Malaysia’s maverick foreign policy
dissociated itself with Malaysia’s plan, given the growing religious intolerance in the country during the past years, but it did not do that.
However, despite ASEAN’S good intentions and intense efforts by Kuala Lumpur to promote moderate voices among various religions, the initiative has yet to take off. Social conditions in reality reflect a different reality. The truth is Najib’s Malaysia is a different country now. Everything has been politicised to fit in Najiv’s narratives to attain his continued dominance.
Therefore, when his Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman, told Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano that Malaysia wanted nothing to do with ASEAN’S statement on Rakhine, Cayetano dutifully accepted it, knowing full well that Kuala Lumpur’s diplomatic behaviour was very much linked to developments at home surrounding the popularity of the United Malays National Organisation. A general election is planned soon, and Najib is working hard to win votes among the bumiputera (indigenous Malays).
As ASEAN chair, the Philippines consulted extensively with other members before drafting a statement, which said “ASEAN is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in northern Rakhine State” and condemned the attacks against Myanmar security forces and acts of violence “that resulted in loss of civilian lives, destruction of homes and displacement of thousands.” It also expressed support for Myanmar’s government “in its effort to bring peace, stability, rule of law” to the area.
As long as the domestic situation continues, Malaysia will continue to do everything it can to shore up Najib’s popularity. His recent trip to the US was a perfect example.
Over 64 percent of ASEAN’S people are Muslim. In contrast with Malaysia, Indonesia, which is the world’s largest Muslim nation, has been moderate in maintaining ASEAN solidarity on this sensitive issue. Indonesia is a democratic country with a popular leader, so there is no need to court Muslim support.
Indeed, the Rakhine crisis also put lots of domestic pressure on Indonesian President Joko Widodo to do something drastic. That is why Jokowi dispatched Foreign Minister Ratno Marsudi on a diplomatic mission to coordinate ASEAN actions with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
It helps explain how Indonesia has shown leadership on this issue.