Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad started his state visit to Cambodia yesterday and today he will meet his counterpart Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen. The meeting between the two leaders has historical significance in many ways.
Firstly, it is the meeting between the oldest premier of Malaysia with the long-serving premier of Cambodia. Both have survived turbulence and uncertainties. Malaysia has entered a new era of building a clean government after a surprise election victory in 2018 – some have called the election a political tsunami.
Cambodia meanwhile, has resisted numerous covert attempts at regime change, surmounted challenges and had brought down the poverty index to a single digit and steered the country to a consistent average seven percent GDP growth for the past 15 years while others in the region faced headwinds and turbulence.
Still both premiers must surmount and overcome numerous challenges ahead. Both share the same mission which is to build a clean, smart, efficient, and effective governance. Both are leading their respective country to face the headwinds and uncertainties driven by both external and internal factors such as the fourth industrial revolution and the return of great power politics.
Secondly, both countries shared similar historical pattern in fighting against internal insurgencies. While Malaysia battled a communist insurgency which only ended in 1989, during the first mandate of Dr. Mahathir, Mr. Hun Sen battled the Khmer Rouge more than two decades and uprooted the Khmer Rouge in 1999, some 10 years after Malaysia did.
Based on these historical experiences, both leaders do not take peace and stability for granted. Peace and stability must be earned and sustained.
Thirdly, both leaders share similar worldview, ine in which the world is moving towards a multipolar world or a multiplex world in which multiple actors will exercise their roles to address complex, interconnected global issues, shape international norms and rules, and build a more inclusive global governance.
Both leaders resist foreign intervention of any sorts and rather depend on indigenous ways to tackle the problems they face, be it economic, financial or political. They are not tolerant to hegemonic power or imperialism. They are the key proponents of the so-called Asian values that stress the importance of Asian history, culture, society and political thinking.
Fourthly, both countries are supportive of the Asian century, meaning Asia plays a critical role in building a new global order. The success stories of China, Japan, and South Korea have inspired both of them. They look to the East rather than to the West.
Both are well known for their critiques against the West, when it comes to human rights and democracy agenda.
They believe that democracy needs to be contextualized, based on the national conditions and local realities. Political pluralism is more important than political liberalism.
Fifth, both leaders face similar challenge in terms of power transition and succession plan. Both have adopted a similar prudent approach. Eliminating security threats from outside and within, weakening the opposition, strengthening internal unity, and promoting patriotism and loyalty are some of the key strategies. The ongoing violent protests in Hong Kong have alerted them to keep foreign intervention at bay.
Malaysia has adopted draconian rules such as Internal Security Act (ISA) which has now been replaced with The Security Offences (Special Measures) Act to maintain peace, racial unity and security. Cambodia does not have such rules yet. Malaysia perhaps can share some experiences on this.
Sixth, Malaysia’s success in diversifying its economy and its strategy to grasp the opportunities derived from the Fourth Industrial Revolution would be valuable to Cambodia’s development design. In November last year, Malaysia launched its National Policy on Industry 4.0 which aims to digitally transform Malaysia’s manufacturing sector and its related services to embrace Industry 4.0.
Finally, Mr. Hun Sen perhaps will seek useful and valuable tips from Dr. Mahathir on the secrets of the latter to stay young and agile at his age, which is just a single digit short of reaching a century on a lighter note.
Long live the bilateral relations between Malaysia and Cambodia. Long Live the special bond of friendship between Dr. Mahathir and Premier Hun Sen and long live the two premiers. Welcome to Cambodia, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.