THE OPENING OF THE SIXTH MALAYSIA-SINGAPORE FORUM, Petaling Jaya, 6 December 1996
We are here today not only to celebrate an occasion, the Sixth Malaysia-Singapore Forum between the Faculties of Arts & Social Sciences of both the University of Malaya and the National University of Singapore, but also to reminisce about the times when our two countries were really one and to the long period after that, a period of thirty years, which saw both countries working together virtually in all fields in order to bring about peace and stability to the Southeast Asian region.
Whilst Malaysians and Singapore's perforce had to chart their own independent course in the choppy waters of international politics, we learned that the encounters consequent upon separation were a rewarding one. Lots of untapped energy, talent and creativity have surfaced in the process, so much so that our two countries have been able to perform outstandingly not only in the region but also globally.
Southeast Asia has indeed ushered in a new era of greater regionalism following the formation of ASEAN in 1967. Malaysia and Singapore were among the founding members of the organisation, which is today considered one of the most successful regional groupings. Both Malaysia and Singapore, in fact, were the guiding spirit to ASEAN, and through our successful economies managed to give additional coherence to the region as a whole.
One can dwell on a variety of circumstances which accounts for the stupendous growth that our two countries have achieved in the last thirty years. But there is no denying that the role of leadership has been most crucial in nation-building or social engineering. The very leaders who pioneered and championed the course of "Merger and Malaysia" have also been at the helm of power for the past three decades and have been instrumental for the various successes achieved by our two countries. Therefore it is very much in order for later generations including our own not only to understand the past or to derive lessons from it but to use it as a building block for our future destiny.
Of course, statesmen and politicians have not solely been responsible for our success. Academicians, intellectuals and writers have also had their share in the whole enterprise. Their presence as "pundits", thinkers, opinion makers or even as back-room boys has been most meaningful in terms of bringing about national consciousness, creating a spirit of cooperation and instilling a sense of direction among the people. This year's theme entitled: "Thirty-years of Malaysia-Singapore Relations 1965-l996" should not only reflect upon the three decades of our immediate past, but participants should also capitalise the meeting to project the future. The past is a rich respository and reservoir of knowledge which no one in his right mind should ignore. It is indispensible as a guide for charting the future direction of our nations and preserving those things that we value and cherish greatly.
We are now witnessing a momentus change unfolding within the region which will have a fundamental effect on tl1e lives of the people and the Asia- Pacific region. Nothing is more visible in the rise of Malaysia and Singapore than the economic aspect. The economic growth of the two countries is dependent as well as on the ability for Malaysia and Singapore to keep pace with the global shift to new economic structure powered by brains rather than brawn.
At present, the manufacturing sector will remain the engine of growth, but new stimulus for growth will come from information-based and services sectors. The rapid development in the information technology, if capitalise properly, will speed up the country's drive into the 21st century economy. I believe this will require not just changing of the mindset, but a massive investment by the public and private sectors in R & D, training and education.
The information explosion or revolution to some has its own potential critics as it becomes an enemy to such as authoritarian and ethnic chauvinism. Democracy alone, especially the variant imported from the West, cannot be the style for the ills of Malaysia and Singapore as we know them. Only the fostering of a genuine civil society or "masyarakat madani", a critical component to the establishment of democracy, can assure the path of sustained growth including economic, social and political.
Generally, most Asian nations allocate a small sum of funds for general expenditure on R & D. Much of the continent rely on low-wage and low technology areas for economic growth. But rising cost of intellectual property may soon negate whatever edge the region has to offer. Therefore, the role of education and human resources development will be crucial to the region especially so for Malaysia and Singapore which strives to develop an indigenous scientific and technological culture.
The concentration on economic growth is that it will promote a regional and global outlook, yet e revival of the consciousness of ethnic superiority and jingoistic nationalism could lead to inward- looking attitudes, and influence the ideology for military aggression. The trends towards regionalism is inevitable. The establishment of regional organisation both the public and NGOs, will increase dramatically. Governments will endeavour to coordinate activities on regional scale and the people have a life of their own. Ideas, views and voices will enter the "market" and compete like products. I am confident that governments will collaborate for mutual interest, as will academicians, workers, artists and environment protectors to name some that are likely to emerge.
In conclusion, I hope the participants will have a very meaningful and productive discussions which will not only bring forward more creative and novel ideas, but also very practical ones which may be used as inputs in the national planning and foreign policies of both countries.