Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. When we find ourselves embroiled in such challenging and uncertain times as at present—with the lingering impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the continuing fall-out from the Russia-Ukraine war, let alone the climate crisis—it can be easy to lose sight of the longer term. Books such as this, which provides us with detailed future prognoses in a number of areas, can help to bring that back into focus. They remind us of the vital importance of planning carefully for the future, based on a solid understanding of our past trajectory and current dynamics.

2. This publication, ‘Leap into the Future: the building blocks towards balanced development,’ is thus very timely. It provides an in-depth examination of our current economic and social conditions, and of the new developments and elements we must embrace, if Malaysia is to remain a progressive and vibrant country into the future. The book’s ultimate focus is on how to promote the structural changes that are necessary in order to boost and sustain our economic growth. To this end, it covers a range of topics that must all be understood in detail for us to chart our path forward.

3. So the book covers everything from the implications of our current population characteristics and projected demographic change; to the financing of economic development. It considers the necessary transformations that must take place in the agricultural sector to strengthen our food security, and those that are required in the manufacturing and services sectors to ensure we keep up with technological and other changes. There are chapters on how to address poverty and inequality; on education, human capital and labour issues; as well as on the challenges and opportunities of urbanization, the natural environment, and healthcare and wellness. All these ‘building blocks’ of our development are complex, interlinked, and vital to understand as we move forward.

4. The task of casting a critical eye over our present and past, before setting out some possible future directions for our nation, is difficult enough. This challenge is compounded by the breath of the issues that are relevant to understanding our nation’s prospects and trajectory. The book’s editors, Rajah Rasiah, Kamal Salih and Cheong Kee Cheok, have met this demanding objective most admirably with this book, both in the range of issues that it brings together, as well as in the scope of its approach. So we are given detailed appraisals of not only where we are as a nation, and how we got here, but also credible visions of our routes forward in relation to all the various topics or building blocks.

5. I want to commend the editors for the laudable job they have done in covering so many facets of our ongoing journey towards sustainable development and advanced country status. The chapter authors they have brought together to tackle the various subjects complement their own specialist contributions most effectively. The range of topics covered by the editors themselves, as joint authors of a number of chapters, adds to the sense throughout that we are in the most capable hands. The three of them have all had highly distinguished and varied careers, both here and overseas, and their rich expertise and experience adds much depth and credibility to this project. Their introductory chapter provides the organizing structure and context for the chapters that follow, drawing on their weighty combined intellectual backgrounds.

6. As the title of this book suggests, it is imperative that our future development is balanced. The imbalanced economic structures that we inherited at independence left us with a complex burden which had to be addressed. The affirmative action policy of the NEP, while successful in addressing some of these imbalances, then created further challenges of its own. The various chapters thoughtfully consider some of the impacts of this policy, and suggest alternative ways forward that can help to promote the balanced development that we need.

7. Some of the challenges we face are related to our own unique historical circumstances, including the legacies of our colonial past and the policies adopted in response. But these national or internal issues are greatly compounded by the turbulent global context in which Malaysia finds itself today. The world around us always faces complex challenges, of course. But at the present moment in history, we do seem to be facing a particularly intense and difficult period of knocks and setbacks.

8. Some observers even suggest that we are entering an ‘age of precarity,’ in which humanity’s continued progress is increasingly at risk. Part of this growing sense of precariousness comes from the more immediate crises we are facing— the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the supply-side and price shocks that these have caused. Part of it comes from the growing fear and uncertainty about the future as the devastating impacts of climate change unfold before our eyes. And another part comes from the realization that the enormous progress humanity has made, especially over just the past few decades, is now being undermined by the current interlocking crises.

9. The gains that we have collectively made in recent times, across a wide range of economic and human development indicators, are unprecedented. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of absolute poverty—in China, India, Indonesia and elsewhere—in what must surely rank among the fastest steps forward that humans have ever taken. Here in Malaysia, although our developmental achievements have been undermined somewhat by the pandemic, and global financial crisis before it, we have made enormous strides since independence. Despite the many internal and external challenges and constraints that we have faced, extreme poverty has been virtually eliminated, and the majority of the population enjoy a standard of living that would once have been unimaginable.

10. But while our recent gains may have been unprecedented, the new risks that we are facing also take us into uncharted territory. The complex challenges created by climate change, by technological advances, and by fast-evolving social, political and geopolitical dynamics, have all significantly deepened in the past few years. We may even be entering a new phase of so-called ‘de-globalization,’ as trade integration starts to falter. We see this in the growing use of investment bans in strategic areas such as technology and energy, as well as an increased focus on safeguarding food security, now part of national security concerns.

11. To situate Malaysia’s own path forward, and guide us in detail through so many aspects of it, as this book does so capably, is thus especially useful in this highly-challenging global context. In the ‘age of precarity,’ there is a greater need than ever for astute and informative guides to our various choices, opportunities, and constraints. Contributions such as this, which draw on the knowledge and wisdom of some of the country’s brightest, provide a solid basis for our development plans and visions.

