9th July 2013 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
"From Colony to Corner-Stone Investor"
I’m delighted that Simon Featherstone, the British High Commissioner, has agreed to write a guest blog on Prime Minister Najib’s groundbreaking(!) visit to the UK.
It’s not often that you get a behind-the-scenes look at an occasion of this magnitude so please enjoy and feel free to post your thoughts or comments below.
The work of a High Commissioner to promote the bilateral relationship is often unseen and incremental. But sometimes an event shines a spotlight on and epitomises what has been going on behind the scenes. Last Thursday’s groundbreaking event at Battersea Power Station was such a moment.
After three decades of unsuccessful attempts by a variety of investors to develop this iconic but derelict building, it is a Malaysian consortium which will build 3,500 new homes, offices, shops, restaurants and a theatre. As PM Najib put it, “In one generation Malaysia has gone from a colony to a corner-stone investor.”
When I became High Commissioner in October 2010 no serving British Prime Minister had been to Malaysia for 17 years and no British Cabinet Minister for 5 years and the trade and investment relationship was in the doldrums. With Prime Minister Najib openly talking about the UK’s “benign neglect” of Malaysia, it was clearly time to act.
Fortunately the coalition government didn’t need any persuading of the importance of re-establishing ties with this important Commonwealth partner. One of my early happy duties was to organise the guest of government visit by Prime Minister Najib in July 2011.
I recall how impressed PM Cameron was then by PM Najib’s call for a Global Movement of Moderates: less than a year later the two Prime Ministers spoke side by side on that theme at Nottingham University’s Malaysia Campus.
Last Thursday’s bilateral meeting at Battersea between the two Prime Ministers was the warmest yet. As they talked about trade and investment, defence and security, and the World Islamic Economic Forum (which will bring PM Najib back to London in late October), it was obvious how much the two leaders respected one another.
A key focus of PM Cameron’s 2012 visit had been that “Britain is back”: eager to grow trade and investment links with Malaysia. We introduced him to some key investors including Tan Sri Liew of SP Setia. According to Liew, that encounter and the High Commission’s tenacious follow-up, were important in the consortium’s decision to go ahead with the Battersea project.
It was great at Thursday’s event to see so many others who also played a key role including Mayor Boris Johnson, Lord Green, Lord Marland, Lord Sassoon, Ravi Govinda and representatives of Wandsworth Borough Council.
For myself and my wife Gail, whose family came from Wandsworth, Thursday was particularly special. The sun shone. The view from the model-apartment over the Thames was spectacular. PM Najib spoke about Malaysia and Britain as partners for prosperity. PM Cameron described the project as the jewel in the crown of London’s development.
Boris Johnson hilariously likened the Power Station to a cow floating upside-down along the Thames. A jazz band played. Acrobats and stilt-walkers mingled with the guests. Magicians performed card tricks. A delicious fusion meal was served under a marquee inside the old power station.
Foreign Minister Anifah and William Hague later held useful talks at the FCO. But best of all from my perspective as High Commissioner was the obvious warmth and friendship between the British and Malaysian guests (many of whom – including Jimmy Choo – had travelled to London especially for the event). Judging by the atmosphere on Thursday, the relationship between Malaysia and the UK can only go from strength to strength.