On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Let’s not be insular

It started with Malcolm Glazer’s buyout of Manchester United for an estimated US$1.4bil (RM4.76bil) in 2005. 

Former investment analyst turned businessman Randy Leaner, the owner of the NFL side Cleveland Browns, bought Aston Villa last year for US$130mil (RM442mil) and last week, tycoons Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr Hicks bought Liverpool for US$900mil. 

In the case of MU, there were some initial misgivings from the fans of the world’s richest football club who held demonstrations, but the purchase has been largely accepted. 

What all this means is that foreign participation is not seen in a negative light by the English. They see the foreign talents as being good for the future of the EPL and that the American buyouts may lead to a bigger and more lucrative market in the United States. 

They see business opportunities with huge economic returns, and do not take a narrow nationalistic view. 

The world has changed and the tide of globalisation simply cannot be stopped. Businesses are functioning without borders and many countries have become one big economic space. 

Insular politicians who continue to cling to their myopic views will not help the country become more competitive. Malaysia, or for that matter any country, will risk disappearing from the radar screen of investors simply because many countries are trying to make themselves more attractive and more competitive. 

In one country, officials go to the extent of securing places at universities for the children of investors and offer permanent residence status to induce them to come to their country. 

Take the case of Danga Bay in Johor, a massive waterfront project that will be developed over the next 15 to 20 years. The city-within-a-city project, which was launched by Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in August, encompasses residential, commercial, recreational and social amenities. 

When completed, Danga Bay will be three times the size of Singapore. But Malaysia alone cannot ensure the success of the project. 

Johor needs Singapore as much as the city-state needs Johor. Danga Bay can only be successful if Singaporeans and foreigners are prepared to invest in and support the project, which will see more than 800,000 jobs being created. 

Johor politicians, however, often send wrong signals to their neighbours. The leaders in Putrajaya understand and appreciate the strong bilateral ties with Singapore. 

The statistics tell the story: of the 16.4 million tourists who visited Malaysia in 2005, 9.6 million or 58% were Singaporeans. More than 1.7 million passengers travelled by air between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore in 2005, similar to the number reported in 2004. 

Investments from Singapore came up to over S$1.3bil (RM2.96bil), especially in the manufacturing of electrical and electronic parts, with more than half of the projects located in Johor. Malaysia-Singapore bilateral trade accounts for almost 70% of total intra-Asean trade. 

It does not help Malaysia when Johor politicians blame Singapore for the massive floods in the state, particularly when the arguments are unconvincing. The state should just look at its drainage problems first before they look for a scapegoat. 

Neither does it make much sense when accusations are levelled at Singapore investors who put money in Malaysian institutions. 

Similarly, there should be some caution at the manner by which some Malaysian politicians have bashed the Bush administration. The United States, with its 297 million consumers, is Malaysia’s biggest market. Let us not deceive ourselves – we need the US. 

We should not over-react to a statement by one US Congressman who called for the suspension of talks because a Malaysian firm signed a US$16bil energy deal with Iran. 

The US cannot dictate who we do business with but we should always bear in mind, as with all negotiations, there will be areas of agreement and disagreement. 

Malaysia is America’s 10th largest trading partner. The volume of trade has quadrupled over the last 15 years, from US$8.7bil in 1990 to more than US$44bil in 2006. 

To suggest that the Sept 11 attacks on the Twin Towers was the work of Americans themselves and not the evil plot of terrorists is going too far in attacking Bush. 

To call for the halting of the Free Trade Agreement is also irresponsible because a comprehensive pact will surely benefit both countries in the long run. It may have hit a snag but both sides need to iron out the problems. 

Malaysian politicians must realise that their ludicrous statements will be reported internationally. They may assume that they will gain some points with their constituents and supporters but they need to see the damage they cause. 

From making khalwat arrests to banning models with pan-Asian looks, we have continued to make international news for the wrong reasons. And what do our politicians tell us when we shoot ourselves in the foot? The standard line is that the foreign media is jealous of the Malaysian success story. 

For Malaysia’s sake, let’s not lose the game by scoring an own goal.