Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at Malaysian-British Society Banquet

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: ?Hilton Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: Dinner began at 2015.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 2708
Themes: Conservatism, Economic policy - theory and process, Higher & further education, Trade, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Asia), Transport

Prime Minister

May I thank you most warmly, Mr. President, for your kind remarks and for your splendid hospitality this evening. May I also thank the orchestra for the great enjoyment they have given us over dinner and, if it is in order in Kuala Lumpur, I would really like to applaud you (applause).

I would also like to thank the Mahathir bin MohamadPrime Minister and the Foreign Minister very much for inviting me to undertake the tour of Malaysia which I have just completed. It was a wonderful invitation, following upon the very successful visit of your Prime Minister to London last year.

It is an occasion we have greatly enjoyed. It is an occasion we have greatly enjoyed. It is a programme we have loved; and I would like also to thank some of those who have had the detailed responsibility for carrying it out.

To the Minister in Attendance, Minister Inshi Abdul Kade (phon.), thank you very much indeed. You have been absolutely wonderful! (applause) And to the Head of Protocol, not very often heard of, but he has that supreme difficulty of keeping visiting Ministers on time. I hope he has not found his task too difficult. Thank you very much, Ambassador Khalid (phon.) for the marvellous way in which you performed your duties (applause). [end p1]

I was very sorry to have missed the inaugural banquet of your Society last September. All the more so, when I heard from some of the British guests who travelled out from London what a great success the occasion had been. So not being one to miss a good party, here I am, and I really must say that your hospitality has lived up to all my expectations! I very much wish I had been present to hear your Prime Minister on that occasion welcoming the new era in Malaysian-British relations and yourself, Mr. President, speaking of our relations as now being on an even keel. Indeed, they are, and they are sailing fast in the right direction and the chart shows no rocks ahead at all!

In its one year of existence, the Society has already built up a strong membership representative of all walks of life in both countries; leaders of commerce, industry and science; people who are dedicated to the cause of good relations between Britain and Malaysia.

Mr. President, good relations are built on understanding. There are many ways that understanding can be created. Through language, through sharing the same democratic institutions and ideals, and through direct contacts. We need to encourage these in every field.

Understanding does not just happen naturally. You have to work at it and keep on working at it, like marriage; and like marriage, it helps when there are strong foundations.

Many Malaysians at this dinner have studied in Britain or have been regular visitors to us. We have a lot of things [end p2] in common. Both trading and industrial nations. Both moving ahead rapidly into new technologies. Both keen on football. Indeed, I am told that Swansea City won the first Inter-City Invitation Cup here in 1984, but were beaten by Kuala Lumpur in 1985. It sounds as though understanding has gone too far! You will understand when I say that I hope you will not soon take up cricket as your national game—that might strain our relations a bit too far!

We in Britain admire enormously the achievements of the modern Malaysia; the progress made under the new economic policy; the determination with which the construction of the Malaysia of the future is being undertaken; they promise a really exciting prospect.

Trade between our two countries in 1984 was at an all-time record. Add to that the fact that well over half your exports to us are manufactured goods—a considerable part of them machinery and transport equipment—and we have a very real success story.

May I make it clear that British companies are glad to have the opportunity of investing in Malaysia. Indeed, our investment now approaches £2 billion, the highest level of British investment in any country in the region. Much of it is in new industry, but I must admit to you that I have missed myself one opportunity to invest in Malaysia. It was a golden opportunity.

In my suite in this hotel I have a grandstand view of the racecourse. The Tunku's (phon.) horse won yesterday and I failed to invest! And I was having tea with him at the time too! [end p3] But my lack of investment owed something to his failure to give me a tip that his horse would win!

But some British companies have been taking their opportunities to invest. Companies such as Lucas and the London Rubber Company have established modern plants here, the production geared almost exclusively to export. So too have our industrial giants, such as ICI and Unilever, while Balfour Beatty have a joint venture with Kedah, the success of which I have seen today at Sungei Ahning. These companies, and almost all other British ones operating in Malaysia, and there is a 200-page directory listing those that do. They now have corporate structures which follow the guidelines set out in the new economic policy. Recognising as they do the importance of good management the world over, they run industrial schemes here for managers of the future.

