Malaysia's Role in Asian Regional Cooperation: A Look at Foreign Policy Themes
Blessed with a vastly diverse multiracial population comprising a plethora of divergent political views and religious aspirations, Malaysia's nation-building efforts have been a unique experiment. Since the colonial period, the country had to contend with three large and distinct ethnic groups, which largely, due to history, could be identified most closely by their role and place in Malaysia's society and economy. Upon gaining independence, this nascent polity was confronted with a colossal task - to unite the various ethnic groups in the country under a single national vision and a cohesive economic development strategy. Today, despite several shortcomings, Malaysia has hitherto been relatively successful in building a competent economic model based on a complex formula of multiracial unity in the country. Malaysia can be said to be one of the few countries that has been successful in balancing national imperatives with ethnic and religious realities. It is this understanding of and response to a uniquely pluralistic demographic landscape that has served as the underlying philosophy of Malaysia's foreign policy. The country's approach to building relationships in the region starts from a deep appreciation of the diverse ethnic, religious and cultural nature of Asian societies. Her many policies over the past fifty years aimed at strengthening ties with her Asian neighbors based on enlightened self-interest and mutual political, social and economic benefit. Her domestic experience in dealing with a multitude of Asian races and cultures enabled Malaysia to empathize with the challenges that Asian nations face. This allowed her to forge close cooperation with many Asian countries over the years. Overall, it would appear that Malaysia not only was able to achieve her national motto "Unity is Strength" within its borders but was able to work with her neighbors to attempt to achieve it internationally. This paper therefore seeks to analyze how Malaysia's outlook came about, how it manifested in her foreign policies and in the approach of her partners.