Malaysia National Interest (1957 1980)


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2009 Malaysian Foreign Policy Paper Assignment For Senator Prof. Ariffin, UUM

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Malaysia National Interest (1957 1980)

  2. 2. NATIONAL INTEREST The national interest often referred to by the French term raison d‟état, is a country‟sgoals and ambition whether economic, military or cultural. The notion is an important one ininternational relations where pursuit of the national interest is the foundation of the realistschool. The national interest of a state is multi faced. Primary is the states survival and security.Also important is the pursuit of wealth and economic growth and power. Many states, especiallyin modern times, regard the preservation of the nation‟s culture as of great importance. It is also undeniable that the national interest of a state is interrelated to the states internalsituation and most critically to the international environment. Other then that the personalitiesand background of the decision makers are considered with the factors based on decision makingmodals such as: comprehensive rational actor modal, the bound rationality decision, and thebureaucratic modal to formulate foreign policies that are aimed to protecting the national interest. The national interest of the state as long as Malaysia is concerned, is the preservation,protection and enhancement of the core values of the state. Looking at this point of view wecould project five core values, which are: i) The preservation of sovereignty and political autonomy ii) The preservation of national security iii) Economic development and prosperity iv) The preservation of one‟s cultural, social, religious values – ones way of life v) Enhancing the country‟s image, influence and power abroad and in the international system
  3. 3. Looking at our time line, that is 1957 to 1980, I would like to synchronize the core values above to the national interest and related foreign policy decisions during the tenure of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj (1957-1970), Tun Abdul Razak (1970-1976) and Tun Hussein Onn (1976-1981)TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN (1957-1970) The first premier of Malaysia, held key position during the shadow cabinet prior to theindependence as the chief minister of the then Malaya. Tunku continued as the first PrimeMinister of the newly independent Federation of Malaya, then Malaysia from 1957 to 1971. During this tenure Malaya‟s national interest during the 6 years of its existence andMalaysia was focusing in preserving the sovereignty of the state and political autonomy overvarious aspects. Regarding the sovereignty of the state, Malaya didn‟t have a strong military inplace to safeguard the newly awarded territory from enemies and insurgence. It also facedproblems in setting up the government machinery as it lacked the men power to do the job. Malaya‟s “independent foreign policy, the Tunku declared, was not neutral, the country‟sfundamental security concerns made it undoubtedly anti communist not in any evalangical sense.It was simply to protect our independence1” Malaya negotiated a bilateral mutual defenseagreement with Great Britain. The Anglo-Malayan Defense Agreement (AMDA), beforeindependence and signed it forty two days after it became free2. Under the treaty Britain was to1 Dato’ Abdullah Ahmad, Tengku Abdul Rahman And Malaysia’s Foreign Policy 1963-1970 (Kuala Lumpur: BeritaPublishing Sdn.Bhd, 1985) p.352 Coversation with Tunku, 28 December 1982
  4. 4. defend Malaya from any external attacks; and to train and develop the Malaysian armed forces.Malaya in turn undertook to help Britain in the event of an attack on British Colonial territoriesin the region – Hong Kong, Singapore, North Borneo, Sarawak and Brunei. Malaya also allowedthe stationing of commonwealth strategic forces comprising of Britain, Australian and NewZealand forces into the country. Malaya needed the AMDA to defend its independence, sovereignty and security of itspeople. It had necessarily to be cautious and conservative in its defense policy and relation withforeign powers. As has been noted, Malaya stayed out of SEATO and this was made possiblebecause there was a sense of security provided by AMDA. It scrupulously resisted membershipin SEATO because it could not afford to leave itself open to charges as being an ally of theUnited States of America by joining the SEATO. This could abrupt relations with neigbouringIndonesia