Nikkei Asian Review
November 15, 2016
KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says it was he who first ordered probes of a troubled state investment fund, and he charges that the issue has been politicized by “certain elements.”
Malaysian authorities, including a bipartisan parliamentary committee, had concluded that weaknesses existed in the management of 1MDB, but none of its executives have been charged so far on allegations of embezzlement. However, authorities in Singapore, Switzerland and the U.S. are probing entities and people related to 1MDB for possible money laundering and other offenses.
In written responses to questions from the Nikkei Asian Review ahead of a three-day visit to Tokyo that begins Tuesday, Najib also touched on Malaysia’s plans for high-speed rail as well as relations with China and Japan. Below are excerpts from the responses.
Q: Foreign governments are investigating the misappropriation of funds related to 1MDB. Do you consider these actions as interference? Will Malaysia reopen investigations into the fund following probes in foreign jurisdictions?
A: Malaysian authorities have actually led the way in investigations into 1MDB. It was I who first instructed multiple authorities in Malaysia to conduct investigations. For example, the company has been the subject of investigations by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the auditor general, the police and the bipartisan parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, which includes opposition politicians. I have always made clear that full cooperation should be extended to any investigation provided it is in accordance with the laws of our country. Furthermore, as I have consistently stated, if any wrongdoing is proven, the law will be enforced without exception.
However, it is important to note that this has become a highly politicized matter, with certain elements within Malaysia attempting to exploit this for their own personal political benefit, and feeding foreign authorities with at times false or incomplete information. Those outside Malaysia cannot always appreciate these complexities, but it is something they should bear in mind to avoid becoming entangled in what has become a domestic political matter.
Q. If the US fails to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, how will Malaysia react? If the US requests a renegotiation, will Malaysia agree?
A: While we are aware of President-elect Donald Trump’s stated views on the agreement, it would be premature for us to make any conclusions before he assumes office.
In its current guise, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement cannot come into force without the United States’ involvement. As such, it is not a question of whether or not Malaysia — or any other country for that matter — could still proceed with its ratification.
Whether TPP proceeds or not, we remain committed to strengthening our economic and trade ties with the U.S. and the other countries involved.
Q: Malaysia has deepened economic and defense ties with China recently. Will this relationship strengthen further? Is Malaysia reconsidering its relationship with the U.S.?
A: While Malaysia and China have enjoyed a strong relationship since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1974, the ties between our two countries have reached new levels over recent years, and this is a trend we expect to continue. This is not surprising given that China is our largest trading partner and accounts for over 15% of trade outside our borders.
Having said that, Malaysia’s relationship with any one country does not come at the expense of its relationship with any other country. And as far as the United States is concerned, this is a relationship we place great importance on. Indeed, this is reflected by the elevation of our bilateral relationship to a comprehensive partnership in 2014. We already cooperate on a range of areas including the economy, trade, security and defense – and hope to further enhance our relationship under President-elect Trump.
Q: What is the most important factor in the bidding to build the high-speed rail line connecting Kuala Lumpur to Singapore?
A: The planned high-speed rail service between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore will be the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken by our country.
This is something we are tremendously excited about, and we are committed to an objective, transparent and competitive selection process in the form of a public tender to find the best railway system. The shinkansen system’s long record of safety, reliability and excellence ensures that it will be a competitive player in the bidding process.
Q: ASEAN’s decision-making process is criticized as slow. Should the consensus-based process be changed to one based on a majority?
A: I believe that this is one of the unique factors about [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] — and, indeed, is what we call “the ASEAN way.”
Everything that ASEAN has achieved is as a result of the collective efforts of its 10 member states. As such, this consensus style of decision-making has served the community well — politically, economically, socially and culturally — and should be preserved.
Does it sometimes lead to frustrations, particularly when we face deadlocks while trying to make fast and impactful decisions? Perhaps. But, at the end of the day, the strong solidarity between the member states allows us to have a robust dialogue and inevitably land at an amicable solution that is in our collective interests.
Q: What is Malaysia’s stance on The Hague’s ruling on the maritime claims by China?
A: Malaysia has consistently held, and expressed, the view that all claims in the South China Sea must be based and resolved in accordance with international law. We believe it is important for all parties to respect diplomatic and legal processes, and resolve any disputes and differences peacefully through negotiations.
Q: What is the purpose of your visit to Tokyo?
A: Malaysia and Japan have always enjoyed a cordial relationship based on mutual trust and respect. I was therefore delighted to accept Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s invitation to make a working visit to the country — and we will be discussing bilateral matters as well as issues of regional and international importance.
In addition to my talks with Prime Minister Abe, I will also be meeting with ministers from various departments including land, infrastructure, transport and tourism and the business community.
In terms of our bilateral relationship, Malaysia and Japan are currently in the second phase of the Look East Policy, and in line with that we will continue to enhance institutional cooperation between our two countries. In particular, I am committed to increasing trade and investment flows — specifically in areas such as innovation and cutting-edge technology, high-tech skills and services development, and renewable energy. Japan has led the way in many of these sectors, and we are keen to learn, and cooperate, with the country in these areas.