OPENING SPEECH BY YAB TUAN LIM GUAN ENG
PENANG IN ASIA LECTURE
ON 3RD APRIL 2015, FRIDAY, 8.15 PM
A very warm welcome and good evening to all distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I am greatly honoured to have been accorded this opportunity to speak to you all.
Today we will hear from our distinguished speaker, Professor Stephen Oppenheimer from University of Oxford, speaking on a topic that is not only relevant and important to Malaysia, but also to Penang, that is, “Mainland Southeast Asia: Ancestors – more indigenous or immigrants?”
Professor Oppenheimer’s research focuses on human migrations in the Pacific was first triggered in 1982 when he started to examine the distribution of different genotypes by language and geography in the Southwest Pacific, in particular the Pacific and Southeast Asian migrations. According to his book, Eden in the East, at the end of the Ice Age, Southeast Asia formed a continent twice the size of India, which included Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Borneo, or otherwise known as “Sundaland”.
Today, “Sundaland” is no longer with us due to higher sea level. So, the current debate on climate change and sustainable development should not be dismissed as frivolous. Indeed, previous ‘Penang in Asia’ lectures have featured Professor Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University on sustainable development, as well as Professor Rajendra Pachauri, the former Chair of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which won the Nobel Prize in 2007. All these have reinforced my government’s belief for environmentally sustainable development for Penang.
Melting pot in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia has always been a meeting point of various peoples and cultures throughout the ages, largely in the context of trade and commerce. Penang, for instance, was the entrepot for this region centuries ago. These activities serve as a valuable platform for human interaction, apart from helping to forge cultural alliances and other mutually benefiting endeavours. In today’s world, however, the need to meet and communicate is not only for trade and commerce, but also for education, tourism, research and development, and most importantly, for bringing people together. Today, in Penang, we have a transparent government and an open society to welcome these people.
We must not forget our roots. Therefore, the findings of Professor Oppenheimer’s research are important in helping us to trace and understand the origins and growth of the indigenous peoples and also how these migratory developments impact upon the spread of the peoples of Southeast Asia as a whole. We also need to know the impact of migration upon these peoples in terms of their genetic history as knowing one’s roots makes us appreciate our culture and history; and hopefully will bring us closer rather than setting us apart.
Indigenous people vs. recent migrants
While there are indigenous peoples who inhabit this Southeast Asian region, this land mass is also populated by native people as a result of mass migration that took place decades ago. In the case of Malaysia, this migration was brought about by the colonial powers of the Portuguese, Dutch and British.
Apart from the local native people, we witness the mass migration of ethnic Chinese (from China) and ethnic Indians (from South Asia) as well as a number of people from Sumatra, Java and Celebes to this part of the Malay Archipelago. These people eventually settled and made this place their permanent home. All these people have cumulatively contributed to building up Malaysia to what she is today. So it is indisputable that the heart of these people belong to Malaysia for “home is where the heart is”.
Diversity as asset
This spate of migration has not only helped to develop, boost the local population but, more importantly, given rise to an ethnically and culturally diverse society that see in our country today. Contrary to the view of some people, we in Penang feel that freedom and diversity in our society are assets that can be harnessed for the benefit of all Malaysians. Unlike the politics of divisiveness that is often practised by certain politicians and political parties, the Penang state government sees that diversity not only enriches Malaysian society, but also promotes unity.
It is also important to note that such diversity that arises from a long history of diverse cultural, religious and political interaction can also help to stem the tide of ethnic and religious bigotry and extremism that sadly exist in some parts of the society today.
Ladies and gentlemen.
Against this backdrop of diversity, we feel that each and every group of our society, be it the Orang Asli, the indigenous people, Chinese, Indians, Thais, Eurasians and others, have a significant role to play in making vital contributions to the development and progress of our beloved country. In cosmopolitan Penang, for instance, we not only welcome the immense contributions of its diverse peoples but also encourage participation and input from foreign investors to help develop the state. In short, the diversity of talents, skills and imagination among various quarters in the country is to be harnessed to the fullest for the benefit of all.
Penang's strength in diversity and freedom is reflected in the art, culture and heritage of our buildings and the lifestyle of our residents. The richness and diversity was recognized by UNESCO which awarded George Town as a World Heritage site.
In a sense, by being an open society, Penang shows that this is also one way to arrest the worrying trend of brain-drain among Malaysians. Talented Malaysians must be given the appropriate incentive to develop themselves and in turn help develop the country. Indeed, the state government places a premium on human capital, social capital and cultural capital out of the very diversity, freedom and richness of our society. This is an important shift if we are serious in moving forward to be a high-income country.
Ladies and gentlemen.
The state government is committed to achieving a balanced society through social inclusion and development, the economic dynamism and the sustainability of Penang. This is to chart Penang towards an international and intelligent city. The topic by Professor Oppenheimer this evening is indeed timely as modern day “Sundaland”, which is ASEAN, looks forward to deepening integration by commencing ASEAN Economic Community at the end of this year, opening up a market with a GDP of nearly USD 3 trillion and a population of 630 million people.
Whilst Penang looks forward towards being the hub for modern day “Sundaland”, we must not forget our roots. Hence, let me welcome Professor Oppenheimer to deliver his lecture that would enlighten us about our ancestry and help us face the future as a united and inclusive society.