Malaysia’s economic security in the era of geopolitical uncertainties

It’s a great honour to be invited to speak at the National Resilience College (Maktab Ketahanan Nasional), Puspahanas.

The NRC is the part of Malaysia’s professional military education. Slightly more than a dozen of officers at colonel or brigadier-general level are chosen to undergo a one-year course to build them as strategic thought leaders in national and international issues. The aim is to cultivate statesmen.

Similar courses at this level in other countries often also include a sizeable number of senior civil servants and emerging corporate leaders. This year’s cohort includes several non-military personnel, which is a good start.

This is my third time speaking at the NRC. I spoke to the First Cohort when it was founded in 2019. I was then the Deputy Defence Minister.

I returned to speak to the Second Cohort in January 2021. I would like to record my deep appreciation and respect for NRC’s Commandant, Maj Gen Datuk Mohd Nizam bin Hj Jaffar and the former Chief of Armed Forces Tan Sri Affendi Buang for inviting me back then even though I was then in the opposition camp, on the basis that I could contribute to the conversation about the Defence White Paper, of which preparation I was deeply involved in.

I hope in the years to come, more leaders across the political divide would devote more time to understand defence issues and we can forge a truly bipartisan, whole-of-government and whole-of-nation consensus towards defence matters.

I spoke to the Fourth Cohort of the NRC yesterday on “Malaysia’s economic security in the era of geopolitical uncertainties”.

For nearly half a century, economic efficiency was deemed the most important consideration in economic discourse. However, as the world grapple with pandemics, wars and geopolitical tensions, financial instability, and climate crisis, economic security re-emerges as a major factor.

The question of economic security is multi-dimensional. I touched on three of them which are relevant to Malaysia and the audience:

First, many Malaysians are in precarious economic conditions, we must make Ekonomi Madani a success to create a middle class society to ensure the long-term viability and stability of our society.

Second, in terms of geoeconomics, Malaysia may benefit from the U.S.-China rivalry, which will colour the thinking and actions of global actors in the foreseeable future. However, we must be actively shaping and continuously expanding our foreign policy space to ensure that Malaysia has more room to navigate in a contested world.

Third, the Malaysia’s defence sector can be of more relevance economically if we could build up a defence and security industry that is not captured by agents but driven by innovations. It’s not about producing everything in Malaysia for self-sufficiency sake which is unrealistic for a small country with a small defence budget. It’s about building expertise and irreplaceable niches in some selected areas which can then be also for civilian usage and help spur domestic R&D efforts across the board.

Again, it’s an honour to speak to the crème of the Malaysian Armed Forces. Thank you, NRC.

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