Dis3113 bilateral relations with neighboring countries
Malaysia’s foreign relations
Bilateral relations with neighboring
Questions to ask
• What theoretical perspective (s) to frame the
• What is Malaysia’s policy towards a particular
country in the region?
• What are the factors shaping the relationship?
• What are the major issues involved?
• What kind of bilateral cooperation ?
• How to describe Malaysia-Indonesia relations?
CHARACTERISED BY CONFLICT AND
• What are the factors shaping their relationship?
• Personalities/ leadership
• External factors
History : commonality & divergence
• SHARED HISTORY: BEFORE COMING OF
EUROPEAN COLONIALISM, THE TWO AREAS
HAD SHARED HISTORY
• European colonialism marked the beginning
of their separate ways.
ethnic & cultural affinities
• Concept of ‘keserumpunan’ : similarities in
traditions, culture, language, religion etc.
• Familiarity with each other’s culture helped
facilitate closer relationship among peoples of
• There are differences between Malaysia and
• Different vision of nation-building & its
objectives & philosophy
• Power relations and ambitions differ :
Indonesia a pivot nation, Malaysia , smaller,
• Is Malaysia-Indonesia relations special?
• Yes, by virtue of those commonalities,
• but mindful of the differences , own distinct
• Conflict : only one in modern time :
konfrontasi, both countries chose not to
remember it for their own domestic reasons.
Current Major issues in bilateral
• There are areas of potential
conflicts : migrant workers,
territorial and maritime
dispute, cultural heritage
Areas of cooperation
• Security and defence
• Political and economic cooperation
enhanced through ASEAN.
Relations with Singapore
• By and large, relations shaped more by
domestic factors than external
• geographical proximity,
• socio-cultural affinities,
• economic interdependence,
• similarities in political system.
Why merger in 1963?
• Lee Kuan Yew, May 1963 argued that “ the
political, economic and military reasons are so
compelling that we would be committing
national suicide if we refuse to merge in
• LKY also declared that the first pre-condition for
the success of Malaysia was “national unity of all
the races comprising Malaysia with undivided
loyalty to the elected Central Government of
• So what happened?
Why the separation?
• Why did Kuala Lumpur decided to “evict” /
expel Singapore out of Malaysia?
• Tunku spoke in Parliament on 9 August 1965
of “ a State Government that has ceased to
give even a measure of loyalty to the Central
Reasons why KL , S’pore didn’t get
• Nordin Sophiee gave several reasons:
• 1. Economic & financial issues unresolved
• 2. Different ideological temperament :
unsuited to each other
• 3. Political behaviour of PAP & Alliance
leaders—causing verbal dogfight
• 4. Singapore’s excessive sense of self-
importance & importance of its role in M’sia
Characterizing M-S relations
• acrimonious in the beginning,
• Tunku’s description : “cat and dog”
relationship, others : divorced couple
syndrome, “gila talak”, Siamese twins
• But relations evolved to become
Issues in M-S relations
• Earlier issues surrounding merger &
separation dissipated, replaced by other more
• Water , KTM land CIQ facilities.
• Pulau Batu Putih
• CPF, SAF use of Malaysian airspace
• Interference in domestic politics
Towards better relations after Dr M
• Dr M: “ I’m very glad that the problems I
have created have been relegated to the
• New approach, CBMs on both sides
• Politically there are ups and downs but
economic relations remain strong.
• Increase security & defence cooperation
Relations with Vietnam
• Relations began in 1957 with Republic of
Vietnam ( South Vietnam), with Democratic
Republic of Vietnam ( North Vietnam) in 1973.
• Early relations ( with SV) based on support for
anti communist regime , Malaysia supported
US in the VN war.
• Relations with DRVN/ SRVN in the context of
non-aligned, independent foreign policy
Why support for South VN?
• Malaysia’s fear of China (Chinese)
threat, under Tunku, support for US
policy of containment of China, pro
• Malaysia’s anti-communist stand,
bitter experience with communist
insurgency at home
Relations with North Vietnam
• March 30, 1973-Malaysia & DRVN established
diplomatic relations, agreed to “ develop
friendly relations between the two countries
on the basis of peaceful co-existence, mutual
respect for sovereignty and territorial
integrity, non-interference in the internal
affairs of each other, equality and mutual
• Mission set up only in 1976.
Development & evolution after 1975
• assistance to VN in its post war reconstruction
• Exchange of visits to promote bilateral
• But there were political differences : ZPOFAN,
• Despite political differences, both countries
Issues in bilateral relations
• 1. Refugee problem :first batch of “boat
people “ arrived in Malaysia May 1973.
• By end of 1977 Malaysia became top receiver
of refugees —classified as “illegal
• Refugees created problems in the country,
also caused Malaysia external difficulties
Issues ( cont.)
• 2. suspicion of Hanoi’s support for CPM
• No evidence of direct, strong connection, but
exchanges of messages, broadcast by Suara
Revolusi Malaya on activities on CPM & CPV
• Hanoi valued its cordial relations with
Malaysia , would not jeopardize it with
support for CPM, esp. CPM was pro-China.
Issues ( cont.)
• 3. ZOPFAN –did not gain support of
• VN described it as” an attempt to
paint the same neo-colonial edifice
with a different color”,
• Suspicious of ASEAN close relations
• 4. Cambodia : Malaysia alarmed at VN
invasion of Cambodia end of 1978
• Halted many diplomatic events business
projects between M & VN,
• Relations back to mutual distrust , suspicion
especially over Hanoi’s regional intention &
• Deterioration of relations from 1980 to 1986
• Spratlys ( Truong Sa) islands —not a new
issue, but surfaced in 1980
• VN occupied Amboyna Cay in 1977, Malaysia
published new official map Jan 1980.
• Malaysia occupied Swallow reef, ( Terumbu
Layang2) ,60km of Amboyna Cay.
• Despite claims, accusations, protests against
each other, Malaysia & VN did not go to war
• Due to several factors:
• 1986 introduction of Doi moi .
• End of Cold War 1990,
• settlement of Cambodian conflict
• Vietnam joined ASEAN in 1995.
Post doi moi relations
• Increased its economic, trade presence in VN
since doi moi, one of top investors
• Increased cooperation within ASEAN
• M-VN relations not burdened by historical or
socio-cultural baggages, unlike that of
Malaysia’s relations with Singapore or with
• Abdullah Ahmad (1985) Tengku Abdul Rahman’s Foreign
• Danny Wong Tze Ken (1995) Vietnam-Malaysia relations
during the Cold War.
• Jatswan S Sidhu ‘ Whither Malaysia-Singapore Relations ‘ in
Ruhanas Harun (2006) (ed.) Malaysia’s Foreign Relations :
KL , Penerbit Universiti Malaya
• Johan Saravanamuttu (2010) Fifty Years of Foreign Policy.
• Mohamed Nordin Sopiee ( 1974) From Malayan Union to
Singapore separation : KL, University of Malaya Press
• Ruhanas Harun ( 2006) (ed.) Malaysia’s Foreign Relations :
KL , Penerbit Universiti Malaya