First of all, I would like to very, very warmly welcome Prime Minister David Cameron on his first official visit to Malaysia. When we met last July at Number 10, we both agreed that this is a very important bilateral relationship, which needs to be nurtured and resuscitated. And I am so glad that within such a short period of time, within nine months, he has found the opportunity to visit us. So, I am delighted to receive him, to host him, and we just had very productive, fruitful bilateral discussions in which we covered six, or rather five important areas, namely: political and diplomatic relations; trade investment; education and training; science, technology and environment; defence and security.
Specifically on our economic and business ties, we both agree that the opportunity for us to enhance, to increase our bilateral ties, our bilateral trade, is simply enormous and both our economic ministers have agreed that we should try to double our bilateral trade by the year 2016. It’s an ambitious goal, but we will try to work towards that. We also agreed that long-standing ties between our two countries - nothing more important than education. Education links have always been important on both sides, and will continue to be important. In this regard, we are gratified that there are more educational institutions established in Malaysia. Lately, of course, Newcastle, Southampton, Reading universities will start operations soon, or have started the operations. Added to this list is Marlborough College, which will start its first academic session in September this year. We also note that there are some 54,000 Malaysians who are desirous of having some form of British education. If we can open up more opportunities and avenues for them to avail themselves of British education, it certainly will be mutually beneficial.
On the defence side, we note with great satisfaction the long-standing ties under the auspices of FPDA continue to be an important arrangement between our two countries for the sake of regional peace and stability. We appreciate the commitment given by the UK to the FPDA. Moving forward, there are opportunities for us. We discussed possibilities of Britain taking part in the future procurement prospects for Malaysia and we take note of their offer, which is on the table for consideration by the Malaysian government.
We also discussed about some of the specific requests including in the retail trade, some of the economic or rather business organisations like Tesco, who are operating here. They are an important feature of our retail trade and they will continue to be given consideration for further expansion. Specific on the Ampang line MRT, Balfour-Beatty - the matter is still under consideration. We’ve not made a final decision but we are looking into the possibility of trying to find a creative solution. So, all in all I would like to say that the discussions also covered regional and bilateral issues - I mean, regional and international issues. I briefed Prime Minister Cameron on my take on what is happening in Myanmar, a country that he will be visiting tomorrow, and our position is the same as we have conveyed through ASEAN.
We are very much on the same page in terms of international issues and we hope to work closely together with the UK so that we can both play our part in terms of managing world issues and challenges facing all of us. So, once again, I would like to express my gratitude to Prime Minister David Cameron for his presence here and his visit certainly will add fresh momentum to our bilateral relations. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Prime Minister Najib. Thank you very much for the warm welcome and for the discussions that we’ve had today. Malaysia is now a real economic heavyweight and an influential actor in the region, in the Commonwealth and beyond, and you are playing a vital part in driving that progress, most notably with your vision of a Global Movement of Moderates. That is the right response, in my view, to the extremism and the violence that has blighted so many lives around the world, and at home, your determination to engage in political reform and tackle Malaysia’s outdated security law. Both are testament to your leadership.
Malaysia is a great and long-standing friend of Britain. 13,000 young Malaysians study at our universities every year. 150,000 Malaysians work for British companies. Malaysian investment projects have created hundreds of new jobs in Britain over the last decade, and Malaysians today own some of Britain’s major companies, including football clubs, like Queens Park Rangers and Cardiff. And yet despite this, this is the first time that a British Prime Minister has come to Malaysia in almost 20 years. It has been a period, as you have charitably put it Prime Minister, of benign neglect, and I am determined to put that right. So, my message today is very simple: the era of benign neglect is over. Britain is back: back to do business with Malaysia, back to build our partnership on vital global issues. We started that conversation in Downing Street with your visit, we’ve continued it today, and it is just the start of a much refreshed and reinvigorated relationship that we both want to see between our two countries.
On trade and investment, as you said, Prime Minister, our ambition is simple: to achieve a step change in Britain’s trade and investment with Malaysia. So, I’ve come today with a strong business delegation and I am delighted we have already seen a number of new deals here today. Our governments, as you said, have a vital role to support this, and we’ve agreed three things today. First, we have set ourselves this new target of doubling bilateral trade to £8 billion by 2016, with a joint working group to help get us there. Second, we are agreeing this new partnership in education to expand Malaysians’ access to British universities and to support Malaysia’s economic transformation with a new emphasis on vocational skills and research partnerships. And third, we are doubling the number of Chevening Scholarships for Malaysian students with support from BAE Systems.
Turning to our work together on the vital issues around the world, as I mentioned the Global Movement of Moderates I think is a hugely important initiative. I am delighted to be sharing a platform on this with the Prime Minister at the Nottingham University campus later this afternoon. We’ve had good discussions today on some of the most pressing international issues. On Burma, we discussed the Prime Minister’s recent visit and agreed the importance of coordinated international efforts to keep up the momentum for reform to make sure it is irreversible. On Syria, we discussed the continued violence of the Syrian regime and Assad’s failure to meet his commitments to pull his armies out of the towns and cities. This is action that I condemn unreservedly. I think we both agree on the urgent need for a fundamental change of course from the Syrian regime.
