As I mentioned in my article last week, the Montreal-based Arton Capital recently released its Passport Index 2017, a worldwide ranking for passports, in which the Malaysian passport is ranked as the world’s ‘fifth most powerful’, the second in Asean, only behind Singapore, and the third in Asia, just behind Singapore and Japan.
In other words, Malaysians can visit up to 154 countries without a visa.
The findings no doubt surprise many. Quite a few Apple Daily readers in Hong Kong actually started cursing the Special Administrative Region’s government for not doing enough, as a result of which the HKSAR passport lags far behind that of ‘Malai’ (a derogatory term used by Hong Kongers to refer to Malaysia).
But I was actually not a tad startled with the advanced position of the Malaysian passport. In fact, I have been monitoring the Passport Index and other similar rankings for several years and am well aware that our passport has often made it to the top ten. Another agency whose indices are worth consulting is Henley & Partners, whose index last year listed the Malaysian passport at No 12 globally.
The Passport Index is informative not only because it does tell us something about our diplomatic relations with other countries, but also raises the question as to why the goodwill gesture shown by Malaysia towards countries such as Morocco and Somalia is not reciprocated.
I remember when I had to go to the French embassy for a visa before travelling to Paris way back in 1991. Just a few years later, a visa waiver agreement was signed with most of the European Union (then known as the European Community) countries, which Malaysians have been able to visit without a visa for more than two decades.
Just last month, the visa requirement by Serbia for Malaysians was abolished, signalling a full resumption of bilateral ties between the two countries once bitterly at odds over the Bosnia issue. I am indeed glad that we have patched up and moved on.
Therefore, the Malaysian passport is now able to travel to more than 80 percent of the western countries, with the exception of the United States and Canada. Ottawa cancelled the visa waiver agreement with Malaysia after the Sept 11 attacks in 2001.
Many still lament that Malaysians do not enjoy the privilege of being on the US visa waiver program. However, we must not lose sight of the blessing that, in addition to Europe, our passport is also welcome in most of the developing world, especially in Latin America, the Middle East and a significant portion of the African continent.
Lest we forget, two-thirds of the United Nations is made up of developing countries, and their friendship and goodwill may go a long way at some critical moment. Forget not, the People’s Republic of China succeeded in replacing the Republic of China (Taiwan) at the UN all thanks to the support of many small and developing nations, not those rich and powerful states in the west.
As of today, more than 120 countries - virtually all from the developing world - recognise Palestine as a sovereign state, putting enormous pressure on Israel as well as those western nations supporting it.
However much I disagree with Dr Mahathir Mohamad, I have to admit it was his proactive foreign policies that raised Malaysia’s international profile. According to the late Professor Chandran Jeshurun, Mahathir’s “first priority (as prime minister) was the Asean countries, then the small countries, and only then the Commonwealth countries”.