and other countries that Malaya was having relations with like China. As stated by Leifer: Membership in SEATO might well have alienated a number of States in Asia with whom Malaya have sought friendly relations, as well as suggesting to its sizeable Chinese Community that the 3 country was to become involved in an anti-Chinese combination . Malaya at this moment also took a undertaking that marked the beginning of a regionalassociation, Association of the South East Asia (ASA) in Bangkok in 1961, with only Thailandand the Philippines as members. This was aimed to create an affluent society, stability and strongeconomy.4After which this organization became anonymous, mainly because of the creation of3 Michael Leifer, The Foreign Relations of The States, Victoria, Australia, 1974, p.474 Dato’Abdullah Ahmad, Tengku Abdul Rahman and Malaysia’s Foreign Policy. p.47
  5. 5. Malaysia in 1963 that brought to the „konfrontasi‟ by Indonesia from 1962 to 1966 through aPeace Agreement signed in Djakarta on August 11, 19665. This moved forward in formingASEAN in 1967. Other then these initiatives, Malaysia under Tunku Abdul Rahman also championed thenotion of OIC, Organization of Islamic Conference in 1961. This was an idea of an IslamicCommonwealth that may build closer ties between Islamic nations from all regions in variousaspects like the British Commonwealth itself6. This was in line to have a union that would helpMalaysia in continuing growth, seeming the decline in Anglo- Malayan relations towards the endof Tunku‟s tenure. As Tunku retired from Malaysian political scene in 1970, it was mostappropriate that he led the secretariat of his brainchild the OIC 7. Still keeping the nationalinterest of the state in mind, Tunku made OIC a platform for Malaysia to express itselfconcerning Islam and its brothers. Other then safe guarding the sovereignty of the state, Tunku also had to determine thepolitical autonomy in various sectors. This was very essential in economic sector as Malaya andthen Malaysia was very much still playing in to the needs of the former colonial economy plans.As the first five year economic plan of Malaya was laid by the British administration in 1955, itconsisted was very much in a shape to safeguard the interest of the British in Malaya at that time. In economic matters, Malaya paid great attention to getting protection and fair price forthose primary commodities, rubber and tin which financed Malaya‟s prosperity, those growths is5 Vincent K.Pollard, ASA and ASEAN,1961-1967:Southeast Asian Regionalism, Asian Survey, Vol. 10, No.3 (March1970), p246.6 Dato’Abdullah Ahmad, Tengku Abdul Rahman and Malaysia’s Foreign Policy. p.150
  6. 6. always subject to world market fluctuation beyond its control. As a result, in economic relationsMalaya did not distinguish between a communist country and non-communist country althoughit was primarily an anti-communist administration. Trade has always been a main Malayannational interest. Previously Great Britain and the west monopolized trade with Malaya. Afterindependence, trade relations with east, mainly Japan have been increasingly important. As quoted from J.Saravanamuttu; exports of Malayan commodities was 18.5% to GreatBritain and only 9.4% to Japan in 1958, but this changed to 8.3% export to Great Britain and astaggering 14.7% to Japan in 19638. This was an increase of about 5% in export to Japan and atthe same time a reduction of about 10% in export to Great Britain, which very much shows thechange in national interest from a western dependent states changing sides to safeguard itsinterests. This continued very much till 1967, ten years after independence Malaysia, wasstruggling to release itself. The Finance Minister then, Tun Tan Siew Sin commenced hiseconomic review of the year 1967 by stating that “the general slackening of economic activity inthe major industrial countries and hence in the growth of the world trade in 1967…adverselyaffected the performance of the Malaysian economy during the past year.9” Malaya and Malaysia later had an economy predominantly based in exporting rawmaterials as is frequently pointed out, during the colonial period the home countries were8 J.Saravanamuttu, ‘The Dilemma of Independence – Two Decades of Malaysian Foreign Policy 1957-1977’(Penang:Malaysia, 1983) p.32-359 Finance Minister Tan’s economic review of 1967 can be found in Warta Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur: Federation ofMalaysia, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) Vol.IV, No.4, pp.4-5, 7.
