Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Assessing Tunku's controversial foreign policy

Yesterday, I was invited to review two academic papers on the historical dimensions of Malaya/Malaysia-US bilateral relations presented in an international conference organised by the Malaysian Association for American Studies (MAAS) in Corus Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. The papers were presented by Georgetown University's history professor and ex-Malaysian Dr. Pamela Sodhy (far left) and University of Malaya's senior lecturer and head of the Department of International Studies Ms Ruhanas Harun (second from right) who previously taught me the post-graduate course of Politics of International Alliance in 2001/2002.

The main point I made in my critical review was that, during Tunku's time which coincided with the Cold War and the accelerating process of Afro-Asian de-colonization, while the policy-making elites were more or less pro-Western and even Anglophiliac, the domestic ground and civil society were anti-colonial and neutralist.

So, Tunku's acceptance of the 1957 Anglo-Malaya Defence Agreement (AMDA) which allowed foreign troops from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and other countries of the British Commonwealth to station and operate on the sovereign territory of supposedly independent Malaya was widely criticised and opposed for being neo-colonial and merdeka-setengah-masak by the combined forces of the non-Malay secular Left and progressive Malay nationalists as well as the then nascent Islamists.

Furthermore, Tunku's pro-West and Anglophiliac foreign and defence policies also alienated neutralist India and Indonesia as well as communist Soviet Union, China and North Vietnam.

As the result of the magnitude of the opposition on the ground, including from within UMNO, the Tunku was forced to avoid formally bringing Malaya/Malaysia into the US-sponsored South East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO) for fear of being isolated both domestically and regionally.

Foreign troops on our soil: the true history

Tunku Abdul Rahman — the pro-West ‘nationalist’

Opposition to Tunku’s pro-West foreign policies


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