Yong: Year 2018 of the earth dog and Sabah’s bright potential

Sabah’s strategic position in South East Asia is a blessing

As we welcome the year of the earth dog, we pray and hope that this year will be better than the previous year. Peace, prosperity and good health remain the basic aspirations of ordinary people. I am confident that Sabah has a bright future because of the harmonious fabric of our society, the legacy of the British Commonwealth system and the peaceful rise of China in Asia.

It is now universally accepted that China will continue its peaceful rise to become the pre-eminent power in Asia. The main task for us in Sabah in Malaysia is how we position ourselves strategically so that Sabah can enjoy a future of peace and prosperity.

Now that America is turning inwards under its America First policy, America is helping to make China great again. The year 2017 saw the cancellation of the American-led Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) which was meant to draw South East Asian (including Malaysia) and North East Asian (Japan, Korea) and Pacific economies away from China’s influence. But the unilateral cancellation of TPPA by its newly elected President has made American forfeit its leadership and its credibility in Asia.

China’s “Petro Yuan”, expected to be launched later this year, will also open up a new monetary era that propels the Yuan (Renminbi) as a global currency of trade. As China is the biggest importer of oil, Petro Yuan will gain momentum in oil trading in competition with the US Petro Dollar which has been the sole currency used in global oil trade ever since 1974. The negative consequences to the US dollar and American economy and its global influence cannot be underestimated.

Last but not least, any lingering doubts about China’s soft power will disappear when Taiwan is reunified with China in the foreseeable future. At the same time, many nations along the One Belt, One Road, from Asia to Africa and Middle East to Europe will benefit from this peaceful supranational development. 

Sabah’s strategic location in the South China Sea is therefore an opportunity for peace and prosperity instead of being a cause for anxiety.

Sabah’s commonwealth legacy and “Brexit”

Contrary to some fears, the rise of China as our powerful neighbour does not follow that Sabah will lose our legacy and sovereignty as a nation founded on modern international law. Malaysia is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Sabah (then known as North Borneo) is a creation of the British in 1881. Sabahans must remind ourselves that Sabah, like many other modern countries, is a creation of post-colonialism. Our legal, administrative and political systems are legacies of the United Kingdom. 

After four decades of entanglement in the European Union based primarily on geography, the British finally decided to “Brexit”, that is to leave the European Union. Consequently, the British will find it necessary, even self-fulfilling, to revert to the Commonwealth of Nations which share one common language and practise similar legal, political and administrative systems. Hence, Brexit presents a golden opportunity for Commonwealth nations, which includes Sabah in Malaysia.

In many important ways, the UK has more in common with far flung countries like Australia and Canada than with France and Germany. Other than being (white) Caucasian like most Europeans, the British have more in common with Asians in Malaysia and India and Africans in Ghana and South Africa than with their fellow Europeans. Over the last century, Britain itself has become more multiracial with five million British Asians and Africans (8% of the UK population) from former colonies.

Therefore, even before the UK formally leaves the EU in 2019, the UK has found it beneficial to rebuild its common legacy in the Commonwealth of 55 countries that covers 30 million sq km (20% of the world’s land area) and 2.4 billion people (33% of global population) most of whom can speak a common language, English. Economically, the Commonwealth produces 15% of world GDP, at USD11 trillion, the biggest economic bloc after the USA, China and European Union.

As the sun set on the British Empire, the UK has to reconnect and strengthen its trading and cultural links to its former colonies, most of whom are now successful countries. Sabah stands to benefit further by being a member of the commonwealth family.  While maintaining its “special relationship” with America, Britain has shown it’s pragmatism by actively strengthening trade with China, soon to be the world’s biggest economy.

After the Brexit referendum, the new British Prime Minister promptly has made two working visits so far to China and to India to promote “Global Britain”. The appointment of a former British Prime Minister to head the RM4 billion UK-China Investment Fund under the One Belt, One Road initiative to improve transport links between China and its trading partners and Europe affirms what the British PM called the “golden era” between the UK and China.

Sabah autonomy, “One country two systems” 

Over the last decade, Malaysia has seen the decline of single party dominance. This is a good thing for Malaysian democracy. 

Malaysians are excited as the year 2018 is general election year, expected to be in a matter of months. Now that the line-up of the federal opposition has firmed up, it has become abundantly clear that whoever wins the federal elections, the only changes will be personalities and not policies. The so-called “two-parties system” has
become “two parties, one system”. This is why Sabah must insist on the “one country, two systems” concept and Sabah autonomy in Malaysia.

In conclusion, the future of Sabah is bright as we are blessed with harmonious people, the right historical legacy in Commonwealth and a prosperous Asia. I wish everyone the best of health, prosperity and peace in the coming year of the earth dog. 

Datuk Yong Teck Lee
President of Sabah Progressive Party, Ex-Chief Minister of Sabah

Chinese New Year Message 2018