November 8, 2018
Mahathir on Malaysia’s Foreign Policy
November 8, 2018
October 16, 2018
PARLIAMENT | The Foreign Ministry today tabled a motion in the Dewan Rakyat for the speech of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept 28 to be set as the basis of Malaysia’s foreign policy.Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah also proposed that the Dewan Rakyat agree with the direction of the country’s foreign policy as stated in the Address of the Prime Minister.
Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Salahuddin Ayub seconded the motion.
In tabling the motion, Saifuddin said the prime minister’s speech outlined, among others, the position and foreign policy of the country based on principles such as not favouring any power, neutrality and practising the “prosper thy neighbour” philosophy.
“The Prime Minister also emphasised Malaysia’s relations with the world’s major powers, as well as other issues such as the situation in Palestine, the plight of the Muslims in Rakhine (Myanmar) and the trade war between the economic powers,” he said.
Saifuddin said Mahathir also noted the importance of the UN as a key platform to resolve universal issues and expressed the hope that the UN will continue to play an important role in maintaining international peace and security.
“The Prime Minister’s speech also outlined the objectives and plans of the foreign policy of the New Malaysia to support the sustainability of economic, political and social developments within our own country,” he said.
Saifuddin said the motion was tabled to enable the government to obtain inputs, views and feedback from the members of the Dewan Rakyat because the government needed to have a foreign policy framework as a select committee on foreign policy has yet to be formed and the new Parliament has yet to have a caucus of MPs on foreign relations.
“We propose that Malaysia’s foreign policy framework comprises four key components, the major strands of foreign policy which have been largely disclosed in the Prime Minister’s speech at the UN; empowering the foreign ministry; strengthening inter-agency cooperation; and increasing the people’s participation,” he said.
October 1, 2018
Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu has reached a small milestone. He was in New York City between September 23-29, one of the longest trips ever by a Malaysian Defense Minister, and among the few to attend the United Nations General Assembly so soon after his appointment to cabinet.
The length and the early trip to the United States are key, even if it is his 10th visit in the last four months, from the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore – during which he emphasised the centrality of ASEAN and the importance of the ‘Mahathir doctrine’ – to his visit to Lebanon in June.
To those not in the know, southern Lebanon is one of those delicate areas where conflicts could erupt at any given time. Malaysian peacekeepers are there to help maintain some semblance of order as part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil).
Malaysians blue helmets have always been deeply respected. Be it in Congo in 1962 or Somalia in 1989, Malaysian soldiers have always been at the forefront of peacekeeping efforts.
Infamously, the book and movie Black Hawk Down got its details wrong. It wasn’t just the Pakistani blue helmets who retrieved the American rangers trapped in the fire fights in the centre of Mogadishu, Malaysians also saved the day.
Tariq Chaudhry, a UN diplomat, has always tipped his hat to the bravery of the Malaysian soldiers.
His doctorate thesis on the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation at Cambridge went as far as accrediting the Malaysian armed forces in maintaining the peace in Bosnia after the Dayton Agreement in 1995.
Mat Sabu is aware of this glowing legacy. He celebrates them, and is able to hit it off with Dr Mahathir Mohamed precisely because both agree peace is something which Malaysia can do and has done the world over.
Mohamad also believes that wars are a blight on humanity. One should avoid such aggressive behaviors. This is again a position not unlike the view of Mahathir, who also hates wars.
Just yesterday, Mahathir hinted that Malaysia is looking into following Japan’s constitution which prevents the country from entering armed conflicts.
Thus Malaysia has pulled out of the conflict in Yemen – which has now degenerated into a complex humanitarian emergency, where tens of thousands of people have died from dysentery, lack of clean water and medical services. The numbers are greater than the combatants who actually perished armed conflict between the Houthi rebels and Saudi-led coalition.
Since Malaysia has always had a policy of “active” neutrality starting from the 1960s – a concept enshrined by Malaysia’s participation in Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), further reinforced by the late Tun Ghazali Shafie’s concept of the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (Zopfan) – our foreign policy has always focused on maintaining peace.
