Expat Life sat down with the newly arrived Malaysian Ambassador to Thailand Dato’ Jojie Samuel in their 20 year old solid and secure Embassy on South Sathorn Road. Previously based in Kuala Lumpur HQ in charge of ASEAN as Director General ASEAN Malaysia National Secretariat, all the ASEAN countries have their own secretariat, the main secretariat being in Jakarta, Indonesia. Part of the national secretariat.
Prior to that from 2011 to 2014 he was in Cuba the seventh biggest island in the world – (I had already noticed the large painting on the wall of a large American Buick from the 50/60s), his first Ambassador’s post.
He enjoyed the posting as not many people know about Cuba but Malaysia established relations with Cuba in 1977 as part of the non aligned movement when it was first established. The founding fathers of the NonAligned Movement were Josip Broz Tito of Socialist Yugoslavia, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Sukarno of Indonesia, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.
Their actions were known as ‘The Initiative of Five’. It was formed because of the Cold War between the USA and Russia and was seen as important role to balance relations. Established in 2001 the former Malaysian Prime Minister visited Cuba and Fidel visited Malaysia. A hardship post for most the beach resorts are where you see a different side of Cuba.
26 medical students were sponsored by the Cuban government. Jojie’s responsibilities were to enhance relations between both countries, trade was just 10 million USD a year. Cuba is renowned for medical research indeed there is lung cancer vaccine research being conducted in a UK hospital. Meningitis halal vaccine as Muslims when they go to Haj they must get the vaccine – is still in negotiation stage.
The Malaysia Technical Cooperation Programme sponsored a number of Cuban officials by bringing them to train in Malaysia on capacity building courses. One has to have an open mind, able to adapt to different environment and situations he says.
He has been posted to Vienna, Ottawa, Baghdad – the bombing in Dec 1998 by the US and its allies was on for 2 years under UN sanctions.Sadly his family are not with him now as his eldest daughter is finishing her first year of her degree and as KL is just 2 hours away.
Malaysia has now introduced direct flights to Penang where the Embassies staff work closely with the national airline and tourist board. A career diplomat he joined in 1992, 25th year going into 26th at the end of this year. ASEAN changes its chairmanship every year and it is Thailand’s turn next year he tells me. ASEAN relations want to move forward and whilst they have studied the EU and BREXIT closely they have come to the conclusion that ASEAN is not like the EU. They do not want a single currency, and are not homogeneous.
The race, culture, history, the type of governments that we have but despite the differences we always come together and need to look at the commonalities, not the differences. We are unique in that sense he tells me.
The ASEAN way in terms of making a decision is that everyone has their say. If one member state does not agree then we will not pass or make a decision unless we have a complete consensus. ASEAN has celebrated 50 years now established in 1967 in BKK, the 5 founding fathers Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. More environmentally controlled and security threats like the IndoChina War, Vietnam War established under the Bangkok declaration and slowly ASEAN enlarged Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos – Myanmar was the last to join.
The democratic process takes time because of the past history of that country not used to being democratically ruled. Aung San Suu Kyi is now State Counsellor of the country. In the 80s we needed to grow and think beyond the factors so ASEAN was built as a trading agreement.
To integrate the economy to become a dynamic and progressive group with 10 member states, with a total population of 635,000,000 – the largest being from Indonesia. He says it is better to be in a large group than a single country. 10 dialogue partners who want to engage with ASEAN in economic, political, security, cultural – to be part of the development process. Australia, NZ, Japan, Rep of Korea, China, India, the EU, US, Canada and Russia. They have annual meetings at the leaders level.
Others who aspire to be part of the group would also have annual meetings between their leaders – Norway, Germany and Turkey. Using that model bilaterally Malaysia is quite strong as in ASEAN we have more say when we engage with our other foreign partners. His 24 year old daughter is finishing her business management degree with Nottingham University in KL. The younger one is studying law in the UK. The Ambassadorial post is 3/4 years, Bangkok is an important post as Thailand is an important partner and close neighbour.
Malaysia has had a tough time over the last few years because of the economic crisis. Also the MH370 airliner going missing and then the MH17 shot down over the Ukraine.
