Nikesh Mehta

Counsellor for Foreign Policy and Security

Part of UK in Malaysia

28th June 2013 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

What Defines Our Relationship?

I am often asked what best defines the UK-Malaysia bilateral relationship? Is it the closeness of our business ties? Or could it be our shared history? Or is the strength of our education links? Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire’s visit to Malaysia this week suggests it’s all of these areas and many more. In the space of 24 hours, Minister Swire attended 11 events, met four senior Malaysian ministers, spoke to the leading UK investors in Malaysia, and inspired our soon-to-depart Chevening Scholars.

Minister Swire’s visit started over breakfast with Datuk Idris Jala, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, and with many of the leading UK investors in Malaysia including Balfour Beatty, Weir Group and Dyson. The discussion focussed on the business opportunities in Malaysia and the importance of economic reform initiatives. As Minister Swire said, this will help us to achieve our challenging target of doubling bilateral trade to £8bn by 2016.

The Minister then visited our new, state-of-the-art High Commission in Menara Binjai. He saw for himself how this office will transform our working environment when we move at the start of October. It will be a much better symbol of our dynamic relationship with Malaysia. The view’s not too shabby either!

View from new BHC

This was followed by a meeting with SP Setia – a component of the Malaysian consortium that bought the iconic Battersea Power Station in London. The Power Station itself will be restored and the redevelopment of the site will create some 14,000 jobs. Prime Minister Cameron and Prime Minister Najib will attend a ground-breaking ceremony at the site next week.

Minister Swire then met Defence Minister Hishammuddin at Parliament to discuss mutual security interests. The Minister and our Defence Adviser presented Minister Hishammuddin with the iconic sand-coloured SAS beret. Did you know that the SAS’s D Squadron was formed in Malaysia and that the Royal Malaysia Police’s VAT 69 is the only non-British unit allowed to wear the SAS beret?

British Defence Adviser presents SAS beret to Defence Minister Hishammuddin

Over lunch, Minister Swire met Deputy Foreign Minister Zainnuddin and discussed a range of issues including the worsening situation in Syria, humanitarian assistance in Burma and Malaysia’s support for the peace processes in Mindanao. There was a meeting of minds on many issues.

In the afternoon, Minister Swire attended a roundtable on Islamic Finanace and highlighted the World Islamic Economic Forum, which will be taking place in October in London – the first time it has been held outside of the Islamic World.

Minister Swire also witnessed the signing of an agreement bringing Hamleys, one the world’s iconic toy stores, to Malaysia. I know my family will be in the queue when the first store opens in a few months’ time.

Hamleys signing ceremony with Minister Swire

Over tea, Minister Swire had a lively discussion with MPs from the Government coalition and the Opposition about their allegations of elections irregularities and press freedom.

The climax of the visit was the launch of the Malaysian UK Alumni programme designed to foster links between UK graduates and to create opportunities across all sectors. Minister Swire and Minister Khairy Jamaluddin entertained an audience of 150 UK graduates and representatives of UK universities, and stressed the importance of the programme to strengthening bilateral relations. The Ministers also met the majority of this year’s 28 Chevening scholars – the Malaysian programme is one of the largest in the world. Minister Swire said that he hoped to increase the size of the programme even further in the coming years and this seemed to have been appreciated by Prime Minister Najib.

Minister Swire, Minister Jamaluddin and HE Simon Featherstone at Malaysian UK Alumni launch

So, there you have it. An action-packed 24 hours, which touched on virtually every aspect of our relationship.

It’s hard to convey in this sort of blog the sheer buzz of planning a visit like this with a hugely impressive Minister. It was incredibly hard work but when you see the obvious rapport between the Minister and Minister Khairy, or when you see the excitement on our departing Chevening scholars’ faces, you know it’s been worth it.

About Nikesh Mehta

Nikesh (Nik) Mehta commenced his posting as Counsellor (Foreign Policy and Security) at the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur in January 2012. This new role was created to strengthen…

Nikesh (Nik) Mehta commenced his posting as Counsellor (Foreign
Policy and Security) at the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur in
January 2012. This new role was created to strengthen the British
Government’s relationship with Malaysia on issues such as Counter
Terrorism, Counter Proliferation and Transnational Crime.
Nik joined the Foreign Office in 2002 after nearly three years
working as a teacher in rural Japan. His first experience of culture
shock was trying to explain why he was vegetarian to a group of
sceptical Japanese students. Nik spent a year on the NATO desk in London
before serving in the Coalition Provisional Authority as the Political
Officer for southern Iraq based in Basrah.
In 2004, Nik was appointed as Second Secretary (Political) in Kampala
primarily responsible for reporting on conflict with the Lord’s
Resistance Army, the ensuing humanitarian crisis and the subsequent
peace talks in Juba. The posting was particularly poignant for Nik’s
family as his mother, a Ugandan-Asian, was expelled from the country by
Idi Amin’s forces in 1972.
For the last four years, Nik has served in the Foreign Office’s
Counter Terrorism Department, most recently as Head of the Guantanamo
and Rendition Issues Team.
Nik is in Kuala Lumpur with his Australian wife, Anna, and their
three year old son, Arran. You can follow him on Twitter @nikmehta33.

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