In the same month that Mohamad participated in the Shangri-La Dialogue, he hosted the Malaysia-Australia High Level Committee on Defence Cooperation in Butterworth. Australia is one of the members of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) which Malaysian navy and armed forces still treasure deeply.
The next month(in July), Mohamad visited the Farnborough Airshow in the UK, an event which typically hosts the amazing acrobatic Red Arrows. The UK is also a member of the FPDA.
Given the insistence of the UK of remaining a vital and active player in maintaining freedom of navigation in South China Sea, Mohamad’s trip reassured them that their role in FPDA is deeply cherished.
In July 2018, the minister also made it a point to visit Bangladesh in light of the country’s growing tensions with Myanmar over the influx and mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims, which neither side seems to acknowledge is facing one of the worst humanitarian disasters.
With his trip to Cox’s Bazar, Mohamad is engaging in preventive diplomacy. He is trying to prevent the issue from further enlarging into an explosive issue that can drag ASEAN and South Asia into a structural conflict over the millions of Rohingya facing near-certain death.
Indeed, having strengthened all the necessary pillars in FPDA – by visiting Singapore, hosting the Australia and later the New Zealand delegation, in addition his UK trip – it seems Mohamad is emphasising the backbone of Malaysian defence diplomacy through FDPA.
This is why the trip to Bangladesh happened in August. In that month, Mohamad strengthened the confidence of the Malaysian peacekeepers in Lebanon, and sent a powerful signal to Myanmar that peace and freedom to all must be of paramount importance.
The following month, Mohamad went one step further: he visited the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus with Japan. Japan is critical precisely because the country in 1994, under then Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama, created the ASEAN Regional Forum from the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference.
In this particular trip to Nagoya, Mohamad signed an MOU with Japan to enhance mutual humanitarian assistance, civil military cooperation, in addition to strengthening the Malaysian peacekeeping operations in Port Dickson, which has been ongoing since 2005.
It should be added Japan immediately pledged a donation of USD1 million to reinforce peacekeeping facilities. These are all major achievements, as they reflect a strategic continuation of the dialogue and method of cooperation with Japan. How? It was Nakayama who suggested a multilateral forum where all countries in Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia could hold annual defence dialogues.
By 2005, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus took place in Kuala Lumpur, with a goal of consolidating the defence diplomacy of ASEAN member states and expanding the ambit of ASEAN’s defence collaboration with external dialogue partners, including China, Japan, South Korea, the United States.
If one observes all of Mohamad’s frenzied activities and trips, including the current one to the US, it is clear that he knows how intricate the defence portfolio has been since the 1960s.
This is why every single trip can be related to either ASEAN, FPDA, ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus, and the UN.
The ’18-wheeler’ strategy
I would term this Mohamad’s 18-wheeler defence diplomacy, the metaphorical large truck that he drives taking the previous cargo forward. The precious cargo is of course Malaysian sovereignty, regional equilibrium, and international peace.
And, this is all done in a way to further the parameters of the ‘Mahathir doctrine’, where battle ships should not linger in any parts of the South China Sea unless the goal is to jointly address the effects of piracy.
In this sense, Mohamad’s upcoming meetings with his counterparts in Manila and Malawi deserves more commendations.
Mohamad is trying to stabilise one of the world’s oldest conflicts that go all the way back to 16th century, when the Spanish conquistadors first arrived to upend the religious and racial balance of Mindanao and Manila.
One should remember that Mohamad is a humanitarian at heart. He knows that Philippines and Mindanao Autonomous Region are constantly hammered by natural disasters.
Unless Malaysia and Philippines can work together, complex humanitarian emergencies can lead to endemic poverty, and hopelessness, all of which are fuel of terrorism and kidnap for ransom groups, that can spill over into Sabah and Sarawak.
So to his critics in UMNO and PAS who said that Mohamad hasn’t been doing his homework, they must realise that it is they who have been sleeping on the job as the opposition.
PHAR KIM BENG was a multiple award-winning head teaching fellow on China and the Cultural Revolution in Harvard University.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.
