An Overview of Malaysia's Foreign Policy As an extension of domestic policy, foreign policy is designed with the purpose in mind of defending and promoting the country's national security, economic and other vital interests. Despite the diversity of views regarding the perception and explanation of foreign policy, no foreign policy can be formulated in a vacuum. It must serve to function in a dynamic environment. Malaysia's foreign policy is no exception. Various geographical, historical, social and political determinants contribute to shaping the nature of Malaysia's foreign policy and the conduct of the country's international relations. Added to this is the external environment, or what may be termed as the systemic determinant, which becomes increasingly important with the advent of globalisation and in the wake of the epoch of communication and information technology (ICT). But the basic objective remains the same, i.e. the pursuit of Malaysia's national interest at the international level. A critical examination of Malaysia's foreign policy since 1957 would show its steady evolution characterised by notable changes in emphasis, which took place with the change in Malaysia's political stewardship. A markedly anti-Communist and pro-western posture with close links to the Commonwealth under Tunku Abdul Rahman, our first Prime Minister, gave way to one based on non-alignment, neutralization and peaceful co-existence. Under Tun Abdul Razak, as a member of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), Malaysia began to identify itself as a "Muslim nation." The search for new friends substantially increased the importance of NAM to Malaysia. Investments from other than British sources began to be also welcomed. A period of consolidation ensued under Tun Hussein Onn with ASEAN becoming the cornerstone of Malaysia's foreign policy following the collapse of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in 1975, the withdrawal of the US military presence from Southeast Asia and the invasion of Kampuchea (now Cambodia) by Vietnam. But a more dramatic shift occurred when Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohammad took over as the fourth Prime Minister in 1981. Malaysia's foreign policy stance began to take a much greater economic orientation than ever before, coupled with a strong and nationalistic 1
defence of the rights, interests and aspirations of developing countries and the advocacy of south-south co-operation. Tun Dr. Mahathir's premiership saw the pursuit of numerous new initiatives: • Antarctica as the common heritage of mankind • the look east policy (LEP) • reverse investment • East Asia Economic Caucus (EAEC) • Group of 15 (G1S) - ASEAN Mekong Basin Development Cooperation • Islamic Unity; and • The championing of the cause of developing countries on major issues like environment, human rights, and democracy. The evolution of the country's foreign policy under successive prime ministers reflected a pragmatic response to the geopolitical and economic changes of their times. To be continually relevant to the country's needs, foreign policy cannot remain static. But whilst change has become a general feature of Malaysian foreign policy, continuity has also been evident. Both the change and continuity mark a higher level of confidence and maturing of the country in the conduct of its international affairs. Indeed, in many ways Malaysia's leadership role has been recognised on several issues of deep interest to the developing world. Malaysia's initiatives at various regional and international fora have put the country on the world map. Increased economic prosperity and political stability has in fact enabled Malaysia to carve its own niche in the international scene. Making our presence felt has allowed us to exercise some influence in setting the international agenda. Being less dependent on foreign aid and assistance, Malaysia has been able to speak up on issues that other developing countries feel constrained to voice for fear of retribution by...
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