Malaysia and the UK have a history of strong bilateral relations. What is it that makes Malaysia an important political, economic, and security partner for the UK?
There are a number of aspects about Malaysia that are important to the UK, and it starts with a shared history. We speak the same language, both have democracy, and a similar mode of governance. Many of Malaysia's rules and regulations are also similar to ours, and it is a comfortable country for British companies to do business in, and similarly it is easy for Malaysian companies to do business in the UK. On that front, it is straightforward, and we are also happy to be supporting Malaysia as one of the key members of ASEAN. There are trading opportunities that go along with that, and it is helpful for British firms to be in Malaysia to access those markets. Above all, it is a two-way street, because both Malaysian and British firms are mutually comfortable in both locations. Large numbers of Malaysians have also been to college and university in the UK, and they have a natural affinity for the place, which helps the relationship.
You recently visited Kuala Lumpur along with the Mayor of London and a delegation of businesses. What similarities did you observe between the two cities, and how can trade and investment further be facilitated between the two?
I have been to Kuala Lumpur several times because we have had a lot of interface with Malaysian companies and sovereign funds with investments in London. This past trip was interesting because it was the Mayor's first time; it was an amazing trip where he was able to renew acquaintances, as he knows the Malaysian Prime Minister quite well. He was also able to interact with many of the investors and people who are involved in London. The similarities include the fast rate of growth in both of the cities in terms of population. They both have the challenges of infrastructure, and both have the need for further development in this capacity. The skylines are both changing quickly, and this, too, makes business in both cities rather similar. They are both springboards; London is very much a springboard into Europe as an ideal headquarters location. Kuala Lumpur, in a similar fashion, is an important location for European firms to establish themselves to go into Asia.
The Battersea Power Station in London is being redeveloped by a consortium of three Malaysian companies. What is the significance of this project for Malaysia-UK bilateral relations?
The significance comes from the example of Malaysia being able to extend some of its financial might into the UK for the development site. This is a scheme we have very much wanted to see get going, and it has worked well. What we are now seeing is an on going and developing relationship, and again London is viewed by many Malaysians as the gateway city to Europe. That is why developers are putting schemes like the Power Station together and offering accommodation and locations for Malaysian firms. The schemes are ones that London has wanted to see get off the ground, and also ones that are very popular. There are a number of other investments in the city that are also underway with Malaysian companies as individual companies, joint ventures, and investors.
Malaysia is halfway through its chairmanship of ASEAN as the region moves toward greater integration. How will this further strengthen the relationship between Malaysia and the UK, and what are some of the ways in which the two nations will collaborate in the future?
We need to work harder on the London side of things. We have begun issuing Islamic bonds and are active on the global Islamic finance market; however, there is scope to expand further, and I believe the link between Kuala Lumpur and London is a great opportunity on the financing side. This is building upon London's strength as a financial market. In addition, when the Mayor was in Kuala Lumpur, he also visited Indonesia and Singapore. It shows just how aware we are of ASEAN, and how it should be viewed. We consider Kuala Lumpur to be the entry point to it, and have shared concerns over terrorism. It is relatively low level, but we both need to cooperate in addressing it. There is a growth in the number of British universities coming into Malaysia, and it is important for them and good for the on-going relationship with the UK. The Mayor had been calling for an air link for British Airways with Kuala Lumpur, and it has finally been established. Those are some of the developments we are seeing today; however, we see matters going beyond that. We welcome this relationship and anticipate it only strengthening in the future. The World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) is also an area where we have observed a tremendous amount of support and growth, with the UK's first sovereign sukuk being offered in London at the previous WIEF. These relationships are constantly creating new opportunities for both countries.