Friday, September 29, 2006

Calling a spade a shovel

Johor TodayAs always happens, Singapore is having yet another spat with Malaysia over remarks made by MM Lee Kuan Yew that the Chinese in Malaysia have been systematically marginalised all these years. Not only that, Indonesia got mentioned too in the same breadth and now Singapore has been asked to explain those remarks to both countries.

I don't know what Singapore's diplomats are going to say, but perhaps MM should have been less candid with his remarks in the first place. But what's done is done, and MM managed to offend the people whose country it is sandwiched between. This is certainly not a very comfortable position to be in. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that nobody in Singapore disagrees openly with MM's opinions and some in Malaysia have written to the local press to support his views.

Of course, Malaysia has reacted in many other threatening ways, one of which is that UMNO grassroots politicians have reportedly called on PM AA Badawi to ensure that Singapore does not benefit from the South Johor Economic Region (SJER) plan - that grand plan to transform Johor into an economic powerhouse that matches that in the Klang Valley in KL. This really shows that these grassroots politicians have no idea what they are talking about and that they don't under the SJER plan at all. Let me quote Malaysia's MIDA on this plan:

Presently most of the services activities are concentrated in the Klang valley. To take advantage of the inherent strength and business activities in the southern region, the South Johor Economic Region will be developed as a REGIONAL HUB for services. The services sector will be supported with specific funding such as the Export Services Fund and the SMEs Export Services Fund.
Source: 9th Malaysia Plan

First, it will be very strange for a hub to be off-centre with Singapore's exclusion, and second, where and who do they think the 'strength and business activities in the southern region' is currently fueled mainly by? Singapore may sometimes appear arrogant, but it cannot be denied that the main engine running in the south of the Peninsula is Singapore. It is a fact that many enterprises in Johor are owned, though not always operated, by Singapore businessman. The Port of Tanjong Pelapas itself will not an economic miracle make, so who are these politicians deceiving anyway?

In today's globalised world, SJER will succeed spectacularly if it collaborates with that little red dot at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. Otherwise, it is not certain that this planned regional hub for services will amount to much more than rhetoric. Our Malaysia grassroots political friends are speaking as if SJER will be a reality next month. All I can say is, don't count your chicks before the eggs hatch.

Image source: The Star