Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1985 Apr 7 Su
Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference ending visit to Malaysa

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Press Conference
Venue: Hilton Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1800-1845.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3653
Themes: Commonwealth (general), Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Industry, Privatized & state industries, Trade, Foreign policy (Asia), Transport, Trade unions, Strikes & other union action

Prime Minister

Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,

My first visit to Malaysia is now, I fear, coming to an end, but before we depart, I would like you to know how valuable and enjoyable I have found my three days in this impressive country.

I am very grateful to Dr. Mahathir for inviting me to come. It was time a British Prime Minister visited Malaysia. Indeed, twenty-eight years after Malaysian independence, my official visit was long overdue, and I glad I have repaired the omission.

In those twenty-eight years, Malaysia has become a very important country and its significance in world affairs will grow. I therefore hope that I have paved the way for more Ministerial visits from Britain, so that we can learn more about this country, and put our relationship in a broader world context.

The value of our meeting and talking to each other was demonstrated in my very first afternoon here and Dr. Mahathir and I managed to sort out the air services issue in a comparatively short time, and I think it was a great relief to us both.

We quickly identified two separate issues: one, the build-up of air services between Kuala Lumpur and London as [end p1] traffic grows; and the second, the question of the tax concessions to Malaysian Air Services, which is a separate matter and which is the subject of representations by the Board of Airline Representatives. You know how we dealt with the matter, and having put it behind us we went on to a very wide-ranging exchange on regional and international issues, as well as the important one of trade, which I will return to in a moment.

Since my initial talks with Dr. Mahathir, I have had the pleasure of meeting Malaysian people from many walks of life-politicians, businessmen, technocrats, academics and ordinary people in their homes yesterday and at the British Council I was delighted to hear of the keen interest in the British language.

Then, of course, I flew north to Kedah, the rice bowl of Malaysia, to see the start of a joint venture dam involving our own firm, Balfour Beattie, which will provide supplies of water to the domestic consumer, and some power.

That brings me back to this question of trade and my impressions of Malaysia.

May I sum it up in this way: our economic philosophies clearly have a great deal in common.

Second, Malaysia is a land of opportunity, as well as of immense potential; but it is a land of opportunity not only for Malaysians, but also for British firms who have had good competitive, well-designed products, and the stamina and perseverance to sell them, or to invest here in joint ventures, which as I have indicated, Balfour Beattie's project in Kedah is a notable and good example. [end p2]

Our trade officials are already following up my talk with Dr. Mahathir, and I hope my visit will encourage British businessmen to enter or step up their involvement in the Malaysian markets.

Finally, I have been very struck by the friendliness of the people and the warmth of their welcome. They have given me a wonderful welcome wherever I have gone, quite spontaneously, and I would like to say that I have had a very happy and valuable visit.

May I now answer your questions? [end p3]

Robert Woodrow

Prime Minister, unless I am mistaken, this is the first time you have made an official first visit to any country and not paid a call upon the Head of State. Could you explain the significance of this departure from established practice?

Prime Minister

I believe that the Sultan Mahmood Iskandar ibni Al-Marhum Sultan IsmailHead of State is not at the moment in Kuala Lumpur, and therefore was not, I believe, available.

Question

(very faint) At the end of this three-day visit … how has your perspective on Anglo-Malaysian relations changed or been affected by actually being here for the first time?

Prime Minister

Dr. Mahathir paid a very successful visit to London a few months ago and that was really the start of my visit here, in a way, and I was very anxious to come back here and he asked me to come last September. I was not able to come in September, because there were pressing matters at home, and so the visit was postponed until now. But I see the two visits as really part of one enterprise which I believe has sorted out some of the problems—indeed, I think all the remaining problems—between Malaysia and Britain, and I hope now that the relationship is on a very good, successful and lasting basis. We should like very much to think so. [end p4]

Question (Female, but Inaudible)

(What message do you take home?)

Prime Minister

That Malaysia is a country which is growing extremely f* that the development is very impressive; that the spirit of the people is warm and welcoming; and that if Britain, as she has, has well-designed products at competitive prices and can deliver on time, then there is a very good future for British trade in Malaysia.

