Interview with H.E. Salman Ahmad –
Ambassador of Malaysia
Your Excellency, please tell our readers about your history, your postings, and so forth.
I have been in the Malaysian Foreign Service since 1979. My previous postings have been mostly in Asia, including India, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines and Brunei. This is actually my first posting to Europe, although I have traveled in both Europe and the Americas. I began my posting in August, 2005, and my wife and three children joined me. I have two teenage sons, who enjoy the country, and my wife and I are blessed with a three year old daughter.
Malaysia has an unusually diverse population base, and yet very little internal strife and conflict. How does your country manage this challenging situation?
I am glad you asked that. We are very proud of what we have achieved as far as cohesion among the diverse ethnic population. We have the biggest three groups, the Malays (50%), the Chinese (30%), and the Indians (10%)… and many other smaller ethnic groups. Of course, it was not without difficulty that we have managed this, but we have had only one situation in 1969 that involved conflict. We have a two-pronged strategy to promote harmony in Malaysia. The first is to eradicate poverty regardless of ethnic background. Secondly, to reduce the economic disparity along ethnic lines. Our approach, however, does not mean taking away from the middle class and the rich and giving to the poor, but rather providing opportunities to those in need, to help the poor lift themselves out of poverty. A better life for those in need without penalty to those who have achieved wealth. We also had a policy to minimize the extreme elements of political movements. Historically, the communists and fringe groups have capitalized on support from the most impoverished groups, just as in many other countries around the world. Again, providing opportunity to the least advantaged segments of society reduces the appeal to follow independent and extremist factions.
What do you think is the biggest misperception is about Malaysia?
Many people think that Malaysia is an extreme Muslim country, but in fact we are a moderate muslim country. This is probably a result of the global situation and general misunderstandings. Although Islam is the official religion other religions are free to be practiced.
Tell our readers about the common interest between our countries, and the opportunities you think are possible.
We are looking at improving our trade relations, which is rather small at present. The big potentials are with tourism and timber products, and we also see potential with rubber exports. Industrial hardware and defense equipment are two significant export areas for your country, and we also admire the excellence of the Czech medical community. We have 140 Malaysians studying medicine here on our government scholarships right now, and that will make life in our country better as each trained doctor returns. We have an ongoing scholarship program to continue this process in the future. We are also considering the same scholarship programs in engineering and other disciplines in the Czech Republic.
I think these sorts of programs are excellent for building social and cultural relations between our two countries. The young generation could develop connections, understanding, and mutual respect for each other, and that is the best type of international relations. Under the EU there are programs, that may see Europeans and Czech students coming to Asia and Malaysia in the future.
Is there anything else you believe our readers should know?
I think you will be surprised. I am a Czech at heart. Seriously, I had heart transplantation here in the Czech Republic this March, so I literally have a Czech heart.This posting is special for me in many, many ways, but I wonder what would have happened had I been posted in another part of the world. I was treated by the finest doctors you can find, and they saved my life. So yes, I will be “Czech at heart” for the rest of my life