Mahathir’s Malaysia: An Emerging Middle Power?
Malaysia is commonly considered a small country in international affairs. Certainly, all of the statistical indicators would suggest relative smallness: it currently has a population of just over 18 million people,1 and Kuala Lumpur is one of the smallest capital cities in Asia. Moreover, it has not been commonly thought of as one of the leading lights of the international community. In addition to this, the country has been beset by a number of thorny political problems. One has been the continuing though steadily diminishing threat posed by the armed Malayan Communist Party. The other is the deep ethnic divisions which have pitted the Malays, who have dominated the political life of the country, against the non-Malays (mostly Chinese-Malaysians and a smaller number of Indian-Malaysians) who have traditionally dominated the economic life of Malaysia.2 In its foreign policy, Malaysia had to deal with border disputes with each of its five neighbours in the three decades after it was formed in 1963. While these disputes were generally kept in check by the fact that all parties — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand in 1967 and Brunei in 1984 — became members of the increasingly successful Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), they were nonetheless a drain on Malaysia’s diplomatic capital. For these reasons successive Malaysian governments tended to be preoccupied with domestic issues and had little opportunity to play a role in international relations beyond the affairs of the immediate region.
KeywordsForeign Policy Earth Summit Malaysian Government Eastern Economic Review Middle Power
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