Salleh Said Keruak
History has shown that most wars occur between neighbours. And if Malaysia were to ever go to war it would be with one of its ASEAN neighbours. And that was the reason why Tunku Abdul Rahman mooted the idea of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was launched almost 50 years ago on 8th August 1967.
Tun Ghazali Shafie -- who served as Malaysia’s Foreign Minister from 1981 to 1984 and played a crucial role in trying to end the conflict in Cambodia -- once said it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war. In other words, as long as we continue talking we shall not fight. And this is what diplomacy and foreign relations is all about.
Unfortunately, Malaysia has been quite antagonistic and confrontational in its foreign relations back in the 1980s and 1990s and this was not in line with the country’s leading role in ASEAN. In fact, Malaysia also demonstrated the same antagonistic and confrontational stance with the western countries such as the UK, US and Australia.
Under Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s watch, however, all this has changed, which even attracted criticism that Najib is too friendly and too accommodating to Singapore. Najib’s keynote address at the Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management (CAPAM) 2016 biennial conference today probably best describes his foreign policy when he said:
“Malaysians are warm, approachable and collaboration-orientated people; for decades we had a leader who adopted intentionally confrontational foreign policy positions, perhaps for personal popularity. But when I became prime minister, I chose to be different, and make a clear break with past approaches. Because I believe Malaysia’s foreign policy should be about building partnerships that benefit the country and the people.”