And we are also very pleased indeed that there are some 14,000 young Malaysians who have chosen to come to Britain for education and training—more than from any other single country in the world. Isn't that a compliment to both of us? We are delighted that you rate our education and training so highly, and we think you are right to do so. That is why we have decided to extend the special financial arrangements we have had with Malaysia in the last three years. We have decided to extend them further into the future.

Your young people are adventurous and imaginative. Fourteen of them in Britain have achieved the distinction of selection for “Operation Raleigh” . You will ask, whatever is “Operation Raleigh” ? A singularly British title! Let me tell you what it is. [end p4]

It is a ship which is equipped to give young people the experience of genuine exploration the world over. It tests adventure; it tests scientific knowledge; it tests judgment; it tests how you get on with your fellow men; it tests what you do in unexpected circumstances. It is a marvellous leadership course which a number of industrialists and people interested in the leadership of the future are offering to our young people, and fourteen of your people in London have qualified and will be on this course. We do congratulate you. It is a marvellous achievement. And when they emerge they will be better equipped, not only to lead, but to serve their own communities—no mean achievement!

Education is above all an investment—a joint investment in the future—and that is what Malaysian-British relations are all about: investing in the future. That is what our businessmen and your businessmen are working for. That is what your Society is there to promote, and what it has promoted so well in the first year of its existence. Your role is that of trustee for our friendship, and I know you are worth of that trust.

In June, as you said Mr. President, the Society will hold its first joint meeting in London, and I look forward very much to the reception that I shall give for your members at No. 10 Downing Street. You will find in No. 10 Downing Street that we are really a very modest people. That we have a very modest Cabinet Room and very modest entertainment rooms, but we are just a little bit of history, and we shall so much enjoy showing you where some of the decisions of history were taken and where some of the decisions of history—history that may [end p5] affect us both—are still taken today.

Someone said to me yesterday, during the Question and Answer Session we had at the Institute of Public Administration—and very fascinating it was— “Why is it only now that a British prime minister is visiting Malaysia?” almost twenty-eight years after your independence. Well, of course, the questioner was right. A British prime minister should have paid an official visit to Malaysia before, but the important thing is not what might have been, but the fact that I am here and that I am here and that I have had a marvellous reception from your government and people, for which I do thank you most warmly.

It is here that I have learned the significance of so many things. The significance, for example, of that saying “Rousa Sayang” (phon.) Have I got it right? Rousa Sayang (phon.)

Many memories from my visit will stay with me for a long time. The thrilling elegance of Kuala Lumpur's city centre; the graceful new buildings side by side with the railway station and the Pedang (phon.); the memories of the British link to which your Mahathir bin Mohamadprime minister referred in his speech the other evening; and may I make this so very clear, we in Britain are proud to have shared some chapters with you in the story of Malaysia. Nothing can ever blot those out; they are chapters which we shared throughout history.

The imaginative and successful housing project will stay with me; the project which I visited on Saturday and where I was made so very welcome by thousands of your people. And also will stay with me the very real feeling of warmth for Britain which I have experienced in so many of my conversations and which is so very fully reciprocated by what we in Britain [end p6] feel for Malaysia.

You referred, Mr. President, to my talks with your prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad. I was especially pleased and gratified that my official talks got off to such a good start and that we were able to solve through amicable discussion the air services problem, which was casting its shadow over our wider relations. As I said to the Prime Minister, “I do not like these small things casting shadows. There are so many bigger things we have to do together, so let us just sort it out!” And when he came to London, I said to him something which I have said sometimes to my own Ministers, when we have to discuss things very frankly. I said: “Look! Please remember this! I have no toes to tread on, so just say what you like! The friendship is so strong that it will not upset it!” and so we were able to sort out those problems, and I would like to pay tribute to the cooperative way in which Dr. Mahathir was willing to work on this and ensure that it did not become a bone of contention which might have spoiled what has been in every way a successful visit.

I hope this is the spirit in which Britain and Malaysia will in future will always tackle any problems which may arise: a readiness to see each other's point of view; to talk frankly, but in a friendly way; and to arrive at results with which we can both be content.

