By Salahuddin Hisham
November 24 2017
MYANMAR and Bangladesh signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the Rohingya issue. In two to three weeks, the Rohingya refugees could be sent back to the Rakhine state in Myanmar.
And, Malaysia is monitoring the development closely.
In one of the plenary sessions at the recent 31st ASEAN Summit and related summits held in Manila last week, the Rohingya humanitarian crisis was raised and Myanmar specifically addressed the issues raised.
They are in the process of attending to the Kofi Annan report and welcome humanitarian assistance.
Aung Sang Suu Kyi took the opportunity to seek help from the Philippines Red Cross to deploy humanitarian workers and volunteers to conflict-torn Rakhine state.
The international media reported that the Rohingya issue was not on the summit agenda but there was significant progress made.
US President Donald Trump and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte made sure it was in their joint statement to mention Myanmar’s vow to end violence.
It was only months ago that ASEAN was reluctant to support Malaysia’s stance on Rohingya. This progress underscores Malaysia’s humanitarian effort through diplomacy to address this human tragedy ignored by the world.
It would have continued to sacrifice more victims and human lives had Malaysia abided by the same non-interference with domestic affairs of other member states – that led Suu Kyi to endure house arrest by the military for years.
Without pursuing a fruitless attempt to persuade ASEAN into understanding that the Myanmar crisis is beyond interference in domestic politics of other member states but a humanitarian tragedy, Foreign Minister Datuk Anifah Aman took the issue to another level.
He got the undivided support of human rights conscious European Union countries and even Russia.
The personal friendship built by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak with Trump managed to convince the US to support Malaysia’s struggle on Rohingya.
The four person private meeting between Trump, Tillerson, Anifah and Najib at the White House was an endorsement to Malaysia for taking the issue to the United Nations. It has culminated with the US State Department issuing a statement to classify the Rohingya crisis as ethnic cleansing.
The Organisation of Islamic (OIC) nations initially gave tacit support due to concern for the presence of ISIS. Furthermore, some member nations with their own neighbourly disputes were reluctant to take up new challenges.
The US position firmed up their position on the Rohingya crisis.
Non-committed China that considered Myanmar as a strategic buffer state retreated from its initial reluctance to support the effort of Malaysia. China appreciated a politically stable Myanmar for access to the Bay of Bengal and deposits of oils and minerals. .
China’s willingness to support Malaysia’s initiative on the Rohingya crisis could partly be attributed to the Foreign Minister’s ability to bring both China and US to the negotiating table to discuss the peace and security in the region.
There was another major landmark to get both US and China to agree to discuss the Code of Conduct (CoC) in the South China Seas next year.
The implementation of the CoC was agreed by China and ASEAN at the summit. It serves to ensure peace and stability as well as the freedom to navigation and aviation on the South China Sea.
Anifah, neither gloated the success of his ministry nor propped up his boss. It is not his nature to do so.
The achievement speaks for itself.
The prestige and reputation of such achievement are beneficial to Malaysia in terms of relaxation and agreements with other nations on Bilateral Agreements, Free Trade Agreements and investment and trade.
This underscores the need for the right leadership to meet the different social, economic, political and global landscape of the time.
Changing leadership to return to a more inward looking, autocratic and non-engaging past leader will not fit with the current expectation of the new generation and dynamics of the time. Saddled with a past baggage, it could only be disastrous than beneficial.
Malaysia needs more friends than enemies, open up than be a recluse state, and conforming to international standards and norms than “juara kampong” (village champion) in order to make another quantum leap in nation building.
Being the noisy irritant on the superpowers proves popular to domestic voters in the past, but it is ineffective. Malaysia is a small nation and not a major superpower. It is in no capacity to impose its will on other nations.
Thus it is more fruitful to befriend and engage all parties. More important to have clear, rationale and convincing position on its domestic and foreign policies that is acceptable to its counterparts. .
The country has more to gain through diplomacy and getting the acknowledgement of other nations than trying to be a self-proclaimed glorified hero of the third world with nothing to offer.
In a generally peaceful world with few on-going wars and any military encounter is short and swift, Malaysia is on the right track on the international front.
Business gets done with friends than strangers.
Malaysia needs friends to help transform the economy from its dependence on agriculture, manufacturing and production-based economic activities to the services sector in tourism, logistics, transportations, finance, etc.
The international relations built with other countries should be harnessed to participate in the new economic powerhouses to emerge in Asia, strategic involvement with China’s One Belt, One Road master plan, investment in new rising economies in South East Asia, and tie-ups with Middle East countries for strategic global investment.
Malaysia has to live up to the reality that domestic economic activities are insufficient to elevate the whole country into a developed nation.
Its future lies in acknowledging the new global landscape and be a part of the community of nations.