Malaysia’s Foreign Policy: Where Malaysia Stands and What It Means


Photo source:

Habibah Hermanadi, Intern staff ASEAN Studies Center UGM

In 2012, The Edge Malaysia published a concise explanation regarding Malaysia’s position and how it sees ASEAN.  It stated that ASEAN has never been the cornerstone of Malaysia’s foreign policy and he emphasized on the fact that the condition will not likely to be altered anytime soon. Malaysia’s foreign policy will aim for her own national goals which is becoming a developed country; the agenda included the need of cohesive nation, constructing a strong, effective, transparent and accountable state that is responsive to her citizens, transforming the economy into a human capital intensive, deepening the democratic form of government, high income one to achieve global competitiveness and recognition (Alagappa, 2012). Lastly, Malaysia opted to ensure national security and regional stability, and only from that factor Malaysia took the existence of ASEAN into account. Was the analysis proven right that there will be not much of alteration by the Malaysian government regarding its position for the ASEAN?

According to the latest publication by the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia had shifted its vision and as a state it has explicitly accepted ASEAN as the cornerstone of her foreign policy. It mentioned the urgency for Malaysia as Malaysia is one of the founding members of ASEAN, therefore the foreign policy of Malaysia continues to emphasize on the relevance and importance of ASEAN as the forum and catalyst for regional dialogue.  The principality of Malaysian foreign policy had been divided into specified pillars, mainly it includes in maintaining peaceful relations with all countries regardless of its ideology and political system; adopting an independent, non-aligned, and principled stance in regional and international diplomatic affairs; forging close relations and economic partnerships with all nations, particularly with ASEAN and other regional friends; promoting peace and stability in the region through capacity building and conflict resolution measures; playing an influential leadership role as Chair of the ASEAN, Non-aligned Movement (NAM) and Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC); participating actively and meaningfully in the United Nations, especially in the efforts to end injustice and oppression, and to uphold international law; and lastly projecting Malaysia as a leading example of a tolerant and progressive Islamic nation (Ministry of Foreign Affairs Malaysia, 2016).

Malaysia’s Pragmatism

According to the given principals of Malaysia’s foreign policy, it reflected the pragmatic way of shaping its foreign policy in order to gain Malaysia’s best interest. As Datuk Seri Anifah Aman mentioned on the dynamic of Malaysia’s foreign policy that the status quo requires Malaysia to implement its foreign policy initiatives and make it a realization in order to remain relevant and necessary in response to changing regional dynamics and the ‘recessionary global economy’,  Anifah said that this will enable the country to continue building on its good relations with strategic partners and to have more focused relations with key countries (Divakaran, 2016). To assure its chairmanship role in ASEAN, Malaysia has also been promoting the idea of strengthening ASEAN’s internal institutions, particularly by the ASEAN Secretariat.  Moreover, Malaysia has launched the idea of AEC 2025, which builds upon ASEAN’s earlier idea of a ‘single market and production base’ extending it further to include sustainable economic development (Das, 2015). However, the chairmanship failed to meet its expected target of further negotiation on the status of South China Sea, Malaysia was expecting to gain statements on the South China Sea during its April Summit and ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in August, yet they could not secure a joint declaration for the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting in November. Nonetheless the failure of joint declaration could not solemnly be pinpointed on Malaysia’s chairmanship but also on the mechanism of ASEAN itself, the ASEAN Dispute Settlement Mechanism has been claimed as slow and redundant since it is subject to parties’ consent on such measures; an opposed party can thus prevent the ASEAN High Council from being formed (Nguyen, 2015).


As a state Malaysia’s foreign policy really portrayed the domestics’ tendencies in Malaysia, starting from the pragmatic approach of foreign policy pairing it up with economic preferences in fostering economic environment for the other ASEAN member states as how the agenda will be fruitful for Malaysia and furthering ASEAN economic integration. Although due to this blunt tendency and its current chairmanship position it is only fair to question where Malaysia will position itself in between the Trans Pacific Partnership and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, its back and forth reaction signaled others that Malaysia wanted the best of both world Malaysia’s, considering that Malaysia’s membership in the TPP does not imply that she is shifting away from China and moving closer to the United States. Much like Singapore, Malaysia will spread both its wings, courting the United States and China; extending concessions to both in equal measure or as opportunities arise, regardless of their source (Nambiar, 2016). Where does Malaysia stand now cannot be easily defined, as we can see Malaysia stands for itself, despite of its current Chairmanship Malaysia is utilizing its position to gain what is needed for the country. Moreover, Malaysia juggles over the influence of superpowers out of its strategic means. Future steps are being observed by many, as Malaysia is heading either the TPP or RCEP and her decision will affect the dynamic of the region.



Alagappa, M. (2016, November 19). Is ASEAN Malaysia’s Cornerstone of Foreign Policy? The Edge Malaysia. Retrieved April 26, 2016, from <>


Das, S. (2015, December 5). Evaluating Malaysia’s ASEAN chairmanship. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from <>


Divakaran, P. (2016, January 07). Anifah defends Malaysia’s foreign policy record. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from <>


Nambiar, S. (2016, February 13). Is the TPP really a leap forward for Malaysia? Sun Daily.


Nguyen, C. (2015, November 21). ASEAN’s uncertain stance in the South China Sea. Retrieved

April 25, 2016, from <>


Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia. (2016). Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia – Objectives. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from <>