled to announce that the university will be establishing a medical programme in Malaysia beginning September this year, through a collaboration with Perdana University in Serdang. This way, world-class education is now available, as they say, in our own backyard.

On a personal level, it was a joy to take some time during my trip to witness my daughter receiving her Bachelor of Science degree at the Georgetown University graduation ceremony. If you are a parent, I’m sure you can relate when occasions like this reaffirm our belief that we have done our best as parents to guide and nurture our children towards adulthood. It was, in a word, bittersweet.

My visit to the US ended; I flew back to Malaysia a bit sooner than scheduled. After being briefed of the tragic landslide incident in Hulu Langat while overseas, I resolved to visit the site and the survivors. Immediately upon arriving in Malaysia, my family and I headed to the site to survey the damage caused by the landslide, then to Ampang Hospital to lend moral support to the victims.

Two days later, I headed for Japan for a brief working visit to address the delegates at the 17th International Nikkei Conference in Tokyo. I received confirmation that some RM3.8 billion worth of investments will be coming in from Japanese firms, a positive sign for both countries, as Japan had been more inclined to direct their funds to rebuild the nation following the earthquake and tsunami incident last March. Before returning, I also met with Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto and industry leaders from the Japan-Malaysia Economic Association.

It was a whirlwind trip, to say the least, but I am optimistic with Malaysia’s future, thanks to the encouraging responses and outcomes from my visits, and the promise of more and better jobs for Malaysians.