IN response to critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, especially those who brought up the issue of geopolitics and the United States’ role behind it, I just want to say this: let’s get real. Let’s not be like the frog hiding under the coconut shell, afraid to come out for fear of the outside world.
We have to face the fact that the world will continue to be dominated by the Americans, on the one hand, because of their culture of creativity, innovation and profit-driven entrepreneurship, and by mainland China on the other, because of the sheer size of the country and the authoritarian power of the communist party regime to drive the economy, setting aside the values of democracy and individual liberties for the time being in pursuit of glory for the Motherland.
Malaysians welcome the emergence of China as a great power and, as our leaders have shown since the time of Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, the father of our present prime minister, there are a lot of diplomatic, economic and trade benefits to be gained by cultivating close relationships, not only with their communist leaders but also with their businessmen and corporations. Our bilateral trade with China, including its tourism inflow into our country, has grown so fast that it is now a major source of growth for our economy.
However, we need also to be pragmatic in not taking the modern China as an angel which cannot change into a devil like the old Imperial Japan 80 years ago, when military rulers in Tokyo proclaimed the whole Pacific region, right down to Southeast Asia, as its exclusive area of influence. We are now seeing Russia, too, wanting to re-establish itself as a dominant world power. With the drop in oil price causing a severe impact on its economy and the daily life of Russians, there is no telling what the Kremlin may do to deflect the people’s attention from domestic problems. History tells us that when a great country faces problems at home, its leaders tend to pick on a foreign adventure to retain the people’s loyalty to the rulers.
In short, there are no angels in this world, East or West. But, if we have to live with devils, let’s go with the one that we can trust.
A former Singaporean prime minister once said he could sleep better at night because of the presence of the US’s Seventh Fleet patrolling the Pacific seas. Singapore knows that while the country must accept the reality of China as a world power, there must also be a balance in its strategic alliances. Singapore is therefore friendly with the US and has always argued the need for the world super power to show its presence in the region. It is, therefore, not surprising for Singapore to be in the TPP, which I believe to be more for strategic rather than economic reasons.
Malaysia does not need to fear a greater American presence in the region by way of trade relationships under the TPP and its high standard rules about governance, integrity, the protection of investor rights and the need for openness in the institutions of law and order. We can meet TPP standards if we take the trouble to introduce the reforms as recommended in the New Economic Model and the 11th Malaysia Plan to strengthen our internal capacity to be competitive and innovative.
Educational reforms are the highest priority for Malaysia. Countries like Singapore and Israel have shown that by providing a good education for the young, creating a system of government that all can trust in and ensuring a favourable ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship, there are many opportunities which their companies can take advantage of in the value chain of world trade. These two small countries are now the leading centres for research and technology outside the US, supplying high-tech services to the biggest corporations in the world.
We should not fear the TPP and instead, embrace it by joining the world’s largest trading block. We should abide by our obligations under the TPP to get on with reforms in the economy, democracy and human rights, and in managing the issues of race and religion in politics, to restore national unity and get the country ready for the competition. That way, we will become a stronger country. Since the TPP will help us to get the reforms going, let us welcome it as a great opportunity for change.