I have also been very impressed by the close coincidence of the policies of Britain and Malaysia in so many areas, particularly in the economy. I was given a first-class briefing on your economy and the next five-year plan during my visit to the economic planning unit and found from that we shared so many of [end p7] the same aims. I was delighted to see, for instance, among the goals of the five-year plan, first the increase of self-reliance. That I would call pure Thatcherism! (applause) And it went on! Expansion of the private sector. That is what we also are doing. Restraint of public expenditure and borrowing. You should hear what my Opposition says when I preach these policies! And—perhaps most delighted of all—the elimination of the subsidy mentality. Well, only one thing disappointed me. In looking for the qualities of hard work and dedication which are essential for prosperity, you adopted the slogan “Look East!” and those qualities (applause) certainly exist … don't clap now, … and those qualities certainly exist among many of your Eastern neighbours. Please clap now! But I think you will find that they are also being rediscovered in Britain, as people are given the incentive for effort and initiative and realise that whether you are a newly-industrialised country like Malaysia or one of the original pioneers of the Industrial Revolution like Britain, the secret of success if the same. Yes, it has to be effort and it has to be effort and the will of the people, and I assure you that is the way in which I was brought up. That is why I was made Prime Minister of Britain, because that is the demand and the wish of the people of Britain—to recover those very qualities which you so much admire. (applause)

The message which I shall take back to our people, to our universities and to our industries, is that Malaysia is a country of enterprise and opportunity. I shall be telling them that Malaysia is a country Britain can do business with, in both directions—not on the basis of sentiment, but with the help of it—building on our common standards and [end p8] outlook and drawing on the best that history has passed on to us. It is a message of hope and a message of promise.

I referred a moment ago to the time when yesterday I visited one of your housing estates. I always like to go and see the people for myself, to get the feeling, to get the spirit. No matter how many documents you read, which the Foreign Office will always present you with and very good they are, or which the Ministry of Economy will always present you with, the graphs, the statistics, the tables, and I ask “What is the margin of error?” —no matter how much they present you with, no matter how assiduous you are at reading it, you only get the feel by going there yourself, and you wish to get not only the feel of the government, but you wish to get the feel of the people. And so I went to this marvellous housing estate and the people came out and I talked to them and I shook hands with them and we did not really have to speak because the hands came out in friendship, and I saw a lot of young people and, as is my wont, having been a Secretary of State for Education in my time—you know they often get to the top, Secretaries of State for Education—I said to one young man there in his early teens: “Tell me, do you go to the local school?” Yes, he went to the local school. And I said: “What is your favourite subject?” It is always an interesting question. This time, the answer came back without hesitation: “History!” He was only twelve or thirteen. It was an interesting and a surprising answer. He was articulate, very self-assured, very natural, and I wondered was it perhaps so surprising that he should answer “History” or was it that like so many young people today whom I have met, he was expressing what they feel: that they want to know what [end p9] their roots are; that they want to know what they belong to; because the feeling that you must have roots and the feeling that you want to belong to something is very very strong in all of us, and especially in our young people. And perhaps he felt that he wanted to know about his roots; perhaps he felt some quiet pride in belonging to a nation with a distinctive identity and with its own clear beliefs. Perhaps he felt, with some inherent and deep wisdom, that what matters is not the facts but the spirit of the people in the making of a nation. Perhaps he felt, with some inkling beyond his years, the necessity for leadership which you read about in history and which we experience today in leadership by example.

Mr. President, it is the spirit of a people which makes the success of a nation and it was the spirit of a people which I came to Malaysia to seek, and which I have found. We have the same values: the same deep belief in democracy, in freedom, and in justice; the same deep belief that we are prepared to defend our way of life. I want to make it clear that we in Britain are immensely strengthened by the existence of a Malaysia which believes those things, and I want to make it clear that countries all over the world which believe in human rights, which believe that freedom and justice is the only system which gives dignity and meaning to mankind and which brings prosperity to them, all of those nations which girdle the world are strengthened by the view and strength of Malaysia. That is very important. And I have found here something built on those beliefs. I have found the work of your people; I have found the wonderful city of Kuala Lumpur; I have found the [end p10] wonderful spirit that is outside the capital city; and it is upon this spirit and upon this record of achievement and upon the faith in your own beliefs that confidence is built. You have that confidence.

So this is a land of hope and promise. Hope and promise for you. Greater hope and greater promise for others who are your friends, because of your success, because of your beliefs. Yes, it is a message of hope. It is a message of confidence. It is a message of promise, and I am very glad, Mr. President, that I came here so that I can carry it back home.

Opportunity knocks at the door of Malaysia. Let us open the door to a future where Britain and Malaysia will work together. (applause)