Hishamuddin : Buffoonery, Chicanery & Effrontery!
KL’s Top Diplomat Displays Buffoonery, Chicanery & Effrontery
A short 50-second video clip of a recent joint-media appearance by the Foreign Ministers of Malaysia and the People’s Republic of China is making its rounds in the social media. The Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishamuddin Hussein is shown to appear with the seasoned PRC Foreign Minister, Wang Yi. In that short clip Hishamuddin displayed not only buffoonery but also chicanery and effrontery. His reference to the esteemed Foreign Minister of China as his elder brother was inappropriate as it showed a top representative of Malaysia bowing and scraping and grovelling in front of his Chinese counterpart. This was completely out of line. He seemed a tad overfamiliar with his Chinese counterpart also.
It pains me to write of the son of one of Malaysia’s most illustrious leaders in this way. Hishamuddin’s father , Tun Hussein Onn was Malaysia’s third prime minister and the country he bequeathed to his successor was a highly respected and rated nation. It’s greatest strengths were the government’s prestige, its integrity, an impeccable civil service, a first class legal and judicial service, a consistent nonaligned foreign policy and a robust economy. Hussein was admittedly very slow and deliberative in decision making but when he made up his mind he would stick with those decisions. He used his top bureaucrats to the hilt demanding from them honest assessments, statistics and reports and would not make any decision without proper information and adequate safeguards. To illustrate his no-nonsense approach it will be recalled that in his last week in office Malaysia ordered the expulsion of three Soviet officials for activities that were incompatible with their positions as embassy personnel. I remember the then Wismaputra SecretaryGeneral Tan Sri Zakaria telling me that Malaysia was fully prepared to face all the implications of that action. This was the kind of decision-making delegated to the civil service.There was mutual respect between the political leadership and the civil service. Hussein and his predecessors did not demand obedience and obsequiousness from civil servants but objective assessments and honesty.
The country lost all of that in less than a decade from 1981. Fast forward to 2021 and we have a foreign minister who obviously does not subscribe to the hallowed equality that exists between sovereign nations despite their inequality in terms of power, population, size and prestige.
Hishamuddin should have shown more circumspection, tact and gravitas at the press appearance. What he said could have been conveyed in friendly diplomatic banter over an informal cocktail, luncheon or dinner meeting in jest. The press conference is too important a venue to vent this sort of personal details which impinge on bilateral relations. He was not sharing the stage with an assemblyman from Johor but with the world’s most important diplomatic power as far as our region is concerned.
It is not appropriate that he should continue in his present Foreign Affairs portfolio with this gaffe. The Prime Minister of Malaysia should ease him out of that sensitive and vital position as soon as possible.
Foreign policy is the front line responsibility and the face of a country’s defence, security,sovereignty and economic apparatus. It cannot be left to the whims and fancies of a diplomatic dilettante.
April 4, 2021
The writer, Dato M Santhananaban is a retired Malaysian ambassador with 45 years of public sector experience