September 11, 2018
As other powers rise, ASEAN is at risk of losing its collective commitment to a shared vision for the region and a common stance on geopolitical issues. Unless ASEAN remains united as a bloc, write Borge Brende and Justin Wood, it will lose its ability to convene regional actors, mediate disputes, and shape principles of international behaviour and interaction.
Is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) resilient enough to thrive amid the regional and global transformations taking place today? While the global economy continues its broad-based expansion, disruptive economic, geostrategic, and technological forces may threaten Asean’s gains of recent years. To survive, Asean members must make important decisions about the role of their community in regional affairs. With the right choices, the region can convert disruption into an opportunity for a resilient future.
ASEAN has undergone an impressive turnaround in the past five decades. A region of turbulence, disharmony, and underdevelopment in the 1960s is today one of relative peace and economic success. Much of the credit belongs to the community-building efforts of the countries under the Asean umbrella. But the region also benefited strongly from the post-World War II global architecture and institutions that promoted inward flows of investment and outward flows of exports.
Today, this global backdrop is in a state of profound transformation. The benefits of free and open trade are being questioned, international institutions are being challenged, new geopolitical powers are rising, and – despite ups and downs – the global economy continues to tilt further toward emerging markets. All of this creates an opportunity for new and competing visions of how the world should be organized and run.
Alongside rising geopolitical uncertainty, ASEAN countries must grapple with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The exponential development of technologies such as artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, precision medicine, and autonomous vehicles is transforming economies, businesses, and societies.
ASEAN members will feel the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution acutely. Consider the future of jobs. The working-age population in the bloc is increasing by 11,000 people daily and will continue to grow at this rate for the next 15 years. This demographic expansion is happening just as many existing jobs will be substituted by intelligent automation and AI. Systems of taxation that rely on labour income will come under pressure. National budgets will be challenged at exactly the moment when Asean members must increase their investment in reskilling labour forces and developing infrastructure for this new age.
Or consider the future of manufacturing. Technologies such as 3D printing and cheap industrial robots are enabling products to be made in small, highly-customized forms rather than large batches of uniform goods. For ASEAN, the shift from centralized global supply chains to localized production systems could have a serious impact on export revenues and the investment by which it is driven.
Faced with these disruptive shifts, ASEAN must strengthen its community. Economically, regional resilience can be bolstered by building a genuine single market: ASEAN has 630 million citizens with rapidly rising spending power. Fully implementing the ASEAN Economic Community will be key. With a strong regional market, ASEAN can drive its own economic destiny, rather than relying on demand from external markets, and will be better insulated against potential protectionist shocks.
Creating a single market for services will be critical. Here, especially, ASEAN members must respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, tackling issues such as harmonization of rules governing the use of data. New technologies – including digital platforms, big-data analytics, and cloud-based services – do not recognize national borders and function best when they operate at scale. With a single digital market, ASEAN can develop truly pan-regional services in finance, health care, education, and e-commerce.
Of course, ASEAN should not build a fortress that keeps out the world. Indeed, the bloc has long been praised for its “open regionalism,” whereby it pursues economic integration among member states without discriminating against non-ASEAN economies. This approach has been integral to its economic strategy from the beginning, and continues with the soon-to-be concluded Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership joining ASEAN with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand.
Strengthening the political-security community is equally essential. With the architecture of global governance being challenged, ASEAN members must make their voices heard if they want a world that supports their interests. Individually, Southeast Asia’s countries carry little weight; collectively, however, they represent almost a tenth of the world’s population and nearly 5 percent of its GDP.
Historically, ASEAN has played a pivotal role in facilitating regional relationships, giving rise to the notion of “ASEAN centrality” in Asia. In 1993, the bloc established the ASEANn Regional Forum – now with 27 members – to foster dialogue on political and security concerns. It established the East Asia Summit, currently with 18 member states, in 2005.
Today, however, the geopolitical context is evolving. As other powers rise, ASEAN is at risk of losing its collective commitment to a shared vision for the region and a common stance on geopolitical issues. Many observers believe that other countries are undermining ASEAN n unanimity by developing dependencies with individual countries, built on investment, trade, and assistance. Unless it remains united as a bloc, ASEAN will lose its ability to convene regional actors, mediate disputes, and shape principles of international behaviour and interaction.
