Anwar, the voice of Gaza & emerging economies at APEC 2023

By Saraswathi Muniappan

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov 19:  The core values and importance of multilateralism, especially for emerging economies like Malaysia and the need for humanity to prevail beyond political alliances, were among the core messages that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim emphasised at APEC 2023 here.

His message on every platform here was simple and clear: the killing and atrocities in Gaza have to stop and there are no two ways about it.

Anwar, who was here for the 30th APEC Economic Leaders Meeting, also participated in the APEC CEO Summit and delivered a public lecture entitled: ”Superpower rivalry and rising tensions in the Asia-Pacific: The view from Southeast Asia at the University of California, Berkeley.

Malaysia, he said, unequivocally condemned the bombing of civilians, homes and hospitals and the consequential atrocities against innocent lives, of children, women, and men being carried out day and night in Gaza with impunity. The death toll in the ongoing crisis since Oct 7 has surged to 12,000.

“Every second matters and delay in a unanimous call by world leaders to stop the incessant bombing means more babies will be victimised,” said the Prime Minister.

Besides Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia were the other two member economies, out of the 21 member economies that spoke on the conflict in the Middle East here.

The trio, in a landmark move, also decided to issue a separate statement at the end of 2023 APEC Leaders Week, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza after APEC Economies failed to reach a consensus on a paragraph proposed by the US on the geopolitical issue involving Russia and Ukraine, but not Gaza.

“Overall, I am happy because it is an important position. We are not members of adversarial or combative, but we take the position as friends.

“I didn’t use the forum to condemn but to appeal. To stop the atrocities that are happening in Gaza,” said Anwar.

On the topic of trade and investment, Anwar, who is also the Finance Minister, opined that APEC should remain a platform where all nations come together to develop strategies that stimulate economic progress while maintaining the highest standards of cooperation and respect.

He said member economies particularly those that fall under the emerging category, such as Malaysia, have benefited immensely from such collaboration in both trade and investment.

At various levels of growth and development, these economies now trying to thrive over past adversities during the global health crisis, which means there needs to be more collaboration now than before, he said.

“There is no doubt that the continued US-China rivalry will be the structural reality of world affairs, but emerging economies should not be pushed to take sides.

“Countries like Malaysia and ASEAN cannot be forced to see the world and big powers in the Cold War mindset,” he said during a question and answer session at the APEC CEO Summit entitled: ” The Global Economy and State of The World.

For Putrajaya, he said,  the United States has been a traditional ally and a major investor in Malaysia, but there has been a shift with increased trade and investment from China.

Hence,  Beijing will remain central to regional affairs due to its size, proximity, and deep linkages with Southeast Asia.

“As China’s economy matures, it will shift emphasis from investment and exports towards domestic consumption and services,” he said in his inaugural APEC Meeting as the Prime Minister.

He said the sheer scale of China’s population ensures its enormous market will continue growing in significance. 

“These realities mean constructive relations with China remain essential, even as we balance America’s enduring role,” said Anwar.

Hence, Malaysia still sees value in engaging both Washington and Beijing, he added.

Anwar also took the opportunity to share Malaysia’s priorities and principles under the MADANI Economy Framework, emphasising inclusivity, sustainable development, and cooperation for shared prosperity at the various meetings.

At APEC 2023, Malaysia, along with 13 other nations of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) signed the supply chain agreement, marking the entry of the trade pact led by the United States.

The 13 other countries are Australia, Brunei, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the US and Vietnam.

The IPEF consists of four main pillars: Pillar 1 – Trade, Pillar 2 – Supply Chain, Pillar 3 Clean Energy and Pillar 4 – Fair Economy. The negotiations will see four separate agreements for each of these pillars.

”Malaysia’s participation in IPEF showcases its commitment to regional economic integration and collaboration,” Anwar pointed out.

During his stay here, the Prime Minister also met key officials from technology giants such as Google, Enovix Cooperation, Microsoft and TikTok. Coupled with the trade and investment mission to the United States led by the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Aziz, Malaysia secured a total of RM63.02 billion in investments.

The investments from trade mission are from Abbott Laboratories, Mondelez International, Amsted Rail, Hematogenix, PerkinElmer, Ford Motor Company, Boeing, Amazon Web Services, Enovix, and Lam Research.

Anwar also met several Muslim businessmen and technology experts based in San Francisco who expressed their interest in investing in Malaysia.

The prime minister also held official bilateral meetings with Vietnam, Peru and Canada on the sidelines of the APEC Meeting.

With Vietnam, Anwar said he and Vietnam President Vo Van Thuong agreed to increase cooperation to address illegal fishing in Malaysian waters.

Both leaders also discussed the issue of the South China Sea and agreed to fully adhere to the Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea and called for an effective code of conduct on the South China Sea.

On the meeting with Peru, Anwar said its President, Dina Ercilia Boluarte Zegarra, requested Malaysia to consider opening an office in Peru to help facilitate halal certification of Peruvian products as Malaysia’s halal certification is recognised worldwide.

“I have agreed to facilitate Peru’s request as soon as possible,” the prime minister said.

As for his meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Anwar said besides bilateral trade and investment, both leaders also exchanged views on the issue of Palestine.

They agreed that the current conflict should serve as a wake-up call for the international community on the need to end Israeli occupation based on the two-state solution.

Anwar was accompanied by his wife Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir, the Minister of Communications and Digital Fahmi Fadzil and Tengku Zafrul on this visit.

Also present during his various engagements were the Malaysian Ambassador to the United States, Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, and the Consul General of Malaysia in Los Angeles, Anil Fahriza Adenan.

The US and Malaysia are among the 12 founding members of APEC. The others are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mexico and Papua New Guinea followed in 1993. Chile acceded in 1994 and in 1998, Peru, Russia and Vietnam joined, taking the full membership to 21.

APEC is home to close to three billion people and represents approximately 62 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 48 per cent of world trade in 2021.