12. In the turbulent current global context, it may no longer be enough to rely on the same types of policy prescription that have served us in the past. Given the dynamic and unprecedented nature of the challenges we face, we also need to develop fresh and innovative responses. We need new ways even to think about the problems we confront. One useful concept in this regard is that of planetary health, which captures the extent to which our own health and well-being is inextricably connected with that of the planet, as is becoming ever more apparent.

13. This notion of planetary health calls for a very different approach to development and growth – one in which we must strive to create conditions that allow both humanity and the natural systems that we depend on to thrive, now and in the future. We must recognize that although economic growth is an essential element of our current and future prosperity, it cannot remain as our only developmental goal. Economic growth is of course, essential, as the driver of progress and human development, and we must not lose sight of this. But if it is pursued to the exclusion of other equally-important goals, and even starts to exceed the so-called ‘ecological ceiling’— then irreparable harms may result, to our planet and ultimately to ourselves.

14. So we must find alternative means to prosper, bringing in fresh approaches such as that of the circular, ‘doughnut’, or ‘Mission’ economy, to build economies that work for the planet as well as its inhabitants. The field of economics itself needs to adapt and develop in order to reflect these new realities, and economists, and others, need to broaden their own horizons. The problems the world is facing today are multi-faceted in nature, highly complex, and highly interconnected. The solutions we develop in response must also be multi-focused. They must encompass a wide range of perspectives and angles. No one discipline can provide the answers, and instead we must seek them out through multiple channels, and through collaboration among them.

15. Knowledge creation and problem-solving anyway take place far more productively outside artificial walls, through the exchange and cross-kindling of ideas and approaches. This is something that has long been recognized by Royal Professor Ungku Aziz. The late Royal Professor also embodied this approach in his own work, because, as he put it:

“The traditional barriers between subjects are being reinforced by increasing scholarly specialisation…. (but) in reality, the problems of the modern world have not conveniently fitted themselves into the pigeonholes of university departments. Many problems involving complexity need to be studied from a cross-disciplinary approach.”

16. But this urgent need to break out of our silos—particularly now, in order to address the multi-faceted problems we face—has yet to filter through sufficiently to the way we conduct ourselves in policy-making and in academia. In this regard, and building on the success of this book, I would like to suggest that in future publications, all of us should reach out beyond our own specialisms and approaches. Starting with our own work, we should generate new collaborations with experts from across a wide range of other fields. Such collaborations could lead to publications focusing on themes of common interest, bringing to them insights from multiple perspectives and disciplines, as is so necessary.

17. And the relevant fields are many; including history, and especially economic history in which great strides are currently being made; as well as anthropology, which is helping to inform these advances; let alone philosophy, psychology, literature, and the other arts, all of which have much to teach us as we strive to move forward sustainably. And beyond the humanities, we have much to learn from the experiences of medical practitioners, and scientists of all kinds, including all those working in technology and at the cutting edge of our 4th industrial revolution. So let us gather knowledge from across all these and other fields, to better inform our understanding, and thus our policy-making. Economics, however important, must be complemented by these other fields of knowledge, as it alone can only ever supply some parts of the necessary analysis and solutions.

18. We also need to ensure that the foundations and preconditions for this future development are securely in place. The most crucial precondition for Malaysia at the moment is political stability, without which we will be unable to move forward effectively. Political stability will allow our planners to focus more fully on the longer term, and put into place the policies and measures that are necessary, in turn, to build confidence among investors.

19. Further strengthening of our institutions is thus another priority, as it is these which will ensure the effective implementation of the various policies that will propel us forward. Around the world and historically, those countries that have been successful are those with robust institutions, which are, and have always been, a key enabling element for growth and development. The operation of a strong and predictable rule of law, with effective checks on power, forms the very foundation of successful modern states and economies. And it requires active government commitment to implement and to further develop regulatory and institutional frameworks. Malaysia has strong institutional foundations in many respects. Now we need to muster the political will to drive our institutions forward in the new directions that are necessary.

20. Our developmental model must also, of course, be genuinely inclusive. As the book suggests, our approach in areas from education and human capital development, to poverty and inequality, must entail the inclusion of all Malaysians, irrespective of ethnicity and religion. We are all equally part of Malaysia’s success—in the present and past, as we have built our shared prosperity together; and into the future, as we meet its complex challenges together.

21. So I want to congratulate the editors and authors for the insight and erudition they have bought to so many aspects of our future progress. I want to thank all who contributed to the book for having produced such convincing diagnoses and prognoses of our strengths and weaknesses across so many areas. I urge everyone interested in these important questions about our future to keep a copy of this book close to hand, to read, reread, and to refer to at leisure. It contains much rich knowledge and detail, far beyond what is apparent on an initial quick glance through. I have no doubt that it will prove a highly useful reference work long into the future which it also ambitiously aims to shape.

22. And on that note, I would like to launch, ‘Malaysia’s leap forward: the building blocks towards balanced development’, edited by Rajah Rasiah, Kamal Salih, and Cheong Kee Cheok.

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