The so-called ASEAN way, characterized by consensus-based decision-making and non-interference, has served ASEAN well, and the bloc would be unwise to jettison it. But a reassessment is needed if ASEAN is to speak with a strong voice on regional matters, rather than allowing dissenting voices within the group to prevent the adoption of collective positions. Given that existing global institutions are being challenged, and given the rise of Asia in global affairs, Asean must reinforce its ability to influence the debate.
The World Economic Forum on ASEAN will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam, on September 11-13 and will provide an opportunity for such a reassessment. In an increasingly uncertain world, the need for the countries of ASEAN to deepen their community and their commitment to integration and collaboration is stronger than ever.
Copyright Project Syndicate 2018.
Borge Brende is President of the World Economic Forum; Justin Wood is Head of Asia Pacific and a member of the Executive Committee of the World Economic Forum.
July 6, 2018
by Hana Hanifah and Askabea Fadhilla, The Habibie Center
ASEAN countries are no strangers to conflict and violence. As a region comprising diverse nation-states, Southeast Asia has experienced a number of inter- and intra-state conflicts. Political stability in the region has improved over the last decade, especially due to a decline in inter-state disputes. But intra-state disputes in the form of ethnic conflicts, violence against minorities and violent extremism — including terrorism — are gaining ground.
There are ongoing reports about Rohingya trying to escape from Myanmar and seeking refuge in Malaysia. Amid the Myanmar army’s denial of its alleged atrocities against the Rohingya, about 700,000 Rohingya have reportedly fled the country since August 2017.
Meanwhile, according to the Global Peace Index, the Philippines is one of the least peaceful countries in the region due to its bloody war against drugs and crime that has resulted in increasing rates of homicide, incarceration and extrajudicial killings. Based on the same report, Indonesia had the greatest performance drop in the Asia Pacific in terms of peacefulness due to an increase in politically-motivated terrorism and growing tensions between hard-line fundamentalists and minority groups. Indonesia is also more and more vulnerable to the threat of an alliance between the so-called Islamic State, Darul Islam and some local violent extremist groups, as shown in the recent Surabaya bombing.
Even decades before the United Nations’ An Agenda for Peace report in 1992, ASEAN had committed to maintaining peace in the region without using the label of ‘preventive diplomacy’. From its inception, ASEAN was intended to be a regional conflict-prevention mechanism that internalised the practices of peaceful dialogue, consultation and consensus building among its members, amid the geopolitical uncertainty and diplomatic breakdowns that characterised the Cold War period.
The ASEAN Regional Forum defined preventive diplomacy for ASEAN in 2001 as member states’ diplomatic or political action to prevent disputes or conflicts that could pose a threat to regional stability, with the purpose of preventing such disputes from escalating to armed confrontation and minimising the impact of those conflicts and disputes on the region.
But in practice, preventive diplomacy in ASEAN is limited to the execution of forums and meetings that do not necessarily producing binding mechanisms to resolve potentially destabilising intra-state conflicts. ASEAN seems to be stuck in confidence-building measures and has not completely implemented preventive diplomacy as envisioned by the United Nations.
Critics point to the development gap and significant political differences between ASEAN member states. The ‘ASEAN way’ that rests on the principles of consensus building and non-intervention is often cited as one of the factors that undermine a deeper commitment to implementing preventive diplomacy. ASEAN’s limited definition of preventive diplomacy is also criticised for constraining the practice of preventive diplomacy in the region to only include conflicts between and among states. This excludes non-state and intra-state conflicts or violence, which are seemingly growing in the post-Cold War era.
But the biggest challenge to preventive violence in ASEAN yet to be taken seriously is the lack of knowledge about conflicts and violence. To this day, it remains a challenge to pinpoint the general trend and exact number of violent events and conflicts within ASEAN. Some instances were allegedly perpetrated by the state, while others were committed by non-state entities and individuals. Although some reports intuitively indicate that violence in ASEAN is increasing, it is hard to identify the exact number of incidents because the data is scarce and rarely updated.