  7. 7. interested in their colonies primarily as source of raw materials. Therefore the economicdevelopment that occurred in the colonies was almost exclusively in the raw materials sector.10TUN RAZAK (1970-1976) Tun Abdul Razak took the premiership in as an end to a very long power transitionprocess. Following the May 13th incident in 1969, Tun Abdul Razak became the director of theNational Operation Council in 1969, disbanding the parliament. Tun Razak was made primeminister after three years in 1971. Malaysia during Tun Razak was also a country that was just through confrontation thathad to reassure to its neighbors on its existence. Malaysia was still having a national interest thatemphasizes security and solidarity. The sense of security provided by the former colonialthrough AMDA was coming to an end when Britain announced its intentions to begin animmediate reduction of its military forces in Malaysia and Singapore as a part of overallretrenchment of British power east of Suez11. Malaysia had to seek a different assistance that waswhen immediately after ousting of AMDA, FPDA – The Five Power Defense Agreement wassigned between, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia. The national interest that can be related to the period of Tun‟s premiership is theeconomic development and prosperity. To full fill this national interest, Tun rearrangedMalaysian foreign policy from pro-western to non-aligned, from anti-communist to neutrality in10 Joseph W. Dodd. the Colonial Economy 1967: The Case of Malaysia. (Asian Survey,1969) Vol.9, No.6, p.439.11 Marvin Ott, Malaysia the search of solidarity and security,” Asian Survey, Vol.8, No.2, A Survey Of Asian In 1967:Part II (Feb 1968), p.130
  8. 8. ASEAN. The non-aligned stance of foreign policy during Tun, he believed that “…Malaysianconservatism and over-dependence upon alignment with the western democracies no longeradequately served the national needs”12 However, this doesn‟t mean Malaysia distance itself from western countries but itselffrom western countries. Malaysia opted to open its prospects of relations to countries withoutany country that wished to establish diplomatic relations with Malaysia. As an example, thispolicy lead to the opening of relationship with the people‟s republic of China in may 1974, toestablish formal diplomatic relationship. This same principal was applied to all other statesregardless of their ideology. Malaysia to emphasize this commitment in being a non-aligned state did also join theNon-Aligned Movement in 1970 at the Lusaka Summit. In this summit also Malaysia proposedthe neutralization of South East Asia as a region. This was driven by the environment of coldwar, Tun wanted to keep South East Asia out of it to maintain peace and stability. By doing so, Tun created the ASEAN Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality(ZOPFAN). From Malaysia‟s perspective, involvement of superpowers in internal affairs as suchthat was going on in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, where the United States, Soviet Unionand China participated vigorously created major conflict. To make this possible, five countriesopted to sign the Kuala Lumpur Declaration in 1971.12 Paridah Abdul Samad. (2001). Tun Abdul Razak. A Phenomenon in Malaysian politics. A political biography. KualaLumpur: Partison Publication. p.129.
  9. 9. TUN HUSSEIN ONN (1976-1980) Tun Hussein Onn took over as the Prime Minister in early January 1976, after the suddendeath of Tun Razak in London13. Malaysia faced a first succession crisis during this period,which was also followed by various other conflicts of interest and diplomatic corner stone‟sduring the short premiership of Tun Hussein Onn. National interest of Malaysia at this point of time changed due to the various externalchanges and internal turbulence. At this period of time Malaysia witnessed the peak of Cold Warand the closest Malaysia got to the direct events of Cold War and Proxy War. The major events being mentioned is the Vietnam War. This war involved major blocksinvolving United States, China and the Soviet Union. This war created insecurity in the regionand in Malaysia in particular. By the signing of Soviet-Vietnamese Friendship Treaty in November 1978, and the invasion of Kampuchea a month later the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) was now regarded as capable of aggression, of upsetting territorial integrity and of stimulating new big power military alignments.14 This shows particularly the events that challenged the very existences of neighboringstates of SRV. Following is the direct fear caused by the capabilities of SRV:13 Robert O. Tilman & Jo H Tilman (1977), 1976: A Year of Challenge, A Year of Change. Asian Survey, Vol.17, No.2,A Survey of Asia in 1976: Part 2 (Feb 1977). p.143.14 Hans H. Indorf (1980), Malaysia 1979: A Preoccupation With security. Asian Survey, Vol.20, No.2, A Survey of Asiain 1979: Part II (Feb.,1980), pp. 136.
