The Ambassador of Malaysia, H.E. Sarah Nava Rani Al Bakri Devadason talks about the economic advantages of her country, unique travel destinations and the importance of the palm oil industry for Malaysia.
DM: Excellency, on 9 May 2018 there was a turning point in your country. The party alliance “National Front” (Barisan Nasional) was voted out after 61 years in power. What successes has the new alliance “Pakatan Harapan” had so far?
H.E.: I believe the real success story behind the unprecedented change of government in Malaysia after a period of 61 years is the demonstration of the strength and will of the people of Malaysia for change. It is a testament to the maturity of democracy in Malaysia. Despite pessimism by critics, the new government was swiftly and peacefully formed.
Led by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Pakatan Harapan has pledged to strengthen good governance and the economic standing of the country by restructuring of institutions as well as reviewing approaches and strategies. Focus is given to measures aimed at stimulating economic growth, improving investor confidence, strengthening human capital and ensuring inclusive development where no one is left behind in benefiting from growth. The new government is also serious on working towards greater transparency and enhancing the efficiency of public services.
Social well-being and enhancing the quality of life of the people is a top priority. Among others, immediate steps include increasing the minimum wage, introducing specific medical schemes for the lower income group, establishing a financial contribution scheme for housewives and single mothers, strengthening mechanisms for women empowerment, enhancing child care and protection as well as improving delivery systems to the people.
Last October, your Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad spoke of Malaysia’s willingness to engage more internationally. What are the most important issues here for the future?
Even at the offset of its independence in 1957, Malaysia has pursued an independent, principled and pragmatic foreign policy, founded on the values of peace, humanity, justice, and equality. Our foreign policy is founded on the strong and friendly relations with other countries and its commitment to the multilateral system. Under the present leadership, Malaysia continues to promote a forward-looking and pragmatic foreign policy that facilitates trade, attracts foreign investment as well as projects Malaysia as a stable and peaceful country.
Malaysia also advocates the “Prosper thy neighbour” policy to enhance economic relations and cooperation with neighbouring countries and other parts of the world. In terms of technical cooperation, Malaysia works with other countries by sharing its experience and knowledge through various foreign policy mechanisms. These include the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme (MTCP), the Langkawi International Dialogue, bilateral assistance.
As a member of the UN, Malaysia is fully committed to multilateralism in advancing global peace, security and prosperity. Malaysia’s record in peacekeeping operations under the UN, four tenures as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (the most recent in 2015-2016) and memberships in other UN bodies, demonstrate its dedication to contribute to the efforts of the international community towards global peace and security.
Economic relations between Malaysia and Germany are very close. Hundreds of German companies are represented in your country. What makes Malaysia so attractive for investment?
The economic relations between Malaysia and Germany have always been strong. Germany is our largest investor from the EU. Since 1980 to September 2018, there have been 589 manufacturing projects with a total investment worth 9.1 billion Euro. These projects continue to generate thousands of jobs.
I believe one of the main attractions of Malaysia to investors is the fact that we continue to evolve and embrace change through our business friendly policies and infrastructure. From a country dependent on agriculture and primary commodities, Malaysia has become an export-driven economy spurred on by high technology, knowledge-based and capital-intensive industries. Currently, we are working towards Industry 4.0 as the next phase of evolution in the manufacturing sector.
On 31 October 2018, Prime Minister Mohamad launched our National Policy on Industry 4.0, or in short known as “Industry- 4WRD”. Industry4WRD aims to strengthen Malaysia’s capabilities as a destination for high-tech investments. The policy envisions Malaysia as a strategic partner for smart manufacturing, a primary destination for high-technology industries and a total solutions provider for the manufacturing sector in the region.
With Malaysia’s well-developed infrastructure and connectivity, foreign companies have much to gain in terms of capturing growth opportunities and immediate market access. Even though Malaysia is only a population of 32 million, when you are in Malaysia, you are in the middle of a region of 640 million people. We encourage investors to leverage on Malaysia as a gateway and hub to the wider ASEAN region. ASEAN provides an effective platform for investors to utilise and maximise its value chain.
China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” would have both economic and geopolitical effects on Malaysia. How does your government assess the new Silk Road project?
Malaysia remains supportive of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) presented by President Xi Jinping in 2013. We believe that the massive transcontinental development project could serve as a catalyst for the next phase of growth in the global economy. Malaysia believes that the open, fair and inclusive Belt and Road Initiative could strengthen regional connectivity, boost trade ties, and create greater economic opportunities in the region.
BRI is significant for Malaysia as it will not only enhance trade with China, but will also widen the market access for Malaysian products and services to other countries along the Belt and Road. Our strategic geographical location at the centre of Southeast Asia and between Europe and China as well as the close cultural, linguistic and even culinary links that we share with China has given Malaysia a significant advantage in the region.
Malaysia is one of the world’s largest producers of palm oil. Unfortunately, tropical rainforest are being cleared. Does your government take into account the sustainable consequences of deforestation for the ecosystems?
The palm oil production has often been blamed for deforestation in Southeast Asia. However, this does not do justice to on-going conservation efforts in Malaysia by the authorities and nongovernmental entities, as well as regional and international organisations. In fact, UN statistics indicate that in the last 25 years, 195 million hectares of forest have been cleared. Less than 4 percent of that can be attributed to the area for oil palm compared to livestock and other oil seeds. Oil palm has the least land use yet produces the highest yield. Oil palm’s average yield of 4 tons of oil per hectare per year is 4.3 times higher than rapeseed, 5.4 times higher than sunflower and 10 times higher than soybean. In addition, Malaysia has been successful in its efforts to increase its palm oil yield through research rather than on expansion of oil palm plantations.
