Wisma Putra’s framework underlines changes in approach and direction

Based on the framework, Malaysia will undertake more proactive strategies in identifying international issues that have direct national interest

by AZREEN HANI/ pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

Saifuddin emphasises that foreign policy is not a standalone activity as its effectiveness depends on collaborations with other ministries and agencies (TMR Pic)

THE Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MoFA) foreign policy framework for the “new Malaysia” is expected to see several changes in the approach and direction, while continuing to retain the country’s stance on international issues.

Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said the framework themed “Change in Continuity” would still retain Malaysia’s fundamentals and principles of foreign policy despite the government’s method in dealing with certain issues on the international level.

The framework encompasses four main components: Providing the direction, increasing public participation in the policy’s formulation, enhancing inter-agencies collaboration and empowering the ministry itself.

According to Saifuddin, Wisma Putra’s framework takes the cue from Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s speech at the 73rd Session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly last year.

“What’s new is the way we (Malaysia) want to be more proactive in international forums. The intensity of our participation is something that we are working on. The keyword is being proactive.

“We would like to co-sponsor resolutions, for example. Secondly, although we are not a member of the UN Security Council (UNSC), it does not mean that we are going to remain silent,” Saifuddin said in a media engagement session in Putrajaya recently.

He added that Malaysia would work with like-minded countries that sit on the UNSC such as Indonesia.

Dr Mahathir, in the foreword of the framework, said issues on inter-agencies coordination and empowerment of Wisma Putra should be given attention.

“Both are essential elements for efficient and effective foreign policy machinery.

“Foreign policy covers a myriad of complex issues. While Wisma Putra is the lead agency, it requires the cooperation of all ministries and agencies to ensure Malaysia’s diplomatic initiatives are well coordinated and capable of ensuring that we achieve our desired objectives,” he said.

Saifuddin emphasised that foreign policy is not a standalone activity as its effectiveness depends on collaborations with other ministries and agencies.

“It is an extension of what is being done in our own backyard.

“How will it benefit Malaysia? I am not going to claim that this new framework would benefit us better than the last time. We are hopeful we can do more,” he said.

For example, when it comes to economic diplomacy, he said Wisma Putra is also looking into certain areas where it can play a greater role, especially in conjunction with the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

“I am not able to say what the new area is yet. MoFA will have certain responsibilities slightly more than before but there are processes, and they can be unveiled next year.

“By definition, there will be added value to the kinds of work we are doing overseas,” Saifuddin explained.

Ultimately, according to Wisma Putra, the success of Malaysia’s foreign policy will be measured by how it manages to safeguard the country’s national interests which can be defined in terms of security, economic and identity achievement.

Malaysia hosting the Asean Lifestyle Week 2019 in Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre recently. According to Saifuddin, Wisma Putra will push for the transformation of Asean economy into a ‘Producer Region’ (Pic by Arif Kartono)

Proactive Strategy on the Global Stage

Based on the framework, Malaysia will under-take more proactive strategies in identifying international issues that have direct national interest.

Notably, the country will put a greater focus on issues of justice and fairness. Being more vocal and prominent means taking a leadership role in advocating issues of interest.

On the global effort to fight terrorism, Malaysia is steadfast in its stance that it is important to address the root cause.

“In this regard, this administration believes that terrorism has no link to any specific region, religion or community, and recognises the need to tackle the matter through a strong and genuine political will.”

Security

As for the security dispute in the South China Sea, Malaysia will continue to work closely with Asean members and the major powers to ensure that the security and stability in the region can be maintained.

The framework underlines that continuous dialogue between the claimant states is a move in the right direction.

Early conclusion of the Code of Conduct under the Asean framework will be one of Malaysia’s top priorities.

The government will also consider very seriously to become a party to international frameworks that will help Malaysia address “non-traditional” security threats effectively.

On terrorism, Malaysia will play an active role in the Asean region and beyond. Within the Asean context, it is stated that Malaysia will utilise, among others, the Asean Institute for Peace and Reconciliation.

The role of Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT) will be promoted as an Asean project. SEARCCT should build its reputation as a reference point on counter-terrorism efforts.

Economic

Malaysia will revive the pursuit of its economic objectives, which include free and fair trade to all.

To ensure Malaysia’s economic future, Wisma Putra stated that the country must be able to participate and harness the potential of Industrial Revolution 4.0.

The focus is also given on the digital economy. The government will be aggressive in finding opportunities for Malaysia and its private sector to partake in this global trend.

At the same time, Malaysia is expected to continue highlighting the risk of global digital inequality and calling for the international community to address this looming threat.

A suspect believed to be involved in the Daesh group being arrested during one of Bukit Aman counter-terrorism division’s operations. On the global effort to fight terrorism, Malaysia is steadfast in its stance that it is important to address the root cause (Bernama)

Asean

Malaysia believes that Asean’s full economic potential has yet to reach its maximum. According to Saifuddin, Wisma Putra will push for the transformation of Asean economy into a “Producer Region”.

The initiative would turn the region into a hub of production for all kinds of consumer goods that would serve the regional and global markets.

What the ministry is trying to do in Asean, he said, should benefit Malaysian businesses.

“We want foreign direct investment to come to Malaysia. At the same time, we facilitate our investors to go abroad. When it comes to small and medium enterprises, and new start-ups, the first natural playground will be the Asean market.

“We are working very hard to optimise the 640 million people of Asean as our market, that is our focus.

“Malaysia believes that regional economic integration is a means of responding to the aspirations of the people in Asean who yearn for development, economic growth and better living standards,” he said.

The government is expected to propose for Asean economies to collaborate closely in production, maximising on each country’s economic advantage and the region’s strategic location.

Malaysia also advocates the “Prosper Thy Neighbour” policy to enhance economic relations and cooperations with its neighbouring countries through Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area, Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle and other entities.

Malaysia’s Identity

The government strives to adopt the principles of good governance in its administration and non-discriminatory policies, and put greater emphasis on basic human rights such as minorities’ and religious rights.

As it is, Malaysia is on a mission to put right its international reputation that has been affected by the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal to become a clean and fair government that upholds the rule of law.

On conflict areas, Malaysia will look deeply into the possibility of playing a positive mediation role towards an amicable and sustainable resolution.

In post-conflict and post-disaster situations, Wisma Putra said the government will engage with the host country to partake in relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction processes.

As stated, the UN will continue to be the country’s main platform to pursue its foreign policy agenda. Still, the country will enhance its role in the UN and other major international organisations.

The country’s foreign policy will focus on how to make organisations more efficient and effective.

Dr Mahathir (right) and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet (second from right) exchanging views on a range of issues from good governance, rule of law and important global issues, as well as the role of the UN in addressing them (Source: Wisma Putra facebook)

Empowering Wisma Putra

As the lead ministry for international relations, the government will empower MoFA to ensure that it will be able to play its role effectively.

Saifuddin said one major focus would be the ministry’s human capital development.

MoFA would work together with relevant government bodies in the formulation and implementation of foreign policy.

Wisma Putra also intends to enhance the capabilities of its officers which could be achieved through training, developing and nurturing foreign policy experts in specific fields.

“The negotiation skills among the officers will be strengthened and enhanced as well,” Saifuddin said.

The government, he said, will give its support for the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations, and turn it into a leading diplomatic centre in the region. Other agencies and think-tank that will be strengthened include Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia and SEARCCT.

ISIS Malaysia will remain independent and will be empowered to research, debate and share its findings on trends and policies that impact the world and Malaysia’s foreign policy.

To assist Wisma Putra’s works, the government may establish and deploy task forces on specific issues from time to time according to requirements.