The limited reliable data that is available reveals that each country in Southeast Asia has its own patterns and characteristics of conflict and violence. In terms of intensity, there are also differences in the number of casualties and frequency of incidents. The types of violence also differ and include civil wars, insurgency, crimes, communal conflicts and violence against minority groups.
Relatively little data on violent incidents existed until recently, and the data is generally focused at the national level. Data on regional trends is patchy and scattered across various sources, which makes it difficult to generate a quick and accurate analysis to aid policy making processes. Not all countries have the capacity to record such data, which itself can be a controversial process in a number of ASEAN member states where conflicts are sometimes highly political.
Knowledge about the distinct features of violence in ASEAN is crucial to enable policymakers and stakeholders to identify shortcomings in the region’s approach to responding and preventing conflict. Such knowledge would also equip them to come up with effective policies and strategies to promote peace and stability in ASEAN.
A knowledge-based approach would enable stakeholders to resolve conflicts more effectively — not only by managing the impacts but also by preventing the escalation of future conflicts and violence. It would also encourage better practices of data collection and recording violence in and between ASEAN member states — which is essential to monitoring and evaluating preventive diplomacy and progress towards peace in the region.
Hana Hanifah and Askabea Fadhilla are Researchers at the ASEAN Studies Program, The Habibie Center, Jakarta.
June 30, 2018
Yes, Kim Beng, what you say resonates with me. We can share our experiences and also learn from one another. What we need is a clear heart, an open mind and lots of humility. It is not about America First or building Fortress America. It is about our capacity and willingness to learn from one another. We must first understand that we are not islands unto ourselves. Why look EAST only? Look everywhere. I welcome comments.–Din Merican
COMMENT | Japan, unknown to many, is a hybrid. It has an imperial system steeped in ancient Japanese culture and Shinto religion. But it also has a Whitehall parliamentary system, and a bureaucracy that recruits on the basis of what top universities like University of Tokyo, Waseda University and Tokyo University of Foreign Studies can produce. The latter is not unlike the practice of France that tends to pick its best elites from ENA (or Ecole Nationale Administration), indeed, also Sciences Po.
More importantly, Japan has a security alliance with the United States, that is predisposed to relying on the nuclear deterrent provided by Washington DC, even though Japan purportedly cannot house, base and allow any nuclear warships to traverse through its ports, according to the doctrine once laid down by Prime Minister Eisaku Sato.
Yale historian,Paul Kennedy. who wrote the book ‘The Rise and Fall of Great Powers’ in 1988, referred to Japanese foreign policy as “omnidirectional.” Neither East nor West, Japan is the best – only that the so-called definition of the “best” in Japan involves a high degree of adaptation, adjustment and innovation to suit Japan.
By anecdotes, none of the anime characters, for example, are truly Western. Not even Eastern. But the end product is a Japanese anime that is imbued with huge eyes, sharp features, and accentuated shapes, all of which have been innovated to achieve that distinctive flavour that only anime fans can associate with.
But even as Malaysia Look East, what can Japan learn from Malaysia though? It is high time that Tokyo looks at Malaysia (anew) for three specific reasons.
First, at a fertility rate of 1.34 according to the UN Population research, as reported in NHK, Japan is greying and shrinking in future. Japan is growing older, and in human demography, smaller. Second, Japan has a serious security problem viz a viz North Korea and China. Both countries may want to trade with Japan, even ultimately gain from it, but they are not in a position to let Japan off lightly on historical issues, especially Japan’s previous colonisation of them.
Thirdly, the aging of Japanese society has repercussion in terms of its security outlook and posture too, even democracy. As the people become older, they demand Japan be a responsible power, too, one that can stand up on consistent Japanese principles of honour, dignity and values, all of which play into the hands of the right-wing political elements who may argue that ancient Japanese values are strongest in right-wing parties. If this is the trajectory, Japanese politics would turn right even before it can become centrist, let alone leftist in future.
But, regardless of the permutations above, Japan can learn from Malaysia in terms of our democratic experimentation and consolidation too. At the ripe old age of 93 in a couple of weeks – Dr Mahathir Mohamad has shown that “age is a number” – one can be a democrat if one is committed to it. Indeed, Prime-Minister-in-Waiting Anwar Ibrahim, too, is already 71.
In his speech in Istanbul on June 19, Anwar explains that he is not young too. But he is vested his life into promoting and protecting democracy by virtue of the political imprisonment that he had gone through, causing him to lose 10.5 years of his life in prison. In the outlook of Mahathir and Anwar, age is not a factor in reeling back from pursuing peace, freedom and democracy, which are lessons that the whole of Japan should be learning from Malaysia. Old is gold.
More importantly, while close to four million Malaysian youths did not register to vote in the 14th General Election, the total voter turnout was 82 percent, just four percent less than 2013. The ones who voted out the kleptocratic excesses of the government of Najib Razak were the youth too. In fact, 75 percent of the membership of Bersatu, a party led by Mahathir, is less than 35 years of age.
Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, a top youth leader of Bersatu, even gave up his Oxford graduate scholarship twice to fight for a better Malaysia. One of Mahathir’s top strategists, Dr. Rais Hussin, is barely 50. But he fought against all odds to defend the Malaysian democracy, and recruited the likes of Dr. Maszlee Malik, his peer in International Islamic University, to be the education minister.
Japan can also learn from Malaysia in terms of the women participation. Prior to May 9, which was the day of the electoral upset, seven out of 10 female voters in Malaysia were usually pro-establishment.
But on the day of the election, the women refused to go with the systemic abuses and flagrant corruption of Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor). Many rooted for Mahathir and Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the wife of Anwar Ibrahim. Wan Azizah, who is an eye specialist is now the deputy prime minister. Words have it that the speaker or the deputy speaker of the parliament could be Hannah Yeoh, again, another woman.
Fourthly, the Malaysian election is establishing the norm to help China understand that “lopsided agreements,” and “uneven contracts,” the likes of which have been seen not only in Malaysia, but throughout the international trading system spanning from Asia to Latin America.
These agreements have to be thoroughly reviewed. Malaysia does not want any bad relationship with the world’s largest market, as that as would be the equivalent of practising destructive trade practices. But Malaysia is an emerging trading nation that merely broke into the top 20 trading nations of the world only in the last 20 years.
Malaysia cannot squander away the hard work and labour of the previous generations while allowing another economic juggernaut to walk over us. This is how Malaysia has reacted to the United Kingdom in 1982 with the “Buy British Last” campaign. Back then, Malaysian government merely wanted the fees imposed on Malaysian students to be reduced so that more Malaysian students can benefit from the necessary academic training and skills transfer.
When then prime minister Margaret Thatcher, herself a tough negotiator, refused to relent, Malaysia had no choice but to diversify the number of locations the Malaysian government can send its students abroad. Malaysia is not about to impose any protectionist measure on China. But improper and suspicious trade agreements involving China and the previous regime have to be reviewed with a fine-tooth comb.
Indeed, there may not be a one-to-one analogy between Malaysia of the past and now, even though the administration is once again back in the hands of Mahathir. But there are many things that Japan can learn from Malaysia. Just because Japan is a member of the G7 while Malaysia is a member of Asean, the latter must learn from the former. As Malcolm Gladwell the author of ‘David vs Goliath’ made plain – small does not mean weak; silence too does not mean consent.
On May 9, Malaysians staged a strategic electoral upset quietly and deftly, precisely because Malaysians at large have given more than enough chances to Umno and BN to reform themselves. They didn’t. Hence, what happened on May 9 was a reformation pioneered by the likes of Anwar and subsequently led by Mahathir when the former was still under imprisonment. With good coordination and partnership, Pakatan Harapan achieved the impossible.
Japan, being a country based on creating new breakthroughs, should take Malaysia as a major democratic breakthrough, and a shiny example of what peaceful transition of power can achieve.
PHAR KIM BENG is a Harvard/Cambridge Commonwealth Fellow, a former Monbusho scholar at the University of Tokyo and Visiting Scholar at Waseda University.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.