Maintaining Multicultural Harmony in Challenging Geopolitical Times
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Maintaining Multicultural Harmony in Challenging Geopolitical Times


Malaysia is a successful, middle-income, post-colonial state formed after 1957 from the former British colonies in peninsular Malaya and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, separated by the South China Sea. Malaysia borders Thailand in the North and Singapore and Indonesia in the South and East. It is located right in the middle of the US-China-India rivalry along the strategic choke point of the Strait of Malacca. Together with Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia, it is a founding member of the region’s most important multilateral arrangement, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

MADANI, or ‘civil Malaysia’, is the current official governing policy. After a series of bitterly contested elections since 2018, which saw the collapse of the Union of Malay National Organization (UMNO) long domination of Malaysian politics, the current ruling coalition seeks to build a new political consensus based on good governance, sustainable development, and racial harmony.

With an ethnic composition comprised of a majority of Muslim Malays and a significant minority of Chinese, Indian, and Eurasian communities, as well as ethnic Dayak, Kadazan, and Iban Christian minorities in West Malaysia, the federation is a delicate confection of four major Eurasian civilizations. The relations between these civilizations in the outside world will impact the relations between these groups in Malaysia itself. How will the Malaysian model perform in an era of religious and ethnic-oriented conflict? Since the 1980s and the era of rapid Asian growth, Malaysia has emerged as a resource-rich Asian tiger economy. Despite several financial crises since 1998 and the 1MDB corruption scandal that engulfed the ruling Najib government after 2013, Malaysia’s economy and standard of living have reached that of the V4 countries. How did it achieve this rise? And what combination of policies can sustain its growth moving forward in a region confronted by its close economic ties with a rising China and its security links with both the US, UK, and Australia?

APLN member Cheng-Chwee Kuik examines the geopolitical role of Malaysia in the Asia-Pacific region.

Watch the recording here.

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