An ambassador to US, at last

(NST) MALAYSIA will finally have its man in Washington after what seems like an eternity.

A year is a long time in diplomacy, and not having an ambassador in the heart of the nation's largest trading partner, cannot be construed as anything but a cardinal sin by any measure.

But Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's decision to fast track Datuk Seri Dr Jamaluddin Jarjis' appointment to the post has set the stage for better ties with what is arguably the most powerful nation in the world.

It could not have come at a better time with the international economy seeing its worst time in decades and geopolitics complicated in ways never seen before.

Jamaluddin has his work cut out for him, both on the political and economic fronts and also in respect of easing Islamophobia in the West.

While Malaysia has held its own on the political end, the Rompin member of parliament has to work overtime to bring more American foreign direct investment to Malaysia.

That some of it has edged off to other destinations is undeniable. I know for a fact that the business community in Malaysia wants American FDI principally as a boost to the lackluster domestic economic climate.

Jamaluddin needs to convince US investors of the continued viability of Malaysia as a venue to locate regional industrial and management operations.

The plus points are all there in terms of location, workers and a political and administrative landscape second to none but which could use some tweaking once in a while.

One question to ask is this: Where in the world would one get a technically competent workforce with the added advantage of a working knowledge of English?

Another could be this: Where else would an investor find a government ready to accommodate investors' every "whim and fancy"?

The stage is set for the former science, technology and innovation minister to work his magic among Americans, always bearing in mind that his core audience will want to know the real terrain ahead of it.

There is definitely a need for more high-level visits between the two federal capitals. (The last American president to visit Malaysia was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966).


Jamaluddin will certainly enter the annals of Malaysian history if he can pull off a visit by President Barrack Obama.

It augurs well for him that he has full ministerial status, a boon that will mean enough muscle to get the wheels of administration in Putrajaya working on his behalf.

He will also have the ear of the prime minister in implementing diplomatic initiatives needed to give the US-Malaysia relationship everything that it needs.

The only fly in the ointment for JJ, as he is fondly known by politicians and friends alike, is the fact that he will have to wear two hats as ambassador and MP.

It is easier said than done to state that he will use technology to its best in addressing problems of his constituents while shouldering the onerous duties that come with being ambassador.

Then, there is the punishing schedule at the Dewan Rakyat that some MPs operating within the confines of the country find hard to keep up with.

I cannot imagine flying most of the day from Washington to Kuala Lumpur to several full days of political and diplomatic work here and then whizzing back to the US capital.

But one has to give Jamaluddin the benefit of the doubt and let him iron out a workable schedule that does justice to both positions.

Malaysian ambassadors to Washington have always been class acts with JJ probably having to pull every trick out of his hat to match their skills.

But I do not think this is beyond him, especially after so many years in the rough and tumble of Malaysian politics.

This is not to say that his first outing as envoy is going to be a piece of cake; it is going to take a lot of hard work to take Washington-Kuala Lumpur relations to new heights.

Bon voyage JJ. (He leaves for Washington next week).