Question

(very faint, but question is on technology)

Prime Minister

I think the fact that a number of our companies are here and have transferred some of their technology here, already speaks for itself, and in some projects—for example, the manufacture of protein from methanol—ICI leads the world, and obviously, ICI would also like to have a plant here, if such a plant is required.

Yes, I do recognise very much that when companies set up here, the country wishes to have some transfer of technology and not merely to be an assembling plant—and we are very much aware of that—and I believe that you will find that in joint ventures from Britain.

David Walter

Prime Minister, your remarks about the trade unions yesterday here, have been described by your opponents as dangerous and vitriolic. Why did you wait to make those remarks until you came here? [end p5]

Prime Minister

There was nothing new in what I said here, as I am sure you are well aware, which answers your question, but you are clearly looking for a secondary!

Nothing new in that, as you clearly know well, and I am surprised that you cannot have been listening to me very carefully in Britain. I wonder why you come here to listen?

But I think I must also make it clear that, really, I am not going to have British chances of trade, which are good, ruined by an undeserved reputation for bad industrial relations. There are very very few difficulties in the private sector. People are working together as one company, as one interest, because the interests of management and trade unions are identical, to have a successful company, and I really do not want that very good performance in any way put at risk by the reputation we have had because of one or two very well-known strikes in the public sector.

David Walter

Don't you think that “seeing the miners off” is a bit too …   .

Prime Minister

Many of the miners stayed at work and we are immensely grateful to them for having done so. They remember, and we remember, and I am afraid the world knows the violence and intimidation connected with that strike. My point is to isolate that strike. It is over. It was over after a year. No other [end p6] trade union joined it. That augurs well for industrial relations—it does not bode ill—and I do not want the historic fact of that strike to be so much in people's minds that it clouds their view of Britain, because now our industrial relations, for the greater part, are good. Our products are good; we are competitive; and our delivery times are good; and that is the impression abroad that I want of Britain.

David Walter

Should you not be talking about conciliation with the unions rather than seeing them off?

Prime Minister

The strike came off after a year. That is a fact. Over a third of the miners were at work, as you know, pretty well the whole time, and the numbers increased towards the end. I cannot alter facts—neither can you!

Question

(inaudible)

Prime Minister

The Mahathir bin MohamadPrime Minister and I may have a slightly different idea of the Commonwealth. Nevertheless, Malaysia always sends a representative to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference. As you know, both Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers attend that conference. I have never been, I think, at a Commonwealth Conference when Malaysia has not been represented, and I hope [end p7] one day that Dr. Mahathir will join the Commonwealth Conference, which we hold alternate years, because it is a unique organisation, the Commonwealth. It has countries—I think now forty-four which girdle the world. It is a remarkable international conference, in which we do not need any translators, because we all speak English, and that really is a very great bond and makes discussions very much easier and within the short span of that conference we have many valuable talks, not only in full conference but many valuable bilateral meetings, and I am sure we each and every one of us profit from those contacts.

Question

You were interviewed by Radio Television Malaysia in London recently. Is it true that you or your office objected to the harsh tone of the questions originally submitted and is it true that you only agreed to the interview after the questions were toned down?

Prime Minister

I did not think the questions were harsh at all. They were quite easy compared with Tuesdays and Thursdays in the House of Commons! No, I did not think the questions were harsh at all. People usually want to know what are the subject areas, but as you know, I take any questions that come and answer most of them. [end p8]

Question

In your discussions with Dr. Mahathir the subject of Antarctica was touched on. The question is, does Britain understand the Malaysian initiative in the UN on Antarctica—if not, why?

Prime Minister

Because Britain is very happy with the present Antarctic treaty. It is working well. It comes up for review from time to time. I has enabled many countries to do research there, and broadly speaking, that treaty is honoured, and I have no proposals to change it, because I am very satisfied with it and I think most countries are.

Question

In your discussions with our Prime Minister, did you talk on the defence commitment from Britain and if so, could you tell us what the discussion was like?

Prime Minister

We did not have detailed discussions on defence commitments. We did, of course, talk about defence equipment. It is very important that that be right for the country. [end p9]

Question

(very faint) You made a comment earlier about the Commonwealth, where now, the communality of language seems to be a device for people to yell at each other. Do you think that the Commonwealth can develop, given that the communality of the …   . given that the only connection with the Commonwealth is through historic rule by Britain? Can the Commonwealth actually rise to the new demands that are being made upon it?

