Malaysia’s international profile on the rise, one year on

By R. Ravichandran

KUALA LUMPUR, May 9 (Bernama) — As Malaysians marked the first anniversary of the historic victory which brought Pakatan Harapan (PH) to rule today, the PH-led government has successfully managed to raise Malaysia’s prestige and profile in the international arena.

Despite political and economic challenges on the domestic front in order to fulfil pledges made to the people, the Malaysian government under Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad continue to conduct its foreign policy and diplomacy actively without fear or favour, protecting the national interests while facing the changing geopolitical challenges.

According to Wisma Putra, under the present leadership of Dr Mahathir, Malaysia continues to promote a forward-looking and pragmatic foreign policy that facilitates trade, attracts foreign investment, and projects Malaysia as a stable and peaceful country.

Among key decisions made by the PH government was the withdrawal of Malaysian troops from Saudi Arabia last year. The troops stationed there since 2015 was to bring home Malaysians stranded in Yemen following the ongoing Yemeni Civil War.

The decision was important as Malaysia has reaffirmed its strong commitment to its non-interference policy, neutrality and non-alignment policy, and that Malaysian troops will only be sent for international mission through a request by the United Nations.

While there are Muslim-majority countries that have various level of ties with Israel, Malaysia under the PH government of Dr Mahathir has been consistent and strong in its policy by continuing to champion the Palestinian cause and have no diplomatic ties with Israel.

In that respect, Malaysia sacrificed the right to host the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships in Kuching after the country said it would not allow Israeli athletes to participate.

As before, ASEAN remains the cornerstone of Malaysia’s foreign policy. During this one year, Dr Mahathir visited several ASEAN countries; Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, as part of a series of familiarisation trips, underscoring the government’s desire to enhance bilateral cooperation in various areas of mutual benefit.

His visit to the Phillipines was seen as providing momentum to the referendum on the Bangsamoro Organic Law that was held on Jan 12 and Feb 6 and that Malaysia, as the facilitator of the peace process, is committed to the Mindanao Peace Process because Asean’s prosperity depends on its regional stability.

Dr Mahathir, in his visit to neighbouring Thailand, had promised that Kuala Lumpur, which is the facilitator in the peace talks between the Thai government and Majlis Syura Patani (MARA Patani), would provide whatever help it could to help end the violence in Thailand’s deep south.

Known for his criticism in the past against various aspects of the United Nations, Dr Mahathir again attracted global attention on the need to reform the United Nations (UN), especially the powerful UN Security Council (UNSC), when he again mentioned this at the 73rd UN General Assembly (UNGA) – after a 15-year absence from the world body.

An issue very close to Dr Mahathir and PH even before coming to power is the one regarding the Rohingyas. On this, Dr Mahathir condemned the Myanmar government for the massacre of Rohingya in Rakhine and stressed that Myanmar should have emulated Malaysia in accepting people of foreign origin after the latter became independent 61 years ago.

Malaysia has also managed to overcome bilateral issues with China and Singapore during the past year.

Within this one year, Dr Mahathir visited China twice, one of which was to attend the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) recently.

Meanwhile, Saifuddin said two main issues involving China – the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project and the Bandar Malaysia project – have been solved, marking a major achievement for the PH government.

And maturity prevailed on both sides in Malaysia-Singapore relations despite diplomatic tension and strong statements over the contentious airspace and maritime boundaries issues, as reflected in the Singapore – Johor Port limits and Instrument Landing System (ILS) for Seletar Airport issues which have been solved. Meanwhile, the bilateral maritime issues and price review for raw untreated water being sold to the island republic are on the negotiation table.

Dr Mahathir’s visit to Japan, an important trading partner, was also a boost to bilateral economic ties, as well as to Dr Mahathir’s Look East Policy. Dr Mahathir had said that Malaysia will continue the Look East Policy and further enhance it.

Meanwhile, South Korea and Malaysia have agreed to bring the Look East Policy and New Southern Policy in a harmonious way.

Malaysia again demonstrated to the world of its uncompromising position against any form of terrorism by strongly condemning the recent terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, including on churches as well as the terrorist attack aimed at Muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand in March.

Malaysia’s relations with the European Union (EU) was also given focus, more so with the issue of palm oil and the importance of trade, as indicated by the figure of RM175.08 billion total trade in 2017. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said her official visit to Brussels in October 2018 to attend the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit has been fruitful in boosting bilateral ties between Malaysia and the EU.

In the past year, there were several high-profile visits by foreign leaders and dignitaries to Malaysia, reflecting the new environment of bilateral ties between Malaysia and the rest of the world.

Among them were the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Hamad Al Thani, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Argentina Vice-President Marta Gabriela Michetti, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, and United States’ Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Dr Mahathir also visited Indonesia, China, Japan, Britain, Pakistan, Singapore, Austria, Senegal and Papua New Guinea for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit Conference.

His Indonesian visit was very important as Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta have agreed to jointly counter Europe’s negative campaign against the palm oil industry. Both Malaysia and Indonesia are the world’s two biggest palm oil producers.

In Senegal, for the third International Conference on the Emergence of Africa (ICEA-III) in January, Dr Mahathir, 93, had the distinction of being the only Asian head of government invited to take part in the conference.

Among the points raised by the prime minister was the importance of a stable government for development to take place, noting that political instability would hinder the process.

His visit to Britain reflected the continuity of the long-standing good relations between Malaysia, a former British colony, and the UK.

However, there was a hitch in the way Malaysia handled the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the Rome Statute issues, as it involves our image on the international arena.

At his speech at the 73rd UNGA in September 2018, Dr Mahathir said that Malaysia will ratify all remaining core UN instruments related to the protection of human rights. But in November 2018, the government announced that it will not ratify the ICERD, saying that it was taking public views into account before making a decision.

Malaysia signed the Rome Statute on March 4, 2019, and deposited it with the secretary general of the United Nations on the same day. On April 5, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced that Malaysia will withdraw from the Rome Statute of ICC following the confusion that arose politically and within the society.

Nevertheless, Saifuddin had said that Wisma Putra would be more careful regarding the way it communicates on important matters and policies.


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