  10. 10. Malaysia was disturbed to realize that the SRV offensive against Kampuchea was not directed against the Khmer Rouge army but at total occupation. Vietnam military potential exceeded that of any other Southeast Asian Country, or even a combination of them. Hot pursuit across the Thai border could affect Malaysia, and Vietnam’s acquisition of frigates and amphibious landing vessels broadens its geographic capabilities.15 This security concerns made Malaysia increase the military expenditure. These changesdid not solve any problem because, Tun Hussein was facing a new problem all of a sudden, the“boat people”. Human waves were landing on the east coast of Malaysia from the SRV,approximately 121,621 over a period of one year16. This influx caused serious internal problems,economically and ethnically. By mid-1979, the problem assumed a crisis proportions, and thethen deputy prime minister, Dr.Mahathir, made his famous statement, the forced expulsion of all“illegal immigrants”. Following this the Vietnamese government gave assurance of a reducedand better regulated exodus at the Geneva Conference. Consequently, Malaysia‟s intake has declined less than one hundred ethnicVietnamese per month. By Mid-November, more than 83,000 boat people had been resettled in22 countries, leaving 38,932 in Malaysia. The United States Continued to take about 3000refugees monthly.17 This issue was followed by the Cambodian situation, the Vietnamese occupation ofCambodia, brought to the second wave of Boat people. This was solved by the late Tun in adiplomatic way. At first Malaysia recognized the democratic government of Kampuchea underthe prime minister Pol Pot despite the enormity of his atrocities. Vietnamese armed intervention15 Ibid. 136.16 Ibid. 13617 Ibid,137
  11. 11. violated the principle of nonaggression and noninterference in the internal affairs of anindependent country. Defending the Pol Pot regime for a principle became an embarrassing taskbut was appreciated by the United Nations, which voted on November 15 for the withdrawal offoreign troops by a 91 to 21 vote, with 29 absentees18. This events slowly reduced the influx of Boat People into Malaysia, which eventuallydropped and left few to be sent back home by Malaysia. This concurrent events shapedMalaysian national interest of security and peace, also to be neutral from communist influence.Tun Hussein Onn‟s way of handling of the issue was nothing but professional. He kept Malaysiain a safe distance from the conflict but did not ignore the threat the situation imposed onMalaysia.CONCLUSION As a conclusion, Malaysian national interest in the first two decades of its existence wasto protect its sovereignty and generate economic strength. The first three premiers of Malaysiahad their own personalities that also contributed to this. Malaysia transformed from Pro-Westernto Neutral in 20 years that very much changed the policies and the nature of Malaysian view onmatters. The next two decades, along the premiership of Tun Mahathir Malaysia evolved verymuch based on the basics set by his predecessors, In terms of national interest and allies.18 Ibid,137
  12. 12. References:Dato‟ Abdullah Ahmad(1985). Tengku Abdul Rahman And Malaysia’s Foreign Policy 1963- 1970. Kuala Lumpur: Berita Harian Publishing Sdn. Bhd.Michelle Leifer(1974). The Foreign Relation of the State. Australia: VictoriaVincent K.Pollard(1970). ASA and ASEAN,1961-1967:Southeast Asian Regionalism. Asian Survey, Vol. 10, No.3, p246.J.Saravanamuttu (1983), „The Dilemma of Independence – Two Decades of Malaysian Foreign Policy 1957-1977‟, Penang: Malaysia, p.32-35Joseph W. Dodd (1969). The Colonial Economy 1967: The Case of Malaysia. Asian Survey, Vol.9, No.6, p.439.Marvin Ott (1968), Malaysia the search of solidarity and security,” Asian Survey, Vol.8, No.2, A Survey of Asian In 1967: Part II, p.130Paridah Abdul Samad. (2001). Tun Abdul Razak. A Phenomenon in Malaysian politics. A political biography. Kuala Lumpur: Partison Publication.Robert O. Tilman & Jo H Tilman (1977), 1976: A Year of Challenge, A Year of Change. Asian Survey, Vol.17, No.2, A Survey of Asia in 1976: Part 2. p.143.Hans H. Indorf (1980), Malaysia 1979: A Preoccupation With security. Asian Survey, Vol.20, No.2, A Survey of Asia in 1979: Part II, pp. 136.
  13. 13. Finance Minister Tan‟s economic review of 1967 can be found in Warta Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur: Federation of Malaysia, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) Vol. IV, No.4, pp.4-5, 7.