The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1993Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech in Kuala Lumpur – 22 September 1993

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech in Kuala Lumpur, made on Wednesday 22nd September 1993.


Honourable Ministers, Distinguished. Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am very grateful to the Minister of Finance, Anwar Ibrahim, for coming to this lunch today and for speaking and to so many of his Ministerial colleagues for accepting our invitation in what I know is a very busy Cabinet day for all of them,

Before turning to matters close at hand, bilateral matters, trading matters, I think I should say something about events in Russia over the last 24 hours. Anwar, you spoke a moment ago about the collapse of communism, and what happens in Russia affects all of us because Russia stretches from central Europe, across Asia to the Pacific, because as a Permanent Member of the Security Council, Russia is involved in all the most critical international problems, whether it is the Middle East, Bosnia or Cambodia,

The changes began in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev and they were carried into a new phase by Boris Yeltsin as President of Russia. They were remarkable changes, they generated hope and expectation far beyond Russia’s boundaries.

But I do not think that we should be surprised that this immense transformation has proved erratic and difficult, it has demanded high courage from the reformers within Russia and steady nerves from their supporters on the outside.

I believe those of us outside need to keep a clear view of what we are supporting and why we are supporting it. The United Kingdom wants to see democracy securely founded in Russia under a democratic constitution providing for the rule of law and the rights of the individual. We believe that authoritarian communist rule in the Soviet Union was both morally wrong and hugely damaging, it wasted the resources of a rich and proud nation and ruined its economy over many generations.

In the referendum in April the people of Russia gave President Yeltsin a clear mandate to complete democratic reform. Under that mandate and of the first popularly elected President of Russia he has been seeking to bring in a new constitution. His political opponents, entrenched in a parliament elected under Soviet rule, have fought a rear guard action to block the people’s will and paralyse reform.

President Yeltsin now intends to call parliamentary elections in December, leading to the adoption by a new parliament of a new constitution. His opponents are evidently not prepared to put their credentials to the test. I believe passionately that the Russian people should have the right to decide themselves, I believe this will be a vital step to underpin reform. I believe they should be allowed to elect a genuinely democratic and representative parliament and that is why I believe President Yeltsin is right, that is why I believe he deserves all our continuing support, and it was for that reason that earlier today I sent him a message making it clear that he continues to have the full and unqualified support of the United Kingdom.

Russia, of course, is but one of the subjects I look forward to discussing with Dr Mahatir and his colleagues during the rest of this afternoon and this evening. We will have a busy agenda: developments in Asia; former Yugoslavia we shall certainly discuss; the Middle East; as well as the crucially important Uruguay Round negotiations. All of these matters are vital to all free democratic nations and will be the legitimate matter for our discussions this afternoon.

But at lunchtime today in the presence of so many Ministers with economic responsibilities, and of so many leading British and Malaysian figures from the business world, I want to turn particularly to our longstanding and growing economic partnership.

We share a belief, we British and Malaysians, a belief in free trade. We in Britain have worked for the completion within the European Community of the Single European Market. I think I can say without a shred of over-exaggeration that we in Britain are the leading free traders in Western Europe. We have worked assiduously for an outward looking, open and competitive European Community and we shall continue to do so.

And here in Malaysia you with your partners have been progressing towards the ASEAN free trade area. Each of our countries has benefited from business which has boosted two-way trade between us to over 1.5 billion pounds each and every year, and for British investment in Malaysia to around 2 billion pounds. Both countries have been pioneers of privatisation within their own continents. Malaysia has pursued, it is continuing to pursue, that ambitious and exciting privatisation programme and I know that you plan to go even further.

In Britain during the period of the last decade or so we have released 46 separate companies with a total value of 50 billion pounds into private ownership. Many of them in the public sector did not make profits and did not deliver much of a service, now they do make profits and they yield taxes towards the provision of communal services and I believe they deliver a far better service as well.

And so we are seeing the benefits of better management, better services and increased profitability. And I make that point because no less than 7 of the businessmen accompanying me here today are the heads of former nationalised, now private sector companies British Aerospace, British Gas, Cable and Wireless, the National Grid Company, North West Water, PowerGen, Rolls Royce all highly successful competitive companies with a rising international reputation.

North West Water, for example, took part in EPO in the world’s first water privatisation project.. The Rolls Royce industrial power group has completed the conversion of the Connaught Bridge Power Station which I had the pleasure and privilege of visiting this morning. And British Aerospace has been one of the companies helping to meet Malaysia’s need for defence equipment over many years. Other companies represented here today are equally effective. Bywater, with the Apamur [phon] Dam, has helped the national rural water supply scheme. I remember. Bywater, getting on for nearly a quarter of a century ago when I think I had the pleasure of agreeing almost one of the first banking loans they ever had, and if I had realised how good they would be and how they would have grown I would have agreed to that loan far more speedily and on far better terms than I did. Balfour Beatty and GEC have been building the Pergau Hydro Power Station and these two companies, with Trafalgar House and Gammon, are partners in the British/Japanese consortium on the new Kuala Lumpur international airport.

Those are remarkable projects and yet these projects are just a part of the successful modern, growing, relationship, a relationship that has flourished and continues to flower as year succeeds year.

But they are part also of something else as well, part also of a wider picture of dynamic economic growth in Asia, matched by a stronger political voice and widening influence in international affairs.

Britain’s links with Asia are very old, they go back over 4 centuries. But it is not over the past that I think we should dwell, and even necessarily entirely the present, what we need to do is to look to the future rather than to the past and as we do so we are determined to strengthen and deepen our involvement in your region, our relationship politically and our relationship economically as well.

I remarked yesterday on the pace of change in Malaysia in the 20 years or so since my first visit. I find it astonishing to contemplate the Malaysia I saw when I first came here in the 1970s and to see today the immense changes towards an industrial society that have been created during the period of those two decades, they are truly remarkable changes of which I believe Malaysia can be justly proud.

But Britain too has changed during that period, through our membership of the European Community we have widened our economic base. Many overseas companies, rightly, see the United Kingdom as the most convenient and effective centre for the whole of their European operations. We have restructured our industry, the City of London has adopted the most sophisticated techniques to remain in the forefront of the world’s financial centres, we have become both more cosmopolitan and more competitive. And as we emerge from the recession that has engulfed so much of the western industrial world and many areas beyond it, as we emerge from that we find ourselves perhaps better placed for increased competitiveness than we have found ourselves for almost two decades.

You will, I hope, here in Malaysia experience this competitiveness in your dealings with the companies represented here today, But I hope also that you will find that the values we respect are the same, and it is shared values, apart from shared interests in free trade, the shared values – integrity, a sense of responsibility, that basic underpinning of an attachment to democracy and the rule of law – those are elements of our twin relationship that have grown and continue to grow year upon year.

I believe those are the essence of the partnership, quite apart from the mutual business interests that we share, those are the essence of the partnership and friendship between Britain and Malaysia that have enabled it to grow out of a colonial past into a modern industrial partnership.

I am delighted therefore to be here today, I look forward to my discussions later today. I am delighted to have brought with me this remarkable delegation of senior businessmen, most of whom find already are by no means new to this market but are meeting many old friends with whom they have had a longstanding relationship. I wish them well in their bilateral discussions, I believe their mutual success is in the interests of Malaysia and in the interests of the United Kingdom and it is that mutual success and that mutual relationship that I hope for and that we must all work for, and I am delighted to have had the opportunity of being here today to express that thought to all of you.