Diplomat Royale: Tengku Sirajuzzaman of Malaysia

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Tengku Sirajuzzaman is Malaysia’s main man in Hong Kong. His perspective on protests and ASEAN.


Tengku Sirajuzzaman Bin Tengku Mohamed Ariffin has the noble demeanour of a veteran diplomat, abetted by a little extra royal heft. Tengku is a royal title in Malaysia, meaning Prince or Princess. The position of King of  Malaysia rotates every five years among the Sultans of Malaysia, and Tengku Sirajuzzman has a line to the throne as  his late father was the cousin of the current Sultan of Pahang.

Originally trained to be a lawyer in the United Kingdom, Tengku Sirajuzzaman got his first job working in a  computer company during the technology boom. He then worked in a legal firm, but later went home to join the  Malaysian Government. “I couldn’t see myself doing sales and purchase agreements for the rest of my life,” he laughs.

Morocco and Hong Kong

Wherever he goes is where the street action happens.

Before assuming his post in Hong Kong last August, he spent almost four years in Morocco as the Counsellor of the Embassy. Like Hong Kong, Morocco saw large-scale protests while Tengku Sirajuzzaman was on the scene. His  friends joke that wherever he goes is where the street action happens.

A month before Tengku Sirajuzzaman arrived at Rabat in March 2011, thousands of people took to the street to  demand reform. They chanted, “The people want the end of autocracy. The people want the end of corruption.”

King Mohammed VI quickly commited to constitutional reform and his proposals were endorsed by 98% voters in a referendum held in July 2011. One dramatic reform was to change the selection process for the Prime Minister. Previously, the PM was handpicked by the King. Going forward, the PM is to be drawn from the party that receives the most votes in the parliamentary election. “Quite a wise move by the King,” Tengku Sirajuzzaman recalls, “the  King took a very good initiative.”

“In Morocco and in Hong Kong, it is the same that demonstrations and peaceful protests are part of the culture,” Tengku Sirajuzzaman notes. He is critical of the media, claiming that the international spotlight may have exaggerated the protests while ignoring the fact that protests have always been ongoing in both places.

He refers to the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong as “interesting” and more than six times he uses the word “peaceful” to describe it. Tengku Sirajuzzaman was particularly impressed by how the Hong Kong Government  dispersed the occupants, “It [the Umbrella Movement] was peaceful and the Government took proper steps in  removing the protesters.” He has indicated to Putrajaya the methods of dispersing protests used by the Hong Kong Police and believes Malaysia can learn from it.

Down Under, Close Calls
In 2000, Tengku Sirajuzzaman was posted to Abu Dhabi and returned to Malaysia to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for seven years before he was sent out again.

“People for get they [politicians] are people too. They are normal people with responsibilities, families, etc. Some of the criticisms, if constructive is good but personal attack is not useful.”

When he was the Assistant Secretary at the Pacific desk, he helped with arranging former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s state visit to Australia, which was the first visit in twenty-one years by a Malaysian Prime Minister. “It took a long time to prepare for the visit and we needed to galvanise different government agencies,” he recalls.

Tengku Sirajuzzaman later became the Principal Assistant Secretary in charge of communication between the Ministry and the Parliament. His duties included helping the Foreign Affairs Minister and Deputy Minister to answer questions from the MPs about the Ministry and international issues.

The toughest moment he remembered was when the incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak delivered his first Budget to the Parliament in 2009. Unlike Hong Kong, the Budget is voted on twice, first for each Ministry and finally he whole Budget. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs managed to get its Budget passed by a narrow margin of one to two votes while the whole Budget was passed by only three votes.

“People for get they [politicians] are people too. They are normal people with responsibilities, families, etc. Some of the criticisms, if constructive is good but personal attack is not useful,” he gained a perspective of politics in his three years time liaising between the executive and legislative branch.

Hong Kong-Malaysia Relationship
Tengku Sirajuzzaman is clear about his mission here in Hong Kong: to increase bilateral trade. Last year, the trade volume between Hong Kong and Malaysia stood at around US$17 billion, while the overall trade with China was  round US$100 billion. The target is to increase the bilateral trade between China and Malaysia to US$160 billion by 2018 and improve business ties with Hong Kong.

Already, ASEAN is Hong Kong’s second-largest trading partner in goods and fourth largest in services.

It seems the road ahead is bright for his plan as Hong Kong is negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in which Malaysia currently holds the Chair. “We hope it [FTA] can be signed soon, if not next year then 2017.”

It seems the road ahead is bright for his plan as Hong Kong is negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in which Malaysia currently holds the Chair. “We hope it [FTA] can be signed soon, if not next year then 2017.”

However, he admits that achieving a consensus among the ten member states in ASEAN, each with their own tax policies, is a challenging task, but he remains optimistic. “This is a big chance for Hong Kong to increase trade with all ten ASEAN countries.”

Already, ASEAN is Hong Kong’s second-largest trading partner in goods and fourth largest in services. The total value of merchandise trade between the two went beyond US$106 billion in 2014, a 10% growth from the previous year. Chief Executive CY Leung spoke at the ASEAN Leadership Forum in Kuala Lumpur last month, “I believe that co-operation – in our business and trade, in our political ties, and in our cultural development – is the only way forward. For ASEAN, for China, and for Hong Kong.”

Tengku Sirajuzzaman is aiming to bring the relationship between Hong Kong and Malaysia to new heights and with the FTA with ASEAN now taking shape, the bonding between the two will only grow.