Yesterday, Malaysians celebrated the coronation of His Majesty the Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim. We congratulate all Malaysians on this very special occasion and it is perhaps fitting that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will visit later in the year to mark Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee. It is an auspicious time for my first visit to Malaysia. There will never be a better time to renew this relationship and that is very much what we are committed to doing today. Thank you.
I think there are two compelling reasons for both our countries. We both face two similar challenges. How is it that we can achieve continued economic growth and development, to make sure that young people in both our countries have well-paid jobs and a strong future? That is a great challenge, and a challenge we can help meet by more investment in each other’s countries, more trade between our countries, more cooperation. This is vitally important for both of us - particularly important for Britain: we want to make sure that we’re trading with the fastest-growing parts of the world, and here in Southeast Asia, your economies are now some of the strongest motors of the world economy. We believe we still have a lot to offer in terms of education, in infrastructure - as the Prime Minister mentioned, retail, defence industries - there are many sectors - insurance, banking, the creative industries. We spent some of lunch listening to some of the great creative music that has come out of Britain in recent decades, and not-so-recent decades. I think these are all examples of where we can do more in terms of trade and investment, to meet a joint challenge of both our countries.
The second challenge is to keep our people safe. We both face a challenge of terrorism and extremism, and the Prime Minister and I agree on the same approach, which is: of course there’s a role for counter-terrorism, for policing, for intelligence, for making sure we are arresting, prosecuting, and convicting those people who want to do us harm. But we have to undermine the whole poisonous narrative behind this terrorism, and this is where the Global Movement of Moderates comes in. We need to explain that there is a different path for young Muslims to seek, a path which is about, yes, celebrating the religion, but also recognising the outlet that democracy, the dignity that democracy and freedom and rights can bring, is a powerful and compelling and inspiring vision for the future. And that’s what we’re going to be discussing at the Nottingham campus later today. Those are the biggest challenges - a job, and safety - for my country, and I suspect they’re the greatest challenges for your country too.
Prime Minister Najib, you are just back from Burma. In light of what is happening there, can I ask you, do you think countries like the UK and the West should call for a speedier dismantling of sanctions? Prime Minister, you hoped to make an historical visit to Burma tomorrow. How can you be sure this is a genuine attempt at reform by the whole regime, rather than a cosmetic stunt designed to stifle criticism? And if you would just briefly, Prime Minister, just give us your reaction to events in Syria.
Well, I believe after visiting Myanmar and meeting with President Thein Sein and a number of other people, I really do believe, first of all, that he is sincere. And this has been supported and underscored by Aung San Suu Kyi’s own personal remarks about him. Secondly, I also believe that the track towards democratisation and a more inclusive form of governance in Myanmar is a course that is irreversible. I believe this a view shared by many people in Myanmar. For these reasons, we made a decision at the recent ASEAN summit, to put forward a case for countries that have imposed sanctions to review the sanctions, or at least to suspend the sanctions against Myanmar.
This is important because we need to support men like President Thein Sein, so that he will feel encouraged, if supported by the international community, because there will be elements who want to take a much more conservative approach - a much more totalitarian, or rigid approach, which certainly will not augur well for the future of Myanmar. So Myanmar should find its part in the global community of nations.
What I would say is this: in a world where there are many dark and depressing chapters in history being written right now, as we stand here, there is one potential chapter of light that is being produced, and that is in Burma, where there does seem to be a prospect of the flowering of more democracy and more freedom. Of course we should be sceptical; of course we should be questioning; of course we shouldn’t be naive. But I would think of it like this: it’s not just that the Indonesian President has said that he believes that President Thein Sein is sincere in his wish to reform; it’s not just that the Malaysian Prime Minister, having undertaken a visit, takes that view as well; Aung San Suu Kyi herself, who has spent so many years in such a long, lonely, but powerful struggle for freedom and democracy, believes that he is acting in good faith. Now, that is why I want to visit Burma myself, and to have those meetings, and to see and hear for myself what is happening. But I think that just as Britain played a leading role in Europe in placing tough sanctions on that regime to encourage it to reform, so we should be the ones, if we’re satisfied that real change is taking place, we should be the ones not being backwards in our response, as I said in my speech this morning.
On Syria, let me say this: there is no doubt, as I said yesterday, that the deadline that was put in place by the Annan Plan, was breached by Assad. And remember, the Annan Plan was backed not just by the enthusiasts for transition in Syria, but also by Russia and China and everyone else as well. So we need to look at the situation on the ground today, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the deadline had already been broken; the Annan Plan had already been crossed. As a result, I do think we need to take very tough action, including at the UN, to further put the pressure on Syria. The message, in many ways, is simple: if we want to avoid an increasingly bloody civil war, and a revolt from the bottom, then we need to see transition at the top. And the faster that transition can take place, the sooner there will be a chance for Syrian people to enjoy some sort of freedom and security that they certainly don’t enjoy today. Thank you very much indeed.