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Renewing old friendships with the Commonwealth (Part One)

The formal colonisation of the corner of South-East Asia that became Malaysia and Singapore started with the direct transfer in 1867 of the control of territories held by the British East India Company to the British Government. Those Crown Colonies comprising Malacca, Penang, Singapore and Labuan were known as the Straits Settlements. Various political transitions in the region were galvanised by the defeat of Japan by the Allied Powers in the Pacific Theatre. In 1946, the Malayan Union was formed by the amalgamation of the Federated and Unfederated Malay States with Malacca and Penang, the latter two remaining British Colonies while the Malay States became British Protectorates. The Malayan Union gained independence from Britain in 1957 but the British influence on the infrastructure development of Malaya is very evident in the educational, transport and legislative systems, even down to the constitutional monarchy, the electoral system and its bicameral parliament. In 1963, Malaya was enlarged with the addition of Sarawak, Sabah (formerly British North Borneo) and Singapore to become Malaysia, although Singapore’’s membership of Malaysia ended abruptly in 1965. Malaysia continues to be a member of the Commonwealth.

The spirit of the Commonwealth of Nations is to cooperate and consult on matters of mutual interest with sovereign member states retaining their respective autonomy in all domestic and foreign affairs. Historically, Britain was often invited to lead in strategic affairs, playing key roles in the resolution of conflicts and defeating insurgencies.

However, the most important activities of the Commonwealth were in trade, investment and development programmes for newly independent nations that were former British colonies and protectorates. Malaya has been an important source of wealth for Britain as, amongst other produce, it was the world’’s largest producer of rubber and tin, materials that were important in the industrialisation of the 20th century. A set of trade agreements initiated at the Ottawa Conference in 1932 between Britain and the other members gave preferential tariff treatment to many raw materials and manufactured goods that the Commonwealth nations sell in Britain, but the system of preferential tariffs was abandoned after Britain’s entry into the European Community in 1973. Malaysia, like many Commonwealth countries, felt that Britain had turned its back on her. In the post-independence era leading up to the formation of Malaysia, bilateral trade between Britain and Malaya had begun to decline, eroded by a combination of factors such as the economic shift in Britain from manufacturing industries to financial markets. This was set against a backdrop of rising industrial sophistication of Japan and its penetration into what was formerly the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere of pre-war Japan. Today, China has not only become a global player but it has a significant presence in that region.

Malaysia occupies a very important strategic position for Britain as it is in the very heart of the fastest growing economic area in the world. In 2011, I set up the Conservative Friends of Malaysia. Various programmes were planned to foster bilateral trade relationships and to develop liaison between the academic communities in Malaysia and the United Kingdom. Malaysians have a longstanding interest in the medical and allied healthcare fields, education particularly in English, small and medium enterprise development, social care and safeguarding of vulnerable people such as those with mental health disorders, the frail and the elderly.

I hope as a parliamentary candidate candidate for UKIP, I would be able to establish with fellow members such a platform as that would be consistent with growing the stature of UKIP in Commonwealth and international relations post-Brexit.

As we move forward into the future, it would be most advantageous and beneficial for Britain and Malaysia to renew their old and fond friendship based on common interests and mutual respect.

House of Lords Reception 14-5-2012
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dato Seri Najib Razak at the House of Lords reception 14th May 2012 with Tan Sri Zakaria Sulong, Malaysian High Commissioner, Lord Sheikh and Dr Khong

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