It has dented the confidence of the Malaysian people and obviously affected tourism. The Malaysian government has now secured the services of a private company to continue the search for the MH370 after various countries assisted in the initial search. Jojie is yet to present his credentials to the Thai King but has been given clearance to operate as an Ambassador.
He explained that in Malaysia they have 9 sultans and that every 5 years one is chosen to rule the country as King. 14 separate states but only 9 are ruled by Sultans the rest are ruled by governors. This predates the colonial period and is now a constitutional monarchy as adverse to absolute one. Elected as King, head of the Islamic religion and customs – 13 states and one a federal territory.
I asked him how many Malaysians were in Thailand – he told me that 400 are registered in Bangkok with the Embassy but many, many, more living in Thailand. On the southern border who pass back and forth with a border pass and many have family linkages. Part of Jojie’s role is to engage with Malaysians residing in Thailand. In 2011 in the flood many were trapped in their apartments and so the Embassy had to provide assistance. They have a number of social gatherings too, the National Day being on the 31st August.
The population of Malaysia is 32,000,000 – Muslims 60%, Chinese 20%, Indian 7%, various other races, such as Kadazan, Murut, Dayak, Iban, Eurasian, etc. Britain was in colonial rule from 1824 – 1957 – in between 1942-1945 the Japanese occupied the country for a short period during the Second World War.
Malaya (at that time) learnt a great deal from the British. The French and the Dutch colonials never left anything behind when they left an occupied country. But the British built the roads, industry and the constitution – sadly they took all the wealth back to the UK.
Malaysia gained its independence through peaceful ways and the British left Malaysia with good governance and even now the land office, legal constitution and other departments remain.
The Malayan Emergency (Malay: Darurat Malaya) was a guerrilla war fought in pre- and post-independence Federation of Malaya, from 1948 until 1960. The belligerents were the Commonwealth armed forces against the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). The British helped but many British senior officers and generals and police were killed by the communists during that period.
The Malaysia Peoples Anti Japanese Army (MPAJA) was formed when the Japanese left and the British returned finally in the 1980s Communist Party of Malaya. In 1957 when they gained independence 1963 Singapore, Sabah and Sarowat renamed the country as Malaysia. Singapore then came out and formed a separate state in 1965.
The communists left Malaysia and reformed in southern Thailand. In the southern states of Thailand there is an ongoing problem of violence by the Muslim separatists. Peace negotiations are ongoing between the Thai government and the MARA Patani with Malaysia as the mediator. The troubles have of late calmed down and there is slow but steady progress – then again the end result will not be achieved overnight.
They have introduced capacity building programmes for the southern Thais, bringing them to Malaysia to provide scholarships, education, skills in the hope that they will be able to live independently. The major problems are unemployment, poverty and the lack of education. Religion is part of their culture but the issue is more about cultural identity. They do not want violence but want to preserve their cultural activities. To learn the Malay language.
Malaysia celebrated 60 years of diplomatic relations with Thailand last year. What are the key traded products from Malaysian – the balance of trade was 22.93 Billion USD just in Malaysia’s favour. Mostly border trade. From Malaysia – ENE, chemical products, petroleum. From Thailand – rice, agricultural and rubber products. Thailand is the number one for exporting rubber today.
There will be 9 checkpoints by January next year with a 24/7 operating procedure (currently 18 hours a day) ICQ -Immigration, Customs and Quarantine. Jojie’s mission, KPI (key performance indicators) to grow trade exports to 30 billion USD. Trade and investment to visit and encourage more large Thai conglomerates with the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (MIDA). He wants to encourage more to come south but they are currently more comfortable with IndoChina (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar).
Business is made easy in Malaysia he tells me – similar tax incentives, he explains to them what benefits they can expect from Malaysia. SMEs to come and present and look for partners. Fraser and Neave (soft drinks) based in Singapore but has a branch in Malaysia. Packageing, bottles, glass manufacturing. Financial services – Bangkok Bank is in Malaysia. 3.7 million Malaysian tourists – second only to China but obviously affected by cross borders. Malaysia in return enjoys 1.8 million tourists each year from Thailand.
He will continue working closely with colleagues in the tourist agencies, cultural, food, the colonial legacy – in Penang there are many of these buildings. The exchange rate currently favours the Thais he tells me and now there are direct flights to Penang.
*Please read Agneta’s “Penang, the pearl of Asia” on page 82