Malaysia Time Zone UTC+08:00
Capital City Kuala Lumpur
Currency Malaysian ringgit
National Day 31 Aug
Biography (published January 2022):
Malaysia High Commissioner His Excellency Zakri Jaafar recalls the most memorable event of his career as a young officer serving in Santiago: “In December 1996, Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement guerrillas stormed the Japanese Ambassador’s Residence in Lima, Peru. The Ambassador had been hosting the Emperor’s Birthday reception, and several ambassadors had been taken hostage. My Spanish speaking skills meant I was assigned to assist securing the release of our Ambassador. His release came after a series of negotiations, but the siege lasted two months and gathered global attention. Being involved was certainly a career highlight.”
High Commissioner Zakri arrived in London last August with his wife and their two boys (he has two elder daughters; one in Spain and the other in Malaysia). Since their arrival, he and his family have been delighted by the numerous halal food establishments in the capital. He explains, “When Malaysians travel, one of their major priorities is planning where one will eat! There are many choices available here in London!”
Growing up, the High Commissioner’s father served in the British Army in the 1950s and then with the then Federation of Malaya Army. “I was born in a military camp, and quickly became accustomed to discipline, regulations and dressing smartly. This has some bearing on my outlook on life and my eventually joining the Foreign Service.” After finishing his studies, he pursued a career in the civil service.
High Commissioner Zakri joined the Foreign Service as a cadet officer in 1991. After serving in the ministry in various capacities, his first overseas assignments were in Santiago and Tokyo, before being posted as Ambassador to Jordan (2014-17), and then Bosnia and Herzegovina (2017-21).
“I was fortunate that there were no major issues between Malaysia and the countries where I served as Ambassador. Bilateral ties continued to be on a good footing. We had a good exchange of visits at the top level in both posts.” While in Jordan, he recalls an incident when three Malaysian students died in an accident, and he had to ensure the best possible cooperation from the host government. “I managed to oversee the expatriation of the remains back to Malaysia at the request of the families. We had the best possible outcome.” He continues: “Furthermore, Malaysia is highly-regarded by Bosnia and Herzegovina for our strong support during the war and our involvement in the post-war reconstruction. We continue to have a good, long-standing relationship.”
Now in the UK, the High Commissioner notes that “Malaysia and the UK have strong and well-established bilateral relations.” The pandemic, however, has meant these activities have slowed. “For example, before COVID-19, we had high numbers of UK visitors coming to Malaysia. My priority is to bring back those visitors to Malaysia. Trade wise, it is encouraging that we have good exchange, particularly from Malaysia to the UK. Investment is good too; there is plenty of UK investment in Malaysia, and vice-versa. For example, the Battersea Power Station project is an entirely Malaysian venture.” Last September, the High Commissioner took His Majesty, the King of Malaysia to Battersea during His Majesty’s special visit to the UK. “We are proud that the project is proving to be a successful venture.”
In other high-profile VIP visits, Malaysia’s delegation to COP26 was headed by their Minister for the Environment. “Malaysia is engaged with all on climate issues and is committed to net zero by 2050. We are doing all the necessary groundwork to enable us to meet this target.”
Malaysia is also pleased to work with the UK on the Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA); indeed, last year Malaysia hosted the FPDA Defence Ministry meeting in conjunction with its 50th anniversary.
He says Malaysia is also pleased that the UK has been accorded the ASEAN Dialogue Partner status last August. Furthermore, High Commissioner Zakri and his government were pleased to learn of the UK’s government’s ‘Indo-Pacific tilt.’ “This is a welcome move. Although we have always been on good terms, this tilt will push relations to a greater height.” Furthermore, UK Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss visited Kuala Lumpur at the end of last year, during which the intention to elevate Malaysia and the UK’s bilateral relations to a strategic partnership were announced, beginning with the signing of a document to kick start Strategic Dialogue at the official level.
In terms of COVID-19, he says that Malaysia has demonstrated many positive signs. “Our vaccination roll-out, which includes a contribution from the UK, has been successful. We are seeing less cases requiring ICU attention. From 15 November, we allowed foreign travellers back into some parts of Malaysia and that should boost the tourism sector. However, connectivity is still an issue; we only have direct flights to Kuala Lumpur once a week. But we are hopeful to see that number increase as restrictions are lifted.”
High Commissioner Zakri explains that Malaysia’s greatest diplomatic challenge is that it is sometimes misunderstood. “Malaysia can be known for the wrong reasons, so the challenge for Malaysian diplomats is to put Malaysia in its rightful place. There is a need to amplify the positive aspects of Malaysia to the mainstream audience, and to do that we must undertake more engagement with officials, the media and society at large. I will do my part to display the positive aspects of Malaysia as a whole. Perhaps we need to blow our horn more often!”