KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 24 — Flight MH17’s victims’ remains would not have been retrieved so quickly if Malaysia had relied on superpowers like the United States to broker a deal with the armed rebels in eastern Ukraine, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said today.
Najib said Malaysia's "pragmatic approach" in its foreign policies is the reason he was able to convince rebel leader Alexander Borodai, who the Ukrainian government deems a terrorist, to release the remains of 282 victims recovered from the crash.
"If I hadn't developed this understanding with Borodai, I don't think the MH17 victims would have been received by us two days ago," said Najib.
The remains of 20 of the 43 Malaysians, who perished aboard MH17 arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, on August 22, which was declared a national day of mourning.
Three more victims’ remains arrived here this morning.
"If we were beholden to the United States, for example, we wouldn't deal with Borodai," Najib said at the 8th Malaysian Student Leaders Summit at a hotel here today.
Similarly, Malaysia would not be able continue its ties with Palestine, said Najib, if the Malaysian government had obligations to countries that regard the leaders of the Arab nation as terrorists.
The agreement was inked between the two parties five days after MH17 was blasted out of the Ukrainian air space by a surface-to-air missile.
The Ukrainian separatists had also agreed to transfer the black boxes to Malaysia and allow safe passage for international investigators to access the crash site.
"I went to Gaza and visited the leaders of the Hamas... it doesn't mean we agree with the views of the Hamas leaders but I wanted to highlight the humanitarian disaster against its people and I feel very strongly about it," said Najib.
"This is what I mean by adopting a principle-base foreign policy and a pragmatic one," he said.
Najib was responding to questions from students if Malaysia should foster a relationship with China or the US.
Najib pointed out that Malaysia has benefited from its amicable relationship with both nations, economically, with the high tourist arrivals and easier access to their big markets.
"The United States has advanced technology, elite universities and various other qualities which Malaysia can benefit from," he said.
For the past five consecutive years, China has been Malaysia’s single largest trading partner with a total trade value of over US$100 billion (RM321.5 billion), said Najib, adding that the Malaysia hopes to increase its bilateral trade to US$160 billion in the coming years.
Four months prior to the downing of MH17, Malaysia was cast into the spotlight for its poor handling of an unprecedented disappearance of MH370, a jumbo jet en route to Beijing with 239 people aboard, on March 8.
"2014 is a year for Malaysia which is defined by twin tragedies, a year when we lost 91 of our citizens, a year when the eyes of the world turned to the country," said Najib.
"While we felt sorrow and grief for the people who lost their lives and for the families who mourned them, I think many of us also felt pride," he added.