Why Malaysians could walk tall all over the world during Mahathir’s premiership but shy to admit they are Malaysians when abroad under Najib’s premiership?

Malaysia’s continued decline in international competitiveness was again highlighted a few days ago when it slipped another five notches to 24th place in latest World Competitiveness Yearbook (WCY) by the Institute for Management Development (IMD) – after falling to 19th spot last year from 14th in 2015.

It is Malaysia’s lowest ranking in five years and the country cannot take comfort that it remained the second most competitive ASEAN country behind Singapore.

Malaysia is losing out in the race of nations for development and progress, and the recent spate of incidents which signaled the rise of racial and religious extremism in the country would aggravate this national decline and fall into a failed state.

Malaysia must stop the present trajectory towards the politics of lies, hatred and fear to exploit racial and religious divisions by fanning intolerance, distrust and extremism in the country.

Malaysians must unite and stop fighting among ourselves, but must leverage on the best qualities and values from the diversity of races, religions and cultures in Malaysia so that we are not left behind in the international race of nations for development and progress.

I have a lot of differences with Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad when he was Prime Minister for 22 years, and I had not hesitated to point out the faults and failures of Mahathir’s policies even though I had to pay a heavy personal price for such outspokenness.

But we cannot deny that during Mahathir’s time, Malaysians walked with their heads high all over the world, which is very different from today, when Malaysians are shy to admit that they are Malaysians when abroad for they would be mocked and ridiculed as coming from a “global kleptocracy”!

One may not fully agree with all its manifestations, but during Mahathir’s time, there was the spirit of “Malaysia Boleh”. That ”can do and dare to do” spirit is no more in Malaysia. But it could be found in China – the “China Boleh” spirit.

This aspect was highlighted by a former Malaysian diplomat, who ended his career as an ambassador of the country, who was sent to China from 1979 to 1981.

He recently visited China and was struck by the verve, vitality, vibrancy and can-do spirit he found in China, reminiscent of Napoleon’s famous quote - “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.”

This is what the former Malaysian diplomat wrote about his recent visit to China:

“Less than four decades after I first arrived in Beijing, the city is not just a world-class capital city, it is the capital of the world.

“The millions of bicycles that once filled the streets of Beijing are gone, replaced by millions of cars both foreign and locally-made…

“The mindset shift is also striking. The people I talked to were confident about their future and proud of what had been accomplished. They were anxious to get the best education, learn new experiences, discover new business opportunities, seek ways to exploit new technologies, and were ready to move to the other side of the world if necessary in pursuit of their aspirations.

“As a nation, there is an eagerness to be the best and the greatest, to climb the highest, go the furthest, to build the biggest, fastest and most advanced. It doesn’t take long for visitors to sense that this is a nation on the move, impatient to fulfill its manifest destiny as possibly the greatest nation in the world.

“Above all else, it is the strategic thinking and planning behind almost everything that is China today that is impressive. A country like China does not rise that high that fast by happenstance but by careful planning, thoughtful implementation and dogged determination. It seems that when China settles upon a strategy, it pursues it with uncommon passion.

“It would not be an exaggeration to say that never in the history of human civilisation has any nation been able to make such a technological, economic and social leap forward in such a short span of time as China…

“As I walked around Beijing in awe, I couldn’t help reflecting on our own nation’s journey over the last 35 years or so. In many ways, witnessing China’s exponential rise to greatness also forces us to come to terms with our own performance, our own vulnerabilities and shortcomings. It is a depressing exercise to say the least.

“During then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s visit to China in November 1985, for example, a few Proton Saga were given to a Beijing taxi company as part of the effort to gain publicity for the recently launched Malaysian-made car. Admiring crowds gathered around the Proton wherever it was displayed, astonished that a small developing country like Malaysia could produce its own cars. It was a proud moment for those of us who were there.

“Some 37 years later, here we are desperately looking to China to rescue Proton from total collapse. In 1985, China produced about 6,000 cars annually; by 2008, China’s annual production had surpassed that of the United States and Japan combined.

“Time and again, we seem to have squandered the lead we had through corruption, mismanagement and misguided policies or wasted resources on hair-brained schemes. Worst of all, we never seem to learn anything from our follies because we keep repeating them.

“While China was taking giant strides forward with its Four Modernisations programme, we were arguing over language, race and religion. Instead of building a world-class system of education, we were politicising it and pretending that just calling our universities great would make it so. While other countries were going out of their way to attract the best minds in the world, we were driving them away with bigotry and prejudice.

“While China’s leaders were experimenting with ways to release the creativity, ingenuity and industriousness of all its people, our leaders were stifling it with discriminatory programmes and self-defeating policies.

“Even now, when countries like China are focused on technological innovation and strategising how to seize global leadership, we are obsessed with religious laws, what people wear or who’s sleeping with whom, never mind that all these things do absolutely nothing to improve our productivity, enhance our competitiveness or prepare us for the challenges ahead.”

What this former Malaysian diplomat wrote about the rise of China and the fall of Malaysia must be serious food for thought not only by the leaders, but also by ordinary Malaysians, with the questions:

  1. Why Malaysians could walk tall all over the world during Mahathir’s premiership but shy to admit they are Malaysians when abroad under Najib’s premiership; and
  2. How Malaysians, regardless of race, religion or even politics, can unite to re-set nation-building directions and policies for Malaysians to compete with the rest of the world and not to fight among ourselves to be more divided and lose out in the international race of nations for development and progress.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah