10 March 2014

Malaysia's Foreign Policy (South East Asia)

Sombre & anxious are the words to describe the current atmosphere of Malaysia's public. The Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing mysteriously between the east coast of Malaysia and southern Vietnam.

At this moment no official report of what exactly happened has been announced yet, while eventually it may not be a good news at all, given the current circumstances, there's still a slight hope for miracle.

Until the plane has been found, people can only speculate and guess.

Soon after the news broke out, neighbouring countries around the region has joined in for the search & rescue operation. Countries that may not see eye to eye with each others, are currently working together to figure out what had happened.

Malaysia is not alone in dealing this unexpected crisis.

From a different perspective of the incident, many nations are willing to help Malaysia in the times of trouble, could be credited to the good diplomatic relations Malaysia has maintained with other nations.

Here I'd like to focus on the closest nations surrounding Malaysia, starting of with the SEA region.

South East Asia

Malaysia plays a vital role in setting up the regional association of ASEAN back in the early days.

Geographically, Malaysia is located at the very center of SEA. That could explain why Malaysia is a popular flight transfer hub to other SEA nations (partially also thanks to AirAsia too).

Historically, Malaysia started formal diplomatic ties with most of the regional nations since hundreds of years ago. Though sometimes there may have been disagreements here and there, but generally speaking Malaysia is on friendly terms with the other nations. I would describe it like siblings, whom may argue from time to time, but nevertheless stand together at times of trouble.

Among the SEA nations, Malaysia is known for it's relatively stable politics & social, enjoying a pretty good economic growth, and the mediator for troubles around the region. Overall, Malaysia is a respective figure in the region.

However, things weren't that stable in the earlier days. Just to recap a few historical events of Malaysia with neighbourhood nations in the past century....

1) Singapore

The island nation at the southern tip of Malaysia was originally part of Malaya when we gained independence from the British in 1957. Singapore however, declared their own independence in 1965 due to certain circumstances. It was a mutual consent, and not a drop of blood was wasted. It was a peaceful transaction.

2) Indonesia 

In our school's history lesson, we learn that one of the founder of Malaysia, Parameswara, was originally a prince of an Indonesian empire from Sumatra.

Indonesia & Malaysia both shares similar culture and language, and being a larger nation, Indonesia exerts a great influence on Malaysia's affairs in the earlier days.

One of the notable clashes in the modern times would be the Confrontation of the formation of Malaysia in the 60's. Together with the Philippines, Indonesia strongly opposed the formation of Malaysia, claiming that part of Malaysia is rightfully Indonesia's. They even sent elite commando troops into Malaysia in order to sabotage the formation. Eventually, the nations agreed on the terms and peace was restored.

3) Philippines

As mentioned in the Indonesia's side, the Philippines was involved with the confrontation, but their claims are directed at East Malaysia, specifically the state of Sabah. Likewise, eventually it went on smoothly, but the shadow of the past continued to haunt Malaysia even in present days.

The southern part of the Philippines are consist of thousands of archipelago islands, which house the radical movements that continuing to claim that the Sabah is the land of the now-defunct Sulu sultanate.

Those radical groups carried out skirmish attacks on Sabah from time to time, namely the Sipadan island kidnap case and the most recent Lahad Datu assault last year. These however, do not represent the stance of the government in Manila, as the Pinoy government too, have trouble trying to deal with the radical groups.

4) Thailand

Perhaps the younger generation of Malaysians may not know that, the northern states of Perlis and Kedah were once under Thailand's control during the World War II. It was given as a gratitude for assisting the Japanese army during the war. After the war, the states are returned to Malaysia.

In recent days, Malaysia has been helping the Siamese to broker deal between the separatist group in southern Thailand and the Bangkok government.

5) Brunei

Similar to Singapore's case, Brunei was once part of Malaysia during the formation of the nation. However, there were strong protest lead by the Bruneian to force the then-Sultan of Brunei to reconsider and eventually declined the offer of joining Malaysia.

Today, Brunei still maintain a close relationship with Malaysia, as the Brunei's ruling royal family is closely linked to the various Sultan's families.


Here I've covered almost half of the SEA nations around us. There are of course, other nations as well like Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar etc. However, as I don't have enough resources to write about it I'll just leave it here.

In Japan I'm getting involved with ASEAN Youth Network in Japan too. From this involvement I noticed that SEAsians can work pretty good together and the committee members are rather close to each others. It seems that we just "click" into each others naturally.

If you would like to add a word or two, feel free to comment.
Next time, I'd like to talk about Malaysia's relations with the East Asia nations...

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