Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Malaysia should ditch Cold War mindset

Nov 3, 2009
By Chen Jun An

DURING an investment promotion trip to Singapore, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was surprised to learn that 40 per cent of specialist doctors in Singapore's government hospitals were from Malaysia.

He was amazed that Singapore valued talent that much and even suggested to the Malaysian government that if it wished to topple Singapore, it only needed to convince and attract Malaysian talent in Singapore to return home.

Mr Tan Chia Yong, a columnist, has opined that if the Malaysian government wished to attract talent to return home, it must not take short cuts. Instead, it must assure them that they could expect a bright future if they were to remain in the country.

However, he eventually lamented, 'Singapore and Malaysia are separated by only a strip of water, while the Causeway is just 1.8km long. The geographical distance between the two countries is very short but the psychological distance between these people and their motherland may be very great.'

For the moment, let us not talk about whether there is a great psychological distance between Malaysia's talent and their motherland. Mr Lim's provocative suggestion to 'topple Singapore' has left a bad taste in the mouth.

Mr Lim assumed the post of chief minister after the Democratic Action Party became the ruling party in Penang following the March 8 'political tsunami' last year. It was thought that his political thinking would be different, visionary and fluid. Who would have thought that he remains trapped in the 'Malaysia-Singapore Cold War' mindset?

Remember former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's remarks about skinning a cat? He had said: 'There are many ways to skin a cat. There are also many ways of skinning Singapore.'

But any talk of 'toppling Singapore' is a manifestation of an arrogant and antagonistic Cold War mindset. Would Singapore simply collapse if Malaysia were to formulate various preferential policies to entice Malaysian talent to return home to serve their own country?

Do not forget that apart from Malaysia, Singapore has also recruited talent from China, India, Europe and other parts of Asia. Moreover, Singapore is about to build its fourth university, which goes to show that this tiny island state has spared no effort to cultivate talent.

During his investment promotion trip in Singapore, Mr Lim met only people from the business and political circles, like doctors, engineers and lawyers. He probably did not get to meet the Malaysian workers who have to ride across the Causeway early every morning to make a living in Singapore. If Singapore were to collapse, what will happen to these people?

Regardless of whether his aim was to provoke or ridicule, Mr Lim should not cling to the old mindset or follow Dr Mahathir in wanting to 'skin a cat' or 'topple Singapore'.

On the contrary, he should firmly suggest that the two countries actively establish more mutually beneficial economic zones. This will help to rejuvenate their economies and attract more foreign investments so that talent from both countries can give full play to their expertise, while unskilled workers can make a living.

It is true that there are many ways to skin a cat. But would not such rampant skinning result in streets strewn with cat carcasses? It should again be emphasised that the old Cold War mindset must not be tolerated.

This commentary was published in the Frankly Speaking column of the Nanyang Siang Pau on Oct 29.

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