Time to do away with old foreign policies, says ex-diplomat

A former diplomat has urged the government under Dr Mahathir Mohamad to do away with the “old” foreign policies used in his first tenure as prime minister.

(FMT) – Redzuan Kushairi, who was the ambassador to Uzbekistan, said such policies were no longer enough in the face of growing world powers.

“There is a concern expressed by many – is Mahathir going back to his old ideas of concepts on foreign policies?

“The world has changed. Big powers are hegemonic and predatory, if given the choice. In the end, Malaysia and Asean have to rely on national and regional resilience,” he said in a forum titled “Building a New Malaysia: Agendas and Aspirations” here yesterday.

Other panellists were political analyst Bridget Welsh, G25 member Mohd Sheriff Kassim, former Sungai Benut MP Tawfik Ismail, HELP University vice-chancellor Zakaria Ahmad and economist Patrick Tay.

Redzuan Kushairi

Redzuan said Mahathir might still be influenced by the “highs of Malaysian foreign policy” with the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Group of 77 (a coalition of 134 developing nations) and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) during his tenure in the 1980s and 1990s.

He said the non-aligned caucus within the United Nations Security Council had been a force to be reckoned with, when Razali Ismail was Malaysia’s representative on the council.

“They are not the same anymore. NAM exists only in name.

“During the first Kuwait-Iraq war, the non-aligned caucus within the council was a very strong lobby. The US and Britain had to deal with them then.

“At that time, China was still weak. So was the Soviet Union. So, it was left to the non-aligned caucus to put up any resistance to the US,” he said, adding that Malaysia received a desperate message from Kuwait warning of a pending invasion from Iraq.

In contrast, Redzuan said, NAM was now weak and divided, with its former leaders no longer interested.

“To talk about using NAM as a platform in international conferences, I think, is not realistic.

“The same goes with the OIC. The OIC is a joke. See what is going on in Yemen, in the proxy war with Saudi Arabia and Iran,” he said.

Redzuan urged Malaysia to step back and reassess its relationship with Saudi Arabia and the situation in the Middle East.

“If we are trying to become a moderate Islamic country, we cannot take sides in the Shia-Sunni conflict,” he said.

“It is more logical to work with like-minded countries like Turkey, Tunisia and neighbouring Indonesia.”

Redzuan also noted the need for fewer, but quality representation, rather than having so many embassies.

“We have been struggling. We have more than 127 missions around the world. We are highly overstretched… an ambassador, a PA (personal assistant) and one more officer.

“It would be better not to have an embassy than to have a skeletal embassy,” he said.

For many years, he said, embassies had been given an annual budget of RM600 million. Now, it had been increased to RM800 million.

“We need more training. We need more area specialists on China, Indo-Pacific issues. We do not have enough of those,” he said.

Zakaria meanwhile told the forum he believed that Mahathir’s return to power was a return to the old ways of him taking charge of the country’s policies.

“Mahathir is still in charge, unfortunately. It is going back to the old ways.

“Saifuddin Abdullah is a weak minister. Actually all the ministers are weak. That is what he (Mahathir) wants,” he said, adding that he had yet to see a foreign policy put out by the foreign minister.

He also noted a lack of dependence on Wisma Putra expertise, such as the career diplomats.

He disagreed with the dismissal of Barisan Nasional (BN) political appointees in the foreign service, saying they had, at times, played a significant role.

“We want good people to be in the foreign service,” he added.

Zakaria also criticised Putrajaya’s failure to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, saying it had led to Malaysia being grouped with the likes of North Korea, Myanmar and Sudan.

“Is that the foreign policy Malaysia wants?” he asked.