Malaysia’s foreign policy in tandem with defence policy?

Azmi hassan 2It is quite common that when a new leadership is at the helm of an organisation, new ideas or how the outfit is govern will be introduced. It’s all part of the process to be more efficient or for a business entity how to generate more profit for the company. The same goes to ministers helming their respective ministries, not only new policies are introduced but the way how the ministries are run are also put forward.

Last week Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the helm of Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah introduced Malaysia’s new Foreign Policy Framework that act as the guidance not only for Wisma Putra but also the Pakatan Harapan government on Malaysia’s new foreign policy direction. When Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad launched the framework it raise eyebrows because it deals with Malaysia’s foreign policy. The obvious question is that will there be any drastic change in our foreign policy because the basic tenet of a government is that matters concerning foreign policy or defence for that matter rarely change its course even with change of government.

The development process of the framework has been thorough and comprehensive reviews and assessments as well as consultations with various stakeholders but it can be presumed that the review process is not as thorough compared to the development process of a white paper. But it is safe to say that any matters that relates to foreign policy will be surely be scrutinised not only by Malaysia’s closest neighbours but also globally.

But it need to be reiterated that the basic elements of our foreign policy do not differ to much as it should be in the first place. But the framework contained few differences in the way the country approaches certain foreign affairs issues. This makes sense as the prime minister said it’s only logical that Malaysia does not stick to the traditional methods of engagements and
instead proactively seeks to explore new approaches. The framework outlined three distinct approaches compared to the previous government strategy in handling the foreign policy matters.

But the more interesting part of the framework is that it touches on security matters and rightly so because foreign policy and security or defence policy goes hand in hand. It is therefore important that policies developed by the Foreign Affairs ministry do not contradict with policies practised by the Defence or Home Affairs ministry for example.

The framework did discussed the security aspect by touching on the South China Sea maritime dispute and also on cyber security. On South China Sea the framework reiterated that the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct (CoC) under the framework of ASEAN will be one of the top priorities for Malaysia. Rightly so because the discussion regarding CoC between Asean and China has been dragging for more than a decade.

Taking cue from one of the new foreign policy framework tenets is to uphold international law it can be safely assumed that our foreign policy regarding South China Sea vis-à-vis CoC must be based on the rule of the law, in this case the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The framework also advocates Dr. Mahathir stance on the non- militarisation of South China Sea.

There are two reasons why the South China Sea issue are intrigue. The first is that China as one of the main player of this issue is quite uneasy of UNCLOS being embedded in CoC. This is quite apparent in the meetings between Asean and China in finalizing the CoC framework. So it is interesting to see if Malaysia will be more vocal towards China in this particular issue.

The second reason is that the Defence White Paper which is supposed to be debated during the last parliament sitting is still not ready. And why this is important is due to the fact that the white paper will no doubt discussed in detail about the South China Sea dispute. It is interesting to see whether the Defence White Paper which is supposed to guide all ministries any issues that related to defence is in tandem with the new foreign policy frameworkN regarding the South China Sea especially matters related to CoC.