In Malaysia, the palm oil industry is at the centre of efforts towards poverty eradication through oil palm plantation schemes by the Government. Contrary to the biased perception that the Malaysian palm oil industry is run by business corporations, 40 percent of the 5.81 million hectares of planted acreage in Malaysia are actually managed by 650,000 small-holder farmers. It is one of the most successful poverty eradication plan by the Government as palm oil industry provides employment for about 15 percent of Malaysian labour force. Malaysia has also stepped up efforts to ensure mandatory certification of our entire palm oil supply chain by end 2019 using the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MPSO) certification as our national standard. Malaysia has also put in place regulations and initiatives related to the conservation and safeguarding of our forests and biodiversity. Malaysia has strictly maintained 55 percent of its land area under forest cover which is beyond the commitment made at the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, to retain at least 50 percent of our land area under forest cover. Furthermore, Malaysia recently started implementing the ‘Central Forest Spine’ (CFS) Master Plan with the objective of establishing a contiguous forest network linked through ecological corridors in the peninsula. At the regional level, Malaysia is implementing the ‘Heart of Borneo Initiative’ aimed at conserving 20 million hectares of forest within Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
Tourism is an important economic pillar for Malaysia. This year Malaysia is even the partner country of the international tourism fair ITB in Berlin. As a tourist in your country, what do I really have to look at?
Tourism has become an important sector for Malaysia’s national growth and economic development. In 2017, tourism revenue contributed 14.9 percent to Malaysia’s economy. The direct contribution of the tourism industry to the nation’s GDP recorded 6.1 percent with a value of 18.3 billion Euro. Despite the distance between Malaysia and Germany, we recorded 98,377 German tourist arrivals to Malaysia in 2018.
The great thing about Malaysia is that whatever travel means to you, you can find experiences here that will fulfil all your wildest, travel-related dreams. Malaysia has 14 states and each offers a unique experience related to culture, nature, the variety of delicious cuisines or its friendly people and their hospitality.
Our country is a multicultural melting pot of Asia, with strong influences from the Malay archipelago, China, India and the rest of Southeast Asia, you will be mesmerized by the fusion of influences. Malaysia hosts five UNESCO World Heritage sites namely Lenggong Valley, Mulu National Park, Kinabalu Park, Georgetown and Malacca. These sites are known for their biodiversity, archaeological, historic and cultural value.
As a metropolis, Kuala Lumpur is one of the most vibrant cities and has everything you would hope to see and experience with a unique Malaysian character. One will be able to sample many delicious dishes at affordable prices, spend time in bustling shopping centres, have the interesting experience of haggling at market bazaars, go up the famous Petronas Twin Towers for a wonderful view of the city, and ride the KL Monorail for easy access to every part of the city. Kuala Lumpur is also a great starting point for day trips to other interesting destinations such as the ancient Batu Caves, historical state of Melaka, nearby themes parks, beaches and nature getaways.
Malaysia is also the home of exotic wildlife such as the proboscis monkey and orang-utans. It is the best place to see these incredible animals in the wild. One can head over to Borneo to see the charismatic orang-utan in the jungles of Sepilok, Sabah and the Semenggoh Nature Reserve in Sarawak; trek up Mount Kinabalu for an amazing jungle experience and visit remote villages; view vast green paddy fields of Kedah; and enjoy the unique flora and fauna found in the Belum Forest Reserve, Taman Negara National Park and Kilim Geoforest Park.
If you want adventure, explore the caves at the Mulu National Park, trek through the tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands, bungee jump at Sunway Extreme Park, white water rafting at Kuala Kubu Bharu and snorkelling or scuba diving at the many spots off the Peninsula or the coast of Sabah.
Germany is your first stop as an Ambassador. Did you imagine the job, the people and the country that way?
I have always imagined Germany as an open and advanced, modern country. I have also admired the rich historical background of Germany that reflects the strength and resilience of its people.
Through my interaction with many, be it with the political, business or academic circle as well with government officials, I find that Malaysia and Germany share the same perspective of constructive cooperation and collaboration in achieving mutually beneficial outcomes.
They are cordial and forthcoming in accommodating requests for meetings, discourse, exchange of information and sharing of best practices. I am also very fortunate to have an excellent team of colleagues at the Embassy here in Berlin and our Consulate in Frankfurt as well as two very dedicated honorary consuls, Datuk Edgar E. Nordmann in Hamburg and Senator Datuk Dr Helmut Baur in Stuttgart. They have been a tremendous help over the past two decades and during my tenure have helped me in ensuring the smooth discharge of my responsibilities as ambassador towards promoting Malaysia and enhancing Malaysia-Germany bilateral relations and cooperation.
As a diplomat in Berlin, I find that my work here in Germany is also made easy by the positive and welcoming attitude of the people that I have been fortunate to interact with, including from among the diplomatic corps. I look forward to building more meaningful relationships with many others throughout my tenure here.
Excellency, thank you for the talk.
This interview was kindly provided by Diplomatisches Magazin, a Berlinbased
monthly journal for the international diplomatic community.
More information: www.diplomatisches-magazin.de
Official name: Republic of Malaysia
Capital: Kuala Lumpur
Area: 330,803 km²
Population: 32.1 million
Population density: 92 Inhabitants per km²
Official languages: Malay, English
Government: Federal parliamentary elective constitutional
Head of state: Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah
Head of government: Dr Mahatir Mohamad
National anthem: Negaraku