Diversity and economic transformation (1 Malaysia and the NEM).
The unstoppable forces of globalisation, and the eastward shift of the global economy’s centre of gravity, are playing into our hands. The global economic game is moving onto our home turf. The need to rebalance global trade requires that emerging economies find ways to expand domestic markets, and we find that our backyard is Asean, with its population of 580 million people, that is our true domestic market.
Emerging economies need to participate in the economic resurgence of China and India, and we find that we are located not just geographically, but also culturally, at the meeting point between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. We are a lucky country, but we need to do a few things before we can realise our luck.
In recent months the political discourse in our country has become more racial than I ever remember. I hope it is merely the dying spasms of retrograde worldviews, a reflection of anxiety at imminent structural change that we know in our hearts must and can happen; structural change that would catapult us from our present uncertainty to the fore of economic competitiveness.
We need an economic transformation that harnesses the energies of our diversity to our competitive advantage. We are in critical need of a New Economic Model.
Malaysia has the largest number of successful home-grown trans-nationals in Asean. Using the example I know best, I have tried to suggest why this is so, and how it is testimony of the value of our diversity. Malaysian companies are successful abroad because of capacities born of a diverse society. Let us, in pursuing a new economic model, build on that success.
The New Economic Model should leverage our diversity in a methodical way by providing support for more Malaysian companies to expand regionally. What has worked for CIMB and Axiata, YTL and AirAsia can work for Malaysia. Such companies draw on the talent of Malaysians wherever they are located. This, concretely, is how we tap the advantage of having Asean as our backyard. We need even more Malaysian companies, even at the SME level to go trans-national. They can.
So I look forward to the NEM creating a framework for spurring growth and the proliferation of Malaysian trans-national companies: It is not, for instance, clear today how private companies can access co-investment capital or other government support in their international activities.
To state the obvious, the Malaysian Chinese community has a crucial role to play in this strategy. You are no strangers to regional business networks. That network, however, is becoming increasingly diverse, open, international and competitive. Embrace diversity; work with all communities, not only in formal compliance with affirmative action but in building, shoulder to shoulder with them, the regional companies of the future.
Our new and positive mindset about our diversity, expressed as “1 Malaysia”, must be harnessed and developed in the New Economic Model as an engine for the regional growth of the Malaysian economy.
The vehicle for this is the company of the future, a future being built in our region and in which we have a key role to play because if we put our efforts together as Malaysians we have a real talent for building the region’s most successful trans-national companies. These companies can in turn anchor our centrality in the new pathways of global economic activity developing around us."
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