Opening Speech by YB. Dato' Dr. Hajah Siti Zaharah Binti Sulaiman
Minister of National Unity and Social Development

on 2nd July 2002 at Istana Hotel, K.L.

Datuk Mohamad Saleh Ghazali
President EWCA Malaysian Chapter

Mrs. Marie T. Huhtala
Her Excellency The US Ambassador

Mr. George Ariyoshi
Chairman of the EWC Board of Governors

Mr. Charles Morrison
President of the EWC

Ladies and Gentlemen
Assalamualaikum, Salam Sejahtera, Good Morning and Aloha.

First of all, I would like to thank the Malaysian chapter of the International Association of East West Center Alumni for inviting me this morning to officiate the EWC/EWCA International Conference 2002. I would also like to take this opportunity to extend our warm welcome to all foreign participants to Malaysia.

The theme for this year’s Conference is “The Impact of Globalisation On Building An Asia-Pacific Community.” The theme is indeed relevant, important and timely particularly since the impact will be most felt by the developing countries in general and this region in particular.

I have known and have been associated with the East West Center or EWC since my graduate days at the University of Hawaii and the Center. I am very pleased that the EWC Association had chosen Malaysia to host this year’s Conference. Previous conferences had been held in several other countries including our neighbouring countries. It is timely and appropriate for Malaysia to host this year’s Conference as Malaysia is seen by many of the developing countries as their champion and spokesman on critical issues affecting them at international fora. One such critical issue of current concern is the subject of globalisation. While we support globalisation, we advocate a cautious approach to ensure that all countries, particularly developing and least developed countries, benefit from globalisation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Given the numerous conflicts that are occurring around the world today, East West Center’s mission ‘to promote understanding and better relations between the United States and the nations of Asia and the Pacific’ has become more relevant today than ever before. In fact, the role of the East West Center should be further strengthened and expanded particularly after the tragic event of September 11th 2001. There is a need to promote greater understanding and better relations among countries, races and religions particularly between the United States and countries with a majority of Muslim population to reduce suspicion and anxiety. Malaysia, with its political stability and economic growth and the adoption of a realistic and moderate approach to Islam, is in a position to lead this group of developing countries towards better collaboration and to live in harmony among the nations of the world.

I was informed that since the establishment of the East West Center in 1960 more than 46,000 men and women have participated in the East West Center programs. A major result of the East West Center experience is the lasting bond amongst these people. It forges better understanding, respect and friendship among the participants. It is heartening to note that this bond remains strong long after the participants return to their home country.

Many of the participants of the East West Center programmes play important roles when they return to their respective countries. Over the years, some have become leaders in politics, in government, in businesses, in education and in social organizations. There are, of course, others who have succeeded in the arts, distinguished themselves in journalism, involved themselves in human rights and there are yet others who have worked quietly to improve the environment and quality of life of the society.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I believe that globalisation is inevitable, unavoidable, and unstoppable. Proponents of globalisation argue that globalisation will lead to reduction in poverty, increased standard of living and reduction in unemployment. They argue that countries that do not participate in globalisation will be marginalised. However, globalisation, is definitely not the panacea to all the social, economic and political problems that exist in the world today.

Let me briefly express the Malaysian perspective on globalisation. The concept of globalisation – a free market concept of a borderless world – is not new to Malaysia. We have been exposed to globalisation since the early days when the Chinese, the Arabs, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British established political, social and trade relations with Malaysia, or Malay Peninsula or Malaya, as it was known then.

As a result, today Malaysia is one of the most open economies in the world. As proof, our exports were RM 334.42 billion, imports were RM 280.69 billion and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was RM 332.65 billion in year 2001. Malaysia is now ranked 17th on the list of the largest trading nations in the world. However, what is different now is the intensity and complexity of such flows in trade, capital and information.

Our policy encourages foreign investors to invest or become strategic partners in various types of industries. We acknowledge the role of international class managers regardless of their country of origin. We accept foreign labour to work in the plantation industry, domestic household and other sectors of the economy. In other words, Malaysia, to a great extent, has been actively involved in the globalisation process.

During this process of globalisation, Malaysia had benefited in many areas in particular economic growth. A good example is the development of infrastructure throughout the whole country. We have a good network of airports, highways, railway, seaports and rapid transit.

On the other hand, Malaysia had also experienced the negative aspects of globalisation. When we allowed the free movement of capital, the Ringgit was also freely traded on the foreign exchange market. Our economy suffered badly with the sudden outflow of capital and when the Ringgit was manipulated in 1997. If not for the unconventional corrective measures taken by the Government, Malaysia would have faced social turmoil as experienced by a few of our neighbouring countries and some of the Latin American countries.

Since there is both a positive and negative side to globalisation, Malaysia is advocating a planned approach to globalisation. It is important that the process of globalisation proceed slowly with the biggest effort directed at the least developed countries of the world since they need time to effect the changes that go with globalisation.

For countries in Asia and the Pacific, they must be allowed to globalise at their own pace. It must be based on a win-win formula where both sides can benefit. We must not be forced to give up what little we have which include our democracy, our sovereignty, our values, our culture and our way of life.

In this regard, Malaysia will continue to adopt a strategic approach to ensure balanced development to achieve our Vision 2020 which among others aim to enhance unity among the races, narrow the digital divide, improve productivity and competitiveness and promote good social and healthy lifestyles. There are many facets to globalisation such as economic globalisation, cultural globalisation and corporate globalisation. Our policies and programmes are therefore formulated to prepare ourselves to adjust and in some cases to withstand the unending wave of the globalization process.

I notice that numerous papers will be presented during the plenary sessions and the concurrent panel sessions on diverse topics such as globalisation, education, women, environment, politics, culture and others during this three-day Conference. Given the limited time, I hope that you will be able to have a good deliberation on the issues raised in these papers. Last but not least, I wish all of you a pleasant stay in Kuala Lumpur and wish you all the best. And for those from overseas, please do not leave the country without seeing the city and visiting other places of interest in Malaysia.

With that note, I now declare the East West Center/ East West Center Association International Conference 2002 officially open.

Wabillahitaufik walhidayah wassalamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.