Asia is the New Future

Malaysian football fans were ecstatic as the Malayan Tigers clinched a record-breaking 3-2 win against Indonesia in one of the most anticipated World Cup qualifying matches this year. I watched the game, but I did something else dearer to me though not many people show much care.

malaysia won
Malaysia used to be the dominant force in football during the era of “cold-war“, qualified for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow but later boycotted the event due to the pressure from the Western superpowers. Two years later, Tun Dr. Mahathir was elected as the 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia.

I did listen not to what the commentators of the match were broadcasting about. But more to what messages Tun Dr. Mahathir was giving to the East Economic Forum (EEF) audiences in Vladivostok, Russia. I thought it has more significance to us than watching the football match, though I still would want the Malayan Tigers to be the winner.

Before we dwell in football, let’s recall what happened in the past.

mahathir putin 2002
Tun M and Mr. Putin were chatting casually after the press conference in Moscow, Russia. Malaysia managed to survive from the turbulence of financial crisis in 1997 and emerged as the sole survivor without the assistance of the IMF and the World Bank. Mr. Putin who had just came to power in 2002, invited Tun M for a bilateral discussion.

In 2002, Tun Dr. Mahathir (or fondly called as Tun M) met Mr. Putin in Moscow for the first time. At that time, Mr. Putin had just assumed the leadership role for Russia. On the contrary, Tun M was about to announce a shocking revelation (of his retirement from politics). It was also the year when Malaysia bought several fighter jets from Russia, despite the struggling economic situations in both countries.

As we know, in 1997, many Asian countries were hit by the most significant financial crisis, including Malaysia. At that time, Malaysia managed to rise, against all the odds and defying the economic’s logic, turned down the IMF and World Bank’s offer for help and eventually became the hero of the Eastern block. It was so evident for the world at that time to see that Malaysia had performed an economic recovery miracle, but more importantly, to know the man at the helm, who is now the living legend of the Muslim world and Asian civilization.

mahathir and putin in EEF
Mr. Putin met Tun M again this year, but this time after both had successfully become the leader of each country for the 2nd term. Between the two, Tun M had achieved this in a very difficult democratic system, none other leaders have ever managed to do so. Malaysia is a democratic country, with the multireligious and multi-racial political climate.

So, it is not strange if some great leaders of today are looking up to Tun M. They were probably just a student at the university when Tun M assumed his first term of the premiership in 1982.

Mr. Putin, like how Tun addressed him in his speech, also came to power the second time. Looking at his body language, Mr. Putin is pleased to meet Tun M again at the world’s stage. He is not only pleased but also projected a much more relaxed and cheerful demeanor when he welcomes Tun M every time they meet.

It is a well-known fact that the majority of Muslims are looking up to Erdogan as the leader of Turkey, and sympathizer of Islamic causes everywhere. However, it is not a known fact, that Erdogan, was looking up to Malaysia as a role model of modern Islamic government during the 1990s when he became the mayor of Istanbul.

But that is not the only striking observation. Mr. Putin, when answering the question on whether Russia would hope for the G8 to be revived, he pointed out an excellent point. Resonating what Tun M had said in the early years after his first retirement, Mr. Putin said that the western leadership is now over, and the world will now turn to Asia. A world without India and China is meaningless, he pointed out. He went beyond by saying that Russia is quick to offer its role in the Asia Pacific through partnership and cooperation.

Nevertheless, it is indeed a perfect point to ponder.

Why a superpower like Russia is willing to spend more time in the Eastern part of its territory or provinces like Vladivostok and said things like “western hegemony is over“? Are they not also part of the west, or they have been all these while felt that they were not part of the western civilization?

Russian President Putin and his Turkish counterpart Erdogan visit the MAKS 2019 air show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow
Russian President Mr. Putin and his Turkish counterpart Erdogan taste ice-cream as they visit the MAKS 2019 air show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia, August 27, 2019.

Mr. Putin is a different kind of world leader, and only certain people can impress him at the big stage. We all know how difficult to impress leaders like Mr. Putin when he rides horses and hunting for real bears on his own. I am on the opinion that Tun M is the only southeast Asian leaders who can get the attention of Mr. Putin quite seriously. It would be tough for other leaders to have almost a century of experience, apart from the Prime Minister Tun M.

While pondering this important question, we must remember that we are not living in the era of “cold-war.” If there is still any cold-war ever existed, it is not between Russia-China versus the US-Allies. But, it is probably between the West and the East. There are only two countries who have dominated the two part of the worlds until today. Without any interpretation, Tun M had said in his speech that Turkey and Russia are the only two countries which can become the bridges between the two worlds, geographically.

These two countries have already participated in China’s OBOR (One Belt and One Road) initiative and became close friends. While this is happening, the west keeps making blunders, including the Trade Wars with China and Brexit from the EU. If an amateur political pundit like myself could see these flaws, what more other Asian leaders? But the western leaders are trying to remain relevant in this new era, by bringing down the morale of Asian people in general, and their leaders in particular.

putin visited malaysia 2003
Mr. Putin visited Tun M in Putrajaya, Malaysia before their first retirement from politics. Both must already have the ability to understand their counterpart’s minds (without saying anything) in order to survive in a very chaotic world of today.

So, one may ask – who would be the winner in this race towards global dominance in the future? Not only on the economic front but also in the area of strategic resource control and also technological advancement?

My plain and simple answer is to look at the people who are capable of becoming the “kingmaker.”

For centuries, the superpowers work with each other to win many competitions. In these competitions, one must not ignore the fact that religion plays a significant role in determining the eventual winner of any conflict. Even in economy, for centuries, the basic tenets of business is to understand your customers’ needs, and the biggest market in Asia is the Muslim population.

Muslims, though being seen as backward from the angle of commerce, is still the force to be reckoned with. They have a significant influence on the management of resources and hold strong purchasing power to a certain extent. Their birth rates are continuously rising, and they are very dynamic to adapt to their surroundings and environment.

The west was very wise for working closely with the Muslim countries during the cold-war period, and some governments must have learned these valuable lessons. They have won many wars and eventually emerged as the winner.

But this categorically third-placed “kingmaker” should not be left behind or avoided. What more being separated from each other. Sooner or later, the side who loses control of the Muslims’ trust would be missing the real battle for global dominance. Why Muslims are important? I can probably list hundreds of reasons, but it does not really matter. What matter the most is that Islam is the only religion that the majority of the global population are aware of right now. It is always in the news, and it is not only the “kingmaker” but also the “newsmaker.” No one can deny the existence of Islam, and no one can erase it from the history of mankind.

Tun M is not just a Malaysian leader. He is indeed, already established himself as a global leader. Despite his shyness and acting like a nobody, influential leaders like Erdogan and Mr. Putin acknowledges his capabilities and political affluence, by working closely and probably – without us knowing, seeking his masterful advice too.

This is what Mr. Putin had learned from the history, when he explicitly said in the forum (immediately after the speech by Tun M), that “Prime Minister Mahathir is a close friend. He was responsible for making Russia as the observer at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). And I believe, as the most experienced political leader in the world, and one of the leaders of the Islamic world, that kind of impact, certainly goes beyond the borders of Malaysia, and it is indeed for me a great pleasure and joy to see Mr. Prime Minister visit us and be with us in the forum, thank you.”