Malaysiakini Letter

World order: Interest and priorities of Malaysia

Rais Hussin  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | Contrary to what some may believe, world order, does exist, albeit, in sheer imperfection.

It is important to understand the imperfection, in order to comprehend the reason for its imperfection.

Only then sound arguments can be constructed or new alliances built, to stop the persistence of the imperfection. Take the Malaysian democratic uprising and euphoria on May 9, 2018, for example.

The root causes were the unbridled greed of Umno, and their monumental indifference to the plight of the people.

What has hitherto been a system that can help the people has become a hindrance itself.

Had the Umno/BN status quo been maintained, the kleptocratic excesses of the office holders would have induced the collapse of Malaysia, as reported in the recent issue of Foreign Policy.

Same goes for the international system. Without an understanding of the imperfection, one cannot grapple with the weaknesses at hand.

The "super elites" have built a system of entitlement that makes them difficult to dislodge both economically and politically.

This is why from time to time, when global leaders meet, either to agree or agree to disagree at the meetings of G7, Malaysia should take note of these decisions.

Even more importantly, we should be mindful of the rises in the interest rates of the US Federal Reserve Bank or the decision of the European Central Bank (ECB) to phase out the bond purchases that was originally
meant to aid the recovery of countries like Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain.

The reduction in the acquisition of new bonds implies that ECB is taking a huge risk in Europe, even though the region's wide growth rate across all 27 member states is still only hovering at two percent and less. If Malaysia wants to sell more palm oil to European Union, it has to be mindful of its potential ban too, though it was only recently lifted.

These are issues that the Foreign Ministry have to work with, in order to improve our inter-agency coordination.

Not forgetting, when President Donald Trump withdraws the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Point of Agreement (JCPOA) with Iran, only to sign another denuclearisation agreement with North Korea on June 12, despite not including any verification mechanisms, one has to wonder if the world order is still functional
or subject to the whims of one man at this stage. Again this is another variable to take into consideration.

Knowing who, and how to work with, in the world order, potentially all at the same time, or not at all, defines the essence of statecraft.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed, for example, has affirmed that he doesn't know how to work with Trump who kept changing his mind.

But, elsewhere, Mahathir has also emphasised the importance of retrieving the funds allegedly stolen from 1MDB in the US, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore, British Virgin Island and Luxembourg.

Thus, there is a strategic plan in the works to work within the international legal system, perhaps through the Attorney-General's Chambers first. The Foreign Ministry need to keep up with such measures under Pakatan
Harapan administration.

Be that as it may, the world order is imperfect if one looks at it from the standpoint of change: there is very little if at all since 1945.

For example, the permanent member states in United Nations remain five. Each state wields a veto to cancel out any decisions unfavourable to them. There is no systemic change at all. Guided democracy, perhaps.

Thus, the US, UK, China, France and Russia are the kingpins that sit astride the top of the international system.

Malaysia is only as important as how Putrajaya understands its own geopolitical and geo-economic weight. How does this self-introspection begin?

A good place to start is our strategic geography, which makes it six hours by flight within all of the leading capitals of Asia.

Be it Jakarta, Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo, or New Delhi, Malaysia can reach these places almost in a flash, which makes for easier clarification of any confusion or the need for any strategic coordination.

But there are other issues at work. Since Malaysia is the only member state in Asean that is the littoral state of the Straits of Malacca and a claimant to parts of the South China Sea, the maritime interest of the
permanent five, indeed, the world, are entwined with Malaysia.

When freedom of navigation exercises or naval operations are conducted in this theatre, Malaysia must consider joining on a case to case basis, with prior coordination with the Defence Ministry too.

Asean will remain important to Malaysia

Nevertheless, geography alone cannot explain the strategic priorities of Malaysia to the permanent five in the UN and beyond. Other issues are vital given that we are a trading state as well, not just a budding

Thus, the matrix of Malaysia's trade relationship with Asean and the world have to be taken into consideration.

As things stand, the intra-regional trade of the member states of the Asean remains at 25 percent, about three times lower than the intra-regional trade of China, Japan and South Korea. Malaysia has to catch up
with the northern part of East Asia.

However, as the population of these three countries are greying fast, the centrality of Malaysia in Asean cannot be denied, as more and more businesses embedded in China, Japan and South Korea would have to expand
to Asean, which has a regional GDP growth that is twice the growth rates of the developed world, such as the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Asean will remain important to Malaysia, whether it be for the reason of peace, growth or both.

As the sixth largest GDP in the world - that is if all of the states' GDP are placed together - Asean is a centre of growth even if it may occasionally be threatened by radical extremism, as witnessed by the bombing
of Surabaya in Indonesia recently.

Thus, the flip side is simple too, unless a country is able to organise itself economically, socially and politically, no other countries can come to its rescue since the permanent five would be more absorbed by their own national affairs. Malaysia is duty bound to work closely with its neighbours. But the focus on the
great powers cannot be denied.

World order, of the strategic or economic varieties, involves constant intellectual application and hard work. They often intersect between economic, strategic and defence too. The Foreign Ministry has to be able to work with other ministries without fail.

Indeed, no one can take their eyes off world order. This is because if it has broken down before, some of the damages can be permanent. Consequently, this has become the fate of the Syrians, Palestinians and
Yemenis in the Middle East alone. We do not want to be in this league.

As an emerging region, of which Malaysia is a part of, the member states of Asean has to be sensitive to the fluctuations and perturbations in the world order.

Be that as it may, the likes of Hedley Bull, Stanley Hoffman and Gerrit Gong, all whom had written extensively on world order before, do agree that while the international system cannot redeem the fate of all people in the world, the UN, through the general assembly and security council, has provided soft and
hard laws to check the excesses of certain countries.

Thus biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear weapons (BCRN) cannot be used to pursue one's interest, no matter how compelling.

Over the last century, while duelling and slavery have been banned, according to John Mueller, the devastation of nuclear and conventional war, will also make them hard to launch, argued the political scientist at Ohio State University.

Yet Mueller's thesis is only plausible when one looks at great wars between major powers. These conflicts have stopped. But proxy wars remain. Malaysia should not be drawn into any proxy wars.

As things stand, a healthy world order, with a strong relationship with the five permanent members, in addition to the 14 non-permanent members of the security council, is still vital to us. Malaysia should work with Brazil, India, Japan, Germany, and Turkey to reform the international system too.

The 14 non-permanent member states sit in the security council for two years only, after which they would have to relinquish their seats, allowing other countries to take over.

They could, of course, reapply to be
future non-permanent members again subject to the majority of the UN general assembly.

The strength of our foreign policy rests with the ability to build the right alliances to pursue change at the bilateral and multilateral platforms.

Pivotal states like Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Turkey, Algeria, Egypt, India, Pakistan and South Africa all of which important to their respective regions - what Yale historian Paul Kennedy called region states, as their rise and fall affect the entire regions - must be rekindled.

Malaysia should work closely with them, period, even as it works closely with Asean, indeed, to make the East Asian Summit the marquee event in the region, if not the world.

RAIS HUSSIN is a supreme council member of Bersatu and heads its policy and strategy bureau.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of


Sign in

Welcome back,

Your subscription expires on

Your subscription will expire soon, kindly renew before

Your subscription is expired
  Click here to renew

You are not subscribed to any subscription package
  Click here to subscribe now

Any questions?
  Email: [email protected]
  Call: +603-777-00000