In 2017 Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito was bold enough to come forwards with a major compliment ahead of his state visit to Malaysia.

His point was that Malaysia’s success is based on its diversity and tolerance, and the country can be a model for a world faced with conflicts. In many respects, therefore, a great example to the world in terms of social and cultural advancement.

 “Diversity and tolerance are the words that come to my mind in describing my image of Malaysia today,” he said. The country has generated energy and unity as a nation while the people of Malay, Chinese and Indian roots have come to respect each other’s differences and coexisted”...

To me, as an expat in Malaysia for the last 4 years, this seemed a perfectly valid observation, especially as someone, who has chosen this location as a home for similar reasons. Yet, I found the response to this well-earnt accolade from the Malaysian public itself rather muted on the subject – after all this observation came from the first in line to the throne from one of the most developed countries in the world!

The fact is, Malaysia has, for some time and still is, bogged down by a tide of negative self-perception. As a country, Malaysia seems shackled to the unrealistic comparisons of Singapore and even South Korea in the ongoing Asian Tiger competition. A raft of incidents and allegations relating to corruption have further compounded matters and seems to have left an indelible cloud of self-doubt despite remarkable economic performance – a 4-5% annual GDP growth for the last decade or so should surely put pay to this – not where Malaysia is concerned it seems.

My view is this issue is not backed by fact, but by more by the power of perception, which is further fuelled by rather artificially negative press coverage both locally and internationally. Granted, a weaker Ringgit to the US and Sing dollar have enhanced the sense of economic victimization, but as a collective, business leaders, politicians and the media need to make a conscious decision to ‘bang the drum’ for Malaysia and actually share the enthusiasm and belief in its future economic and social opportunity as expressed by the Japanese envoy referred to above…

So what do I think of Malaysia?...

How can I put this more clearly – Malaysia is quite simply, a fantastic country!

Let’s start with some socio-cultural factors:

  • Malaysia is a triumph of cultural cohesion – see Muslim, Chinese and Indian national holidays – where in the world do we see that?
  • Kuala Lumpur is the 11th most international city in the world by population – this means KL has a larger ex-pat population by proportion than Brussels and LA.

What about Malaysia as a place to live:

  • Malaysia manages to preserve its cultural heritage, yet is extremely accommodating to ex-pats as a gateway to the East – English is the main business language;
  • Outstanding quality and range of accommodation and reasonably priced – some beautiful enclaves depending on whatever your personal tastes might be
  • Malaysia boasts outstanding medical services and a range of some of the best education institutions available

And what about economic outlook?

  • Malaysia is one of the fast-growing economies in Asia and the most consistent – 4%+ annual GDP is the run rate;
  • Malaysia is also one of the fastest growing job markets in Asia with massive growth across infrastructure & engineering, finance, technology & digital and financial services;
  • Rather than slowing down, more international businesses are looking to come here based on favourable regulatory and economic factors, cost and depth of talent;
  • Innovative economic policy making – Malaysia recently ranked 21st globally in a Bloomberg report ranking levels of openness and creativity. A great example is the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ), endorsed via its well-known links with Jak Ma, which removed trade boundaries on goods bought and sold on-line, which will certainly stimulate growth in the e-commerce sector.
  • I expect the KL-Singapore train line will have a very positive impact here – finally we achieve a breakthrough on this…

Malaysia is stunning:

  • Have you seen KL from the top of one of the skyscrapers here? Do so!
  • Whether you like mountain tops, jungle with phenomenal bio-diversity or tropical beaches flanked with coral and shoals of fish of all colours, you don’t need to leave Malaysia for holiday. It’s all here.

So based on my absolutely honest outlook on this country, it seems I do in fact share the same outlook as Prince Naruhito! Sadly, however, I do expect many Malaysians will disagree with me.

As an eternal optimist, I believe 2 things:

  • The nay-sayers are actually ‘stuck’ in a mode of negative outlook that we need to help them shake off, which is quite a common human characteristic (I find this to be endemic in the UK for instance). When it comes down to it, Malaysians are very proud loyal people, especially when it comes to its wonderfully unique cultural heritage and cohesion.
  • If Malaysia stays on its current track on the economic path, especially when it comes to growth in emerging sectors such as Digital and Data, the ice will gradually thaw as society starts to realise its own potential.

There are challenges in Malaysia for sure. It’s not perfect and I appreciate for some, the economic growth I am referring to seems to have left them behind and society needs to work on how to fix this emerging gap.

 

But for now, the future’s wonderfully bright…