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Date [ 2014-10-27, 14:34 ]

In his 22 years as Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad transformed his country from an agricultural backwater into an industrial powerhouse that would become the 17th largest trading nation in the world.


(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) John Kim = Look East Policy, Petronas Twin Tower, Putrajaya, Vision 2020… these are the key words of present Malaysia which comes first to people’s mind when they think about Malaysia. And beyond these, there is the fourth Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad.


He held the post for 22 years from 1981 to 2003, making him Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister. His political career spanned almost 40 years. Even though he has retired, his vision and blueprints are in evidence throughout the country and many people are still seeking his advice about national challenges.


As Malaysia’s ‘Father of Modernization’ and one of the historical leaders of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Tun Dr. Mahathir had the country achieve strong national economic growth and left an indelible political footprint behind him. Therefore we visited his office at Petronas Twin Tower to hear his unique view and philosophy on the present and future relationship between ASEAN and the Republic of South Korea. It is most appropriate that the former prime minister’s view is obtained at this point in time, as the ASEAN-Republic of KOREA Commemorative Summit will be held on December 11-12, 2014 at BEXCO, Busan Korea.


Completed in 1998 and still maintaining its title as the world tallest twin towers, the Petronas Twin Towers (MenaraBerkembarPetronas) was one of the results of the infrastructure spree during his reign as PM.


The tower has total of 88 floors that give a panoramic view of the Kuala Lumpur skyline, weather conditions permitting. Compared to other major public building which usually have private security companies doing guard duty, one of the key features of the Twin Towers is a 24-hour surveillance by the police


Our media team had to pass through a security checkpoint at Tower One (1) and ride on a high-speed elevator to reach Tun’s office located on the 86th floor. However it was not a continuous ride for the elevator stopped on the 42nd floor where we had to board another elevator to the 83rd floor and one more to the 85th before arriving at Tun’s office. But not before making our way through maze-like passage-ways. In his office on the 86th floor, through the window, all around we could see tangible proof of Tun Dr.Mahathir’s economic drive.


Moments later, the big man himself walked into the room and welcomed us with a warm smile. As usual, he was wearing a coat with a Chinese-collar. It was hard to imagine he was 89 years old when looking at his youthful countenance, with a charismatic glitter in his eyes.


Actually in 2009, I had had an interview with Tan Sri Datuk Mokhzani Mahathir, (the Chairman of the Sepang International Circuit and the second son of Tun Dr. Mahathir), and was moved by his humble character. Ever since then, I have had this conviction that Datuk Mokhzani most probably takes after his esteemed father.


My heart leapt when I met Tun. Staying in Malaysia for about 27 years, I naturally had the opportunity to live and experience local life, most tellingly during Tun Dr. Mahathir’s reign. I was witness to the days of the economic rise and the absolute support that Tun enjoyed from the multi-racial population that was Malaysia. The conversation naturally went back to the days of the former Prime Minister’s days in office.


Mahathir advocated 'Vision 2020' and created a new federal administrative city that is now Putrajaya. Located 25 kilometers from Kuala Lumpur, Mahathir wanted an alternative to the serious traffic jams that clogged Kuala Lumpur. He said, “It was becoming very difficult for people to travel within the city. Government officers at that time had to travel from one office to another and this took a long time. So we decided the administration of this country should be carried out in a new administration centre. That is why we decided to build Putrajaya, mainly not just as an administrative centre, but also a new town for the people.” So Putrajaya was planned as a city of the future and today is one of the major model cities of the world. It has become a tourist destination in its own right and visited by busloads of local and foreign tourists.


Here then are further texts on the interview with Tun Dr.Mahathir.


Putrajya was planned as a futuristic city with a number of innovations. What was the rationale behind such a concept?


In particular, the communication system was rapidly progressing and it was decided to take advantage of the new communication systems. Both in terms of telephony and in terms of transport. Thus Putrajaya will be well serviced by communication systems. I like to see Putrajaya become a very comfortable and attractive city, so that people living there and working there, have a good life.


Besides, Putrajaya, also developed was Cyberjaya. What kind of positive impact has it on the Malaysian economy?


Cyberjaya is of course developed for the knowledge and IT-based industry. It should be near the administrative centre, in fact it is bordering the administrative centre of Putrajaya. There we will have more industries and more services, mainly based on IT and this of course has contributed to the growth of the Malaysian economy and also the training of Malaysians for the knowledge and IT based industries.


Putrajaya was planned with a blueprint and how much of it has been completed and how much more to go?



We are building this new administrative centre on a greenfield site, nothing there except palm trees, no wires or pipes underground, so that means it is possible for us to develop it in any way we want to. We decided we should make it a very comfortable city, should be very attractive and therefore we decided to have a lake in Putrajaya.  Now I feel it is almost completed and most of the civil servants have already moved there. Also ordinary people have decided to settle in Putrajaya.


How would you evaluate the current position of ASEAN?



As a regional organization it has been more successful than other regional organizations. Many of these have already disappeared but ASEAN is still around, is still functioning, bringing the 10 member countries together, so as to plan common strategies for their development. Also ASEAN tends to learn from each other and of course in many ways we help each other to ensure ASEAN counties can grow and remain peaceful. Peace and stability is very necessary for economic development, cause next year AFTA, the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement will begin to function. It is hoped this will increase trade between the ASEAN countries.


The relationship between Kuala Lumpur and Seoul is very strong after more than 50 years. How would you view it from the Premiers’ level?



We have the Look East Policy and we look at Korea as one of the model countries from whom we should learn. We have a lot of students going to Korea to study, particularly in engineering. This has brought our two countries closer together. There are also a lot of people travelling between Korea and Malaysia and we expect this relationship, in terms of trade to increase over time. We also consult or use Korean companies in order to upgrade our industrial capacity, for example in the motor car industry. So I think the present PM will continue this very good relationship between Malaysia and Korea and I think it will be very beneficial for both countries.


How do you view the future relationship between ASEAN countries and Korea?



ASEAN is a big market, it has 600 million people, per capita income is not very high but the numbers are very big and ASEAN needs a lot of manufactured goods, which before they had to procure from Europe or Japan. But now they can also procure from Korea. Therefore there is a symbiotic relation between Korea and ASEAN. ASEAN provides a good market for Korean products and at the same time, ASEAN can supply Korea with a lot of raw materials.



What do you expect from the upcoming international event – ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in December to be held in Busan, Korea.


ASEAN has been forming partnerships outside of ASEAN, and among them is Korea. We think this is very useful for ASEAN because we need a lot of products from Korea. Also we need to have more educational facilities available to ASEAN students. In any case the trade between this 600 million people of ASEAN and Korea, no doubt will grow over time. Korea too should  be able to help ASEAN countries in the process of industrialsation.


Despite raising Malaysia’s economic barometer and making the country well known on the world stage, some people accuse Mahathir of blocking the democratic development of Malaysia with his authoritarian control of the country. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that Tun Dr.Mahathir put Malaysia’s development on the fast track, brought international recognition to the country and was and is still one of the most influential person on the Malaysian canvas.


I closed the interview by having the good doctor autograph a copy of his autobiography, ‘A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE’. It is now one of my most prized possessions.




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