Friday, July 14, 2017

Is Special Function Minister now Foreign Minister?

Two days ago, the media reported Defense Minister and Special Function Minister, Dato Hishamuddin Tun Hussein Onn will be making a visit to the few Gulf state countries including Saudi Arabia.

Sundaily here highlighted the intention of his visit as a fact finding tour to understand the latest development on the ISIS threat.

Hishamuddin was reported by Asean Economy website here expressed concern of fleeing militants from the success of Iraq forces in Mosul and Raqqa re-establishing themselves in Asean.

The Malaysian royal police is giving more emphasis on anti-terrorism with IGP recently announced  reshuffling of the top brass of police with the creation of another Deputy IGP post dedicated to anti-terrorism effort.

With regarding to the visit, Malaysiakini here reported Hishamuddin would also be playing the role to officially understand the Qatar-Gulf crisis.

It was reported in the foreign media that the crisis has to do with terrorism and militancy threat.

The Star reported here Prime Minister Dato Najib call on all parties to back the mediation efforts initiated by Kuwait to resolve the crisis affecting the Persian Gulf countries.

NST here highlighted his call on the GCC state to abide by the 2014 Riyadh Agreement.

The Foreign Ministry issued a press release on June 29 2017 here to impress on Malaysia's poliy of neutrality.

Wisma Putera have been in constant contact with the countries involved in the disputes in which they are seeking to resolve it through their own regional framework of GCC.

While maintaining neutrality, Malaysia has offered to play supportive role in ending the dispute.

Hishamuddin was asked by the press if Malaysia will be a middle man. He denied so.

With the position already taken by Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Hishamuddin must thread his words and action extra carefully.

He must not repeat a mistake of committiing Malaysia to any decision or position without prior agreement from the Prime Minister and cabinet.

He should be in consultation and not in conflict with the positions and efforts by the Foreign Minister and Wisma Putera as they may have made more effort beyond the knowledge of the public and media.

Hishamuddin had made several visits to the GCC on matters of terrorism and ISIS. Malaysia is part of the Saudi-led 34 nation alliance against ISIS and terrorism threat.

In a visit in March, it was announced that Putrajaya will be host for the building of the King Salman Centre for Global Peace to combat terrorism and ISIS threat in Asean.

Arab volatile temperament

His intention to involve in the realm of diplomacy is a concern. Unless his visit is a truly special assignment on behalf of the Prime Minister, it may not be necessary.

He should be reminded that it was agreed his role as Special Function Minister should not encroach into the work of both the Home Ministry and Foreign Minister.

Hishamuddin cannot not be aware of Arab volatile temperament.

In the heat of the current dispute, Arabs may not have the cool head to understand and appreciate Malaysia's long term neutrality. They may insist on Malaysia taking their side of the quarrel.

Qatar is a major economic partner of Malaysia with current FDI said to be in the tune of US$15 billion and is looking to ASEAN for more investment.

On the other side, Saudi's Aramco will be an investor in Pengerang's RAPID and securing it was a challenge beyond commercial viability and required deft touch of diplomacy.

It is a delicate situation to be thread carefully. More so, defense and diplomacy are two opposing area of interest. The GCC-Qatar crisis require experience and patience in diplomacy.

One should be reminded of a scene in the famous British sitcom "Yes, Prime Minister".

The Prime Minister's wife had prior commitment. She could not prepare lunch for Prime Minister James Hacker at their apartment in 10 Downing Street.

Hacker then complained to the Chief Secretary, Sir Humpleby Appleby who resisted new budget for the Prime Minister's request for a dedicated chef to prepare his lunch. Hacker threatened to have lunch daily with all the Ambassadors and High Commission in London.

Humphrey responded with a useful reminder for Hishamuddin, "Well, they always say that one Prime Minister's lunch with an ambassador destroys two years of patient diplomacy."

One cannot make mistake or experiment with diplomacy.

If the visit is wrongly perceived as taking side, it is not worthy. It may jeopardise the interest of the country and a risk not worth taking.

More so, not for raising of political profile within UMNO.

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