KOTA KINABALU: The historically long-standing relationship between Britain and Malaysia will continue to be developed despite recent shifts in the political scene.
Malaysia witnessed a momentous occasion during its 14th General Election (GE14), with the complete change in government making international headlines and sparking heated debates.
It goes without saying that the ‘revolution’ for a fresh new start incited some volatility in the trade and industry sector, although Britain affirms its stance as a partner and ally of Malaysia.
British High Commissioner to Malaysia, Vicki Treadell asserted the commitment of Britain towards Malaysia in pursuing established bilateral ties, confident in the aspirations and vision of the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.
“Britain has always had a good relationship with Malaysia. Getting to know the new ministers, or re-engaging with these personalities now that they are ministers, and to then recast the relationship as government and how we can support them in the work that they want to do, I think our relationships are very warm.
“We are looking at how we can work together for the future and how we can build on everything that is good about the UK-Malaysia relationship.
“Looking at the first few days following the election, it was actually a very smooth and peaceful transition. You have a new government with a set of new coalition parties having to learn to work together.
“But the one thing I would say is that every minister I’ve met, whether at the federal or State level, has a very clear sense of purpose to drive the change that they have promised for the people.
“There is a determination to deliver on the reform that has been promised and specifically within that, eradicating corruption and professionalising the public sector, so that there is real impact in the translation of policies into delivery.
“There is also a real focus on the economy. These are early days but I do not doubt the level of ambition, nor the determination of the new government.
“I think the government has done remarkably well in these early days and are certainly moving forward. I think people will give them more time to show that they are delivering, and friends like Britain will be there, ready to help and support where we can and where it’s appropriate for us to do so,” she said.
In the days following GE14, the investment climate experienced a short-term volatility as British companies in Malaysia waited to gauge the business sentiment as a result of the election.
Nevertheless, Treadell said the companies expressed confidence in their long-term prospects in Malaysia as a business destination.
British businesses were appreciative of the honesty of the new government about the state of the finances and the budget, wherein the national debt was announced to be much greater than what everyone had been led to believe.
The markets got a little bit shaky on that, said Treadell, but on balance, the British businesses thought that was a good thing – at least they were clear on where Malaysia stood.
“They all said they saw really good long-term prospects here. They know that this is a phase that will pass. We’ve had companies in Malaysia for over 100 years – they’ve seen it all, so this is just another period in Malaysia’s history. Their commitment is long-term, which is really good.
“All British companies that I meet, and certainly from a British government perspective, we see Malaysia as a good medium-to long-term investment destination.
If you’re going to invest, it’s not about today – it’s about a period of time.
“A number of British companies already in Malaysia are planning expansions of their operations. Those things are already in the pipeline.
“But the new government, of course, has made attracting more foreign direct investment (FDI) a priority, and I can understand that.
You’re trying to create more new higher value-added jobs, of course you’re looking for indigenous growth and Malaysian companies to develop and grow themselves, or new ones to start.
“A real boost to the economy comes when a major international company enters, invests and creates something new in Malaysia. I think what the government is doing in trying to establish good governance, more transparency and accountability, the rule of law – all of those things will stand Malaysia in very good stead, long-term,” she said.
With Britain in the midst of its own political shift following its impending withdrawal from the European Union (EU), Treadell maintained that the UK-Malaysia relationship would remain steadfast.
She opined that the prospects were good for both nations, as ‘Britain has always been Britain’ to Malaysia.
“Malaysia has never looked at Britain through the prism of our membership of the EU. A majority of Malaysian investors in the UK have not invested in Britain because they use it as a staging post for Europe.
“The kind of sectors that Malaysian companies are in – construction, regeneration, hotels, leisure and where they have invested in manufacturing – is a very niche product for where there is a global market.
“We must remember that Britain is a global player – it’s not just a European nation. We are projecting beyond the EU, we always have, and we are very conscious that 90 per cent of global growth in the next decade is going to come from countries outside the EU.
“So if we want to grow, we have to be doing more trade, investment and economic partnership with more countries like Malaysia,” she concluded.