MALAYSIA is among the top three most improved middle powers in Asia in 2019, following the return of Dr Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister after last year’s elections, said an Australian think-tank.

Lowy Institute, in an analytical study of the influence of countries around the world, also placed Malaysia ninth among a list of 25 most influential countries in Asia.

“The power of leaders to shape their countries’ foreign policy is reaffirmed in ninth-placing Malaysia’s strong performance, following the surprise return to office of 93-year-old Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2018,” it said.

Malaysia scored 22.8 on the institute’s Asia power index, an analytical tool that ranks 25 countries and territories in terms of their capacity to influence regional events.

The project evaluates state power through 126 indicators across eight thematic measures: military capability and defence networks, economic resources and relationships, diplomatic and cultural influence, as well as resilience and future resources.

Power is measured by distinguishing between resource measures that look at what countries have and influence measures that assess what countries do with what they have.

The report noted that Malaysia’s impressive ranking was a big shift for its stature which “had diminished since the heyday of the first Dr Mahathir premiership two decades ago”.

Pakatan Harapan succeeded in dislodging Barisan Nasional in the May 9 polls last year, marking the first change in government in the nation’s history.

According to Lowy Institute, although Malaysia dropped one place in economic resources in 2019 because of the growth of neighbouring economies, it fared better than in the last year across the index’s influence measures.

“Malaysia has resumed its standing among the top 10 most diplomatically influential powers in Asia and trended upwards for defence diplomacy.

“Kuala Lumpur’s external policy under Dr Mahathir 2.0 has explicitly been refocused on the geo-economic security, resilience and bargaining power of Southeast Asian states facing rivalry and turbulence as a result of the trade war between the US and China,” it said.

“Dr Mahathir has succeeded in obtaining more favourable terms for foreign-funded infrastructure projects – notably a major Chinese-funded rail projectlinking Kuala Lumpur to southern Thailand – while maintaining close ties to Beijing.”

The analysis also ranked Malaysia as an overachiever whose influence outpaced its resources.

“South Korea, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore have more influence than their raw capabilities would indicate.

“This points to their ability and willingness to work collaboratively with other countries to pursue their interests. They are highly networked and externally focused.”  – THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT

Singapore world’s most competitive economy

SINGAPORE is ranked the world’s most competitive economy for the first time since 2010, outstripping the US to take the top spot, according to the Switzerland-based IMD Business School.

The city-state’s rise to the top was driven by its advanced technological infrastructure, availability of skilled labour, favourable immigration laws and efficient ways to set up new businesses, it said.

The US fell to second place as the confidence boost from President Donald Trump’s first wave of tax policies faded combined with higher fuel prices, weaker hi-tech exports and fluctuations in the dollar.

Asia-Pacific is the star region, with 11 out of 14 economies either improving or holding their ground, led by Singapore and Hong Kong, said IMD.

Malaysia came in at No. 22, moving two spots up from last year, ahead of Japan (30) and Thailand (25).

“In a year of high uncertainty in global markets due to rapid changes in the international political landscape as well as trade relations, the quality of institutions seem to be the unifying element for increasing prosperity. A strong institutional framework provides the stability for business to invest and innovate, ensuring a higher quality of life for citizens,” said Arturo Bris, IMD professor and director of IMD World Competitiveness Centre, the research centre which compiles the ranking.

The IMD world competitiveness rankings are in its 30th year and uses 235 indicators to rank each of the 63 economies.

The gauges include unemployment, GDP and government spending on health and education, as well as “soft” data from an opinion survey covering topics such as social cohesion, globalisation and corruption.

The economies are judged on economic performance, infrastructure, government efficiency and business efficiency.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution for competitiveness but the best performing countries tend to score well across all four categories,” IMD said.  – THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT