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Unformatted text preview: Malaysia at 50: Malaysia’s Foreign Policy and the Commonwealth Revisited MUHAMMAD BEN MUDA Formerly with Malaysia’s Diplomatic Service, Currently with the Commonwealth Business Council, London ABSTRACT The Commonwealth has had a central place in Malaya’s foreign policy, especially in the period immediately after independence. This was, in part, due to its then current requirement for assistance with its external defence. In addition, there were no regional organizations in Southeast Asia whose purpose and objectives were centrally relevant to Malaysia’s experience and national goals. The later emergence of ASEAN, OIC, or other similar bodies, has led to some erosion of Malaysia’s profound attachment to the Commonwealth. This is not to suggest that Malaysia has entirely abandoned its support for the Commonwealth’s existence. Generally, nowadays it prefers to play a quiet and supporting role in the organization. But Malaysia’s leaders believe that the Commonwealth still has a role to play in helping to promote Malaysia’s foreign and economic policy objectives, even though it may be relegated to a fourth place in the list of international instrumentalities. KEY WORDS: Independence, Commonwealth, membership, foreign policy, Tunku, Razak, Mahathir, Britain, economy, CHOGM KL On 31 August 2007 Malaysia celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence, whilst simultaneously marking its uninterrupted membership of the Commonwealth. Malaya’s accession to Commonwealth membership in 1957 as a tenth member was coterminous with the country’s independence. The coincidence of the two anniversaries raises three relevant questions that may require some assessment: first, the main reasons that prompted Malaya to join the Commonwealth; secondly, to what extent was the Commonwealth, and perhaps still is, significant to Malaysia; and thirdly, to what extent has Malaysia used the organization to enhance the country’s foreign and economic policies. Beyond this, the article seeks to examine the extent to which Malaysia has cooperated with the Commonwealth Secretariat in the activities or programmes that have been agreed by the Heads of Government at their biennial meetings. Correspondence Address: Muhammad Ben Muda, 11 Strome House, 30 Carlton Vale, London NW6 5ER. Email: [email protected] The Round Table Vol. 97, No. 394, 121 – 135, February 2008 ISSN 0035-8533 Print/1474-029X Online/08/010121-15 Ó 2008 The Round Table Ltd DOI: 10.1080/00358530701844726 General Background A brief historical perspective about Malaya, and then Malaysia’s, membership may be helpful in understanding both her previous and future roles in the association. It should be made clear at the outset that the names ‘Malaya’ and ‘Malaysia’ are used interchangeably here. Malaya refers to the period from independence on 31 August 1957 until it was renamed the Federation of Malaysia, at which time it incorporated the former British colonies of Sabah and Sarawak, and Singapore, on 16 September...
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- Spring '08
- Commonwealth Secretariat, Commonwealth of Nations, Commonwealth