Malaysian Cabinet Minister Khairy Jamaluddin yesterday called on Malaysia and Singapore to move beyond treating each other as bogeymen and rivals and instead come together as equals to improve ASEAN.
He said that in the past five decades, politicians have used the other country to show how much progress had been made in their own nation, but this "abang, adik" (big brother, little brother) relationship should be a thing of the past.
The Youth and Sports Minister pointed out that Malaysia and Singapore are inextricably linked by deep trade ties, and already work closely together on security issues such as counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing and defence exercises.
"For many, many years, in the last 50 years, we have existed with this world view, as counterpoint to one another.
If you read speeches made by Malaysian politicians, every time they need to rally nationalism, there is only one bogeyman, and the most convenient, of course, is Singapore.
"If you read the writings of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, it is very clear who the rival is.
"I think it's time we accepted the fact that we need each other, and we put aside this world view that we use each other for our national interests," Mr Khairy said in response to a question at a forum held in Singapore.
Mr Khairy and former Indonesian deputy foreign minister Dino Pati Djalal were the speakers at Connecting Singapore And Our Neighbours: Competition, Cooperation And Integration.
The event was organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA).
Speaking as commentator at the forum, SIIA chairman Simon Tay said his father's generation of Singaporeans and Malaysians often compared happenings in the two countries.
"I share the hope that we get rid of some of the old baggage and work together in a new way," he said.
Mr Khairy said the challenges faced by Malaysia and Singapore are the same today.
"It's about collaboration... It's no more this condescending relationship on both sides.
"It's no longer who is the big brother, who is the little brother, who is the abang, who is the adik. We are all friends now and we are all equal; we want to see ASEAN work."
Mr Khairy defended the affirmative action Bumiputera policy, which is often attacked by Malaysia's critics, saying it helped Malays break out of poverty to make the country peaceful and stable.
Asked about the attacks on Prime Minister Najib Razak by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, Mr Khairy said the Cabinet and Umno leaders will answer the issues raised in detail.
These include the attacks over finances of government-backed fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, with an audit being carried out by the respected auditor-general.
"We have to tackle the substance of his criticisms," Mr Khairy said.
Dr Djalal, in his speech, said that Indonesia has had a "golden decade" under the two-term president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who raised the level of economic activities, strengthened national identity and boosted the country's self-esteem.
President Joko Widodo must now meet the high expectations of Indonesians to bring in the "second golden decade", Dr Djalal said.
While there have been concerns raised about increasing Indonesian nationalism, the former Indonesian minister sees instead a country that is more outward-looking than before.
"Maybe there is a change in style and emphasis, but ASEAN is the cornerstone of our policy," he said.
This article was first published on April 24, 2015.
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