Prime Minister

I have been at several Commonwealth Conferences—at Lusaka, at Melbourne, and at Delhi. I have never heard people yell at one another—never.

Question (Same Man)

Figuratively!

Prime Minister

No, no. Yelling is not figurative; it is very noisy! I have never heard people yell at one another. Yes, I have heard some fierce arguments. Yes, I have heard some very interesting debates and discussions, and they have usually been extremely useful. The first one results in the end in the independence of Zimbabwe. The second one, there was no major subject; and at the third one, we had many matters for discussion. They have all been constructive. They have all been particularly valuable for some of the smaller countries who [end p10] do not belong to some of the larger alliances, but nevertheless want their voice and influence to be felt, and the Commonwealth is particularly valuable for that.

I wonder if one needs to be obsessed by the history. The fact is that this is an organisation with a common language, which girdles the world; which has one of the largest countries in it—India—and which has I think one of the smallest independent countries—so we span an enormous range in size of country, an enormous range in development and, of course, the Commonwealth does help with technical cooperation in many ways through the Commonwealth Office; and we do have a particular regard for one another and perhaps watch particularly the development of other countries.

So I think it is a very valuable organisation. Any other international conference that I go to has a battery of translators down there, another battery down there, another battery down there, and everything comes over earphones, and then there is inevitably a gap between the end of one sentence from one speaker and the beginning of the next.

So, if you had been there, you would have known we do not yell at one another. We are really very courteous!

Question

(female, but inaudible)

Prime Minister

Well, I can pack quite a lot into a day! I shall of course see the Lee Kuan YewPrime Minister and see a number of businessmen and see a number of other things while I am in Singapore. I [end p11] hope to have quite a long talk with Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, as I have had also with Dr. Mahathir. They are always extremely valuable and they are particularly valuable in the context of their own countries, and we shall talk about not only bilateral relations, but as we have done with Dr. Mahathir, world affairs both economic and political, and it will be very valuable, I can assure you.

Question

At the beginning of your remarks you were talking about inviting British businessmen here. There was rather a long period nonetheless when the official policy of the government was to buy British last. In your conversations with Dr. Mahathir, did he indicate to you that policy would not take place again or give you assurance that if British businessmen came here they would not be treated like that?

Prime Minister

Dr. Mahathir obviously makes his own statements and does not need me to make them for him. I think you will find that after Dr. Mahathir visited Britain, and then with my own visit in prospect, relations have improved enormously, because we have tried to deal with some of the issues that undoubtedly were a running sore. I think you will also see from the export figures that British companies do export quite a lot here. You will also see that for Britain, Malaysia is a considerable investment, something of the order of £2 billion. So we have got a good foundation on which to increase our trade. You [end p12] heard Dr. Mahathir say at the banquet the first evening, that Malaysia judges applications for contracts on ability, design and performance. As I told Dr. Mahathir in another session, on ability design and performance, we would not expect to get 100%; of the contracts, but we would be very satisfied with 90%;!

Question

Prime Minister, why are you going to Brunei and is there at this stage any discussion to extend the five-power defence arrangement to include Brunei?

Prime Minister

I am to Brunei because, again, I have not visited Brunei, and because I am not far away and I thought it advisable to go for a half-day. As you know, there has been a very close relationship between Britain and Brunei and the Ghurkas are still there.

No, I am not going for any great revision of any defence pact. I am just going because I want to see it and also to have the opportunity of talks with the Sir Muda Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izuddin WaddaulahSultan; and I think I am also going to see a hospital and also going to one other thing, and I think Denis Thatchermy husband is going to one of the oil installations. So we are packing as much as we can into a visit which is only a few hours.

You know, it is very strange, when I am in London, all the newspapers say why do I not go to a particular country, and when I am here, you ask why I do come! [end p13]

Question

It is being said at home, Prime Minister, that you prefer to go to foreign countries than to visit the depressed regions of England.

