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Malaysia - Foreign Relations

Malaysian foreign relations have been influenced by diverse factors, such as anticommunism, anticolonialism, opposition to racial discrimination, nonalignment, regional cooperation, and critical dependence on free trade. These factors have dictated the cultivation of friendly relations with all countries irrespective of ideological and political differences. Pragmatism and flexibility remain essential to the formulation and execution of foreign policy.

During the Cold War, Malaysia’s foreign policy was directed toward defeating domestic insurgency and constraining international communism. Since the defeat of the insurgency in 1989 and the later decline of socialist governments, Malaysia’s foreign relations have been largely characterized by economic and trade issues and by its domestic treatment of immigrants. Relations with many Asian countries have improved as a result of growing trade, but Chinese, Indonesian, and Philippine authorities have expressed concern about official and societal treatment of fellow ethnics within Malaysia.

Jeffrey A. Bader and Douglas H. Paal note that "Mahathir, opposition to perceived residual Western colonialism was a rallying cry and a frequent and increasingly anachronistic theme. His successor, Abdullah Badawi, was less shrill but did not move significantly away from Mahathir's policies. Najib has fundamentally repositioned Malaysia internationally. He has moved away from the old UMNO policy seeking to divide Asia from the United States and has seen the United States as an important partner for Malaysia and ASEAN."

The United States regards Malaysia as having undertaken important steps against terrorism, such as creating a counterterrorism training center, but Malaysian authorities have been upset by the U.S. listing of Malaysia as a “terror-risk” country. Relations with the Philippines also have been strained over allegations that members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a Filipino insurgent group, have commandeered parts of Borneo as a haven. Relations with Brunei and Singapore have been tense because of disputed territorial claims that involve commercial and natural resource interests.

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, the 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 defence of the rights, interests and aspirations of developing countries and the advocacy of south-south co-operation.

Regional cooperation is a cornerstone of Malaysia's foreign policy. It was a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and served as the group's chair most recently in 2005-2006. It hosted the ASEAN Summit and East Asia Summit in December 2005, as well as the ASEAN Ministerial and the ASEAN Regional Forum in July 2006. Malaysia is an active member of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and the United Nations. It was chair of the OIC until March 2008 and has also chaired the NAM. Malaysia is a frequent contributor to UN and other peacekeeping and stabilization missions, including recent deployments to Lebanon, Timor-Leste, Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, and Kosovo.

Separatist violence in Thailand's predominantly Muslim southern provinces prompted measures to close and monitor border with Malaysia to stem terrorist activities. The Philippines retains a dormant claim to Malaysia's Sabah State in northern Borneo. Brunei and Malaysia agreed in September 2008 to resolve their offshore and deepwater seabed dispute, resume hydrocarbon exploration and renounce any territorial claims on land. Piracy remains a problem in the Malacca Strait.

Malaysia is a member of numerous international organizations including the Asian Development Bank; Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation; Association of South East Asian Nations; Bank for International Settlements; Colombo Plan; Commonwealth; East Asia Summit; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Group of 15; Group of 77; International Atomic Energy Agency; International Bank for Reconstruction and Development; International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes; International Chamber of Commerce; International Civil Aviation Organization; International Confederation of Free Trade Unions; International Criminal Police Organization; International Development Association; International Development Bank; International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; International Finance Corporation; International Fund for Agricultural Development; International Hydrographic Organization; International Labour Organization; International Maritime Organization; International Monetary Fund; International Olympic Committee; International Organization for Standardization; International Telecommunication Union; Inter-Parliamentary Union; Multilateral Investment Guarantee Association; Nonaligned Movement; Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; Organization of the Islamic Conference; Permanent Court of Arbitration; United Nations (UN); UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; UN Industrial Development Organization; Universal Postal Union; World Bank; World Confederation of Labor; World Customs Organization; World Federation of Trade Unions; World Health Organization; World Intellectual Property Organization; World Meteorological Organization; World Tourism Organization; and World Trade Organization.

Malaysia is a signatory to numerous international treaties including the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal; Chemical Weapons Convention; Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (signed but not ratified as of July 2006); Convention on Biological Diversity; Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas; Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; Convention on the Rights of the Child; Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat; Geneva Protocol; International Tropical Timber Agreement 1983; International Tropical Timber Agreement 1994; Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone layer; Protocol of 1978 Relating to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973; Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water; Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification; United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea; and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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Page last modified: 24-11-2017 18:56:21 ZULU