Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Anwar at UNGA

This article has been edited for

Heading: Anwar Ibrahim’s much-awaited UN General Assembly debut

Sub: Between his address to over 100 world leaders and a rare khutbah at New York’s oldest mosque, the PM will attempt to make Malaysia’s “rightful claim” as global middle power


New York: Malaysia’s flamboyant ambassador to the US Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz describes his job as “an easy one”. “I’m lucky. My job is made easy and it’s because of who the Prime Minister (of Malaysia) is and how he is perceived.”

I had just asked him if he had managed to change how the Americans view Malaysia after taking up the job in February.We were at Malaysia’s Permanent Mission in New York after a briefing for Malaysian journalists by Foreign Minister Zambry Kadir, who is in New York ahead of PM Anwar Ibrahim’s maiden address to the 78th UN General Assembly. 

Nazri, 69, has a long Cabinet career, having served several PMs, notably as the de facto Minister of Law when in Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Cabinet. But since Anwar became PM in November last year, Nazri said the perception of Malaysia, especially in the US, has changed and changed for the better.

“Largely, Anwar is perceived by the Americans as a leader who upholds democracy, the rule of law and transparency,” he added.

Anwar, who arrives in New York today, will not only be addressing (over 100) world leaders attending the UNGA (Friday 10 pm Msian time). He is also being accorded the singular honour as the first world leader to deliver a Friday sermon at the Islamic Cultural Centre here.

Zambry, underscoring the importance of the khutbah Jumaat the PM is delivering this Friday, said the growing divide between the global South and developed North and the rise of Islamophobia mean there was a need to bridge the various gaps of priorities and principles.

The former Perak Menteri Besar has been busier than usual in the weeks leading to the General Assembly, traveling from one time zone to another to spread the word on Malaysia’s new foreign policies under Anwar’s madani. 

Last week, for example, he was in Havana, Cuba attending the G77+China Summit where he urged the South to stop indulging in self-pity and blaming others. Before that, in Jakarta for the ASEAN leaders’ meeting, he articulated a rare, strongly-worded warning against Myanmar. And last month when in Tehran to re-establish ties with Iran, Zambry condemned the US for prolonged sanctions on the Muslim country.

Zambry has assimilated quite a team to support Anwar at UN, which include four Members of Parliament, the deputy chief ministers of Sabah and Sarawak. Bursa Malaysia CEO Umar Swift and Khazanah Nasional Berhad managing director Amirul Feisal Wan Zahir are also in the delegation to lay the groundwork for the PM in matters related to investment and business.

MITI Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz got in late yesterday and, following a blitzkrieg of meetings with CEOs, quickly announced foreign direct investments into Malaysia involving American interests valued at some RM2 billion. 

“My job has also been made easier. It’s easy to ‘sell’ the (Anwar) brand to these investors. Of course, we have to work hard and act quickly as the windows of oppotunity don’t stay open for long periods of time, but we’re on it,” Zafrul said at a meeting with Malaysian journalists at Conrad Hotel on West 54th, where the PM and official delegation are staying. 

Interestingly, in trade as with politics, Malaysia finds itself in the middle. Zafrul spoke of a “trade war’ involving the US and China and how American corporate entities, notably in the semiconductor, are leaving China for Malaysia. Asked by the Group Editor-in-Chief of The Scoop, Terence Fernandez, if he was not worried of getting in the way of the two feuding powers, Zafrul said both the US and China are Malaysia’s largest trading partners. 

“Sometimes we have to behave like opportunists, but the windows (of opportunity) don’t stay open forever. Moreover, we still have to compete with others in the region, especially Vietnam,” he said.

Zambry, meanwhile, said Anwar has agreed to be interviewed by CNN and Bloomberg in between his meetings with chief execs from Fortune 500 Companies and closed-door meetings with heads of governments, among others, President Erdogan of Turkiye, a key Malaysian ally in combating Islamophobia and in fighting for the rights of Palestine.

Howard Lee Chuan How, the MP for Ipoh Timur, who is one of the young politcians Zambry has selected to be in Team Malaysia, said Anwar should be leaving a huge impact on the US with his UNGA, the New York khutbah Jumaat and everything else in between.

“Anwar’s commitment in New York and the UNGA as well as the size of the delegation that Wisma Putra has sent here is indicative of Malaysia’s seriousness in assuming our rightful place in the world as a global middle power,” he said.

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