Prime Minister

Well it just is not true, is it? For example, when I did not come in September, I went to Liverpool, I went to York, I went to the northern parts of Wales, to Wrexham to have a particular look at the Youth Training Scheme, what we were doing for young people. But you know, they were such successful visits that they got practically no publicity!

There were not any demos, so they got no publicity!

Question

(inaudible) (re views on Star Wars)

Prime Minister

Yes, I have given them very very clearly. I think it absolutely right that research should be done on how to stop nuclear weapons. That is what the issue boils down to. The Soviet Union, in fact, is already doing a considerable amount of research. She was very forward in her work on lasers, on electronic pulse beams. She had an anti-satellite capability which the West did not have, and having had an anti-ballistic system round Moscow for twenty years and updating it, she has therefore a considerable experience in dealing with anti-ballistic missile weaponry. So it is absolutely right [end p14] that the United States should embark upon that research and I think most people would think that it is right to try to find an effective defence against nuclear weapons. It would seem to me very strange if they were to quarrel with that supposition.

If it ever comes to deploying weapons; if the result of research is to have a successful system, then the actual deployment of weapons is governed by the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which was signed between the Soviet Union and the United States of America in 1972, which treaty recognised that there would be developments in technology and there might be new weaponry, and provided a process under which negotiations could take place.

I think if you look at a recent lecture by Mr. Paul Nitze, who is doing some of the negotiations, and also, more importantly, at the statements of President Reagan, you will see that he says research must be done; research cannot be governed by a treaty, because it is just not verifiable, but if it comes to negotiations, that is governed by the ABM treaty of 1972.

Question

With regard to Kampuchea, did you discuss any aid for the Khmer Rouge?

Prime Minister

We have, as you know, from time to time tried to give aid to the people of Kampuchea in trying to fly in food and [end p15] doing all we can to relieve the refugee problem which bears very very heavily upon Thailand. That it is a tragedy is known to all of us, and we wish—as everyone else does—for the complete withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia. In political terms, we back the coalition government in Kampuchea.

Question

(Female and inaudible) (re the High Commission building)

Prime Minister

I am well in touch with that, even when I am not here. I think we are coming to an arrangement with the Malaysian Government, which I think you probably know.

The Malaysian Government regards it as a historic house. It is a historic house and the Malaysian Government would wish, in fact, to have possession of that house and they have offered us a very nice piece of land and we are going ahead with having a house designed on that land and we shall therefore fully …   . I beg your pardon …   .

(Remark Inaudible)

Prime Minister

… oh, but we have agreed. It has got past the stage of “Are you agreeable?” We have agreed. [end p16]

Question

(Female and Inaudible)

Prime Minister

I suppose you might say we are both pretty powerful personalities and that is when controversial issues get settled.

I just find it very very strange sometimes. When they are not settled, I am constantly cross-examined about them; when they are settled, I am asked “Why?” . I hope you are pleased that it is settled! And does it matter if two prime ministers can perhaps settle it? Prime Ministers do not get involved in everything and if every single decision had to come up to the top, there would be no point in us keeping a host of Ministers, would there, and that would upset Ministers a great deal! But there are from time to time, when Ministers between themselves cannot settle things, when sometimes they have to be settled by committees of the Cabinet or by Cabinet—or they involve two or three departments—then Prime Ministers take them over.

Prime Ministers usually, indeed always, carry their Ministers with them in the decisions they make and the point was this time the matter has been settled and I hope it will be very successful in the future.

Question

(Female and Inaudible)

Prime Minister

It will not come as any surprise to you, but when you embark on a new path increasing your commitment, you actually may well need new aircraft, new maintenance provisions, all sorts of arrangements to be made with your air traffic control, with other airlines. These just cannot be done immediately. They do take a time. [end p17]

Question

You said yesterday in reply to a question put to you at INTAN, that “feel” matters. What is your “feel” now about the future of Anglo-Malaysian relations?

Prime Minister

The theme is one of cooperation between two independent States, pursuing a very similar political philosophy, believing passionately in the way of life. The political philosophy is very similar. Always willing to defend that way of life and where we have two nations so similar in their political philosophy, so similar in their commitment to it and so friendly, it seems to me that there is great scope in cooperation, both in trading matters and in discussion of the great political matters that affect the world.