In recent weeks Malaysia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Kamarudin Jaffar visited Tukey, Qatar and Iran to increase support in the Muslim world. While, The UAE announced it would invest $ 10 billion in the Indonesian sovereign wealth fund.
Such news is just the latest point of contact between these two countries of Southeast Asia and the Middle East. But what is the nature of these two countries’ relations with the region as a whole? What challenges do countries like Indonesia and Malaysia face when operating in an environment that has become increasingly chaotic and multipolar, especially in the decade since the 2011 Arab uprising?
Such questions are the focus of My latest peer-reviewed academic articles published last month. As mid-range powers, Indonesia and Malaysia have less active space than big powers like the United States, but more space for smaller states. Therefore, they have some freedom of maneuver, but will also find that there are limits to their choices. They had to juggle their responses, by enabling regional actors and keeping them where needed.
Pointing out the difficulties that medium powers face on the international stage are not new in themselves. Rather, it is relevant to the extent to which foreign policy and domestic issues are intertwined in the case of countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Although the Middle East often seems distant to Malaysians and Indonesians, the fact that its various developments and tensions have a strong impact on the politics, society and economy of the two Southeast countries. ASIAN.
In fact, the rivalry and conflict in the Middle East have long influenced Malaysia and Indonesia’s engagement with the region. Chief among them is the influence of Saudi Arabia. Economically, Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, are the two countries’ largest regional trading partner, and also a major investor (although Indonesia President Joko Widodo is disappointed didn’t make more money than he did on his Gulf tour in 2015).
In terms of religion, Saudi Arabia is a prominent destination for many Indonesians and Malaysian Muslim scholar train. Saudi Arabia is also a major sponsor and advocate of religious activities, projects and institutions of higher education in both. Indonesia and Malaysia.
Politically, Saudi influence has also been felt at the elite level. A corruption scandal was uncovered in 2015 when it was revealed that $ 700 million was transferred from state-owned development company 1MDB to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s private bank account – leading to convicted of a crime by the court year 2020. Najib claims that the money is a donation from the Saudi royal family to support Najib’s campaign two years earlier.
With Saudi Arabia’s strong presence in both countries, the Malaysian and Indonesian governments have come under pressure to follow Riyadh’s line in recent years. That includes support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen in 2015, a blockade of Qatar during the Gulf crisis from 2017 to early 2021, and their opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
When it comes to both Qatar and Iran, Malaysia and Indonesia are largely opposed to Saudi demands. However, in the case of Iran, they were unable to underestimate US pressure when then President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018 and reapplied sanctions. Of Indonesia Pertamina oil company withdrew its investment capital in 2018 when Malaysian banks started to close accounts belonging to the Iranians a year later.
Malaysia’s stance was also more contradictory to Yemen. Malaysian troops were dispatched to Saudi Arabia after 2015, but recalled in 2018 when the country’s first government without a United Malay National Organization (UMNO) was elected. The new government, which lasted until early 2020 and led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, also shut down the newly created Saudi-backed International Peace Center, King Salman. Mahathir holds summits of Muslim majority countries in Kuala Lumpur in December 2019, including leaders from Turkey, Qatar and Iran. The summit sparked criticism from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Saudi Arabia and the UAE to stay away.
Besides Saudi Arabia’s close cohesion, the most prominent regional development in the past decade has been the Syrian civil war. For both Malaysia and Indonesia, their ability to influence a change on the pitch is extremely limited. At the same time, however, the ability to lead intermediate power is entirely possible – as long as it acknowledges the limitations with which it can operate. After the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attack on the opposition in 2013, the Americans and Russians found themselves on opposite sides of the intervention. The then Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), capitalized on his country’s presence at the G-20 summit. to find an intermediate path escape the immediate crisis while focusing on what is possible, especially humanitarian assistance.
In addition to SBY’s limited diplomatic measure, Indonesia and Malaysia’s reactions to the war in Syria have focused more on curbing domestic counterattacks. Security-conscious political elites in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur have focused against the rise of Islamic extremism and the calls of jihadist groups like the Islamic State after 2014 to gain attract citizens to participate as foreign fighters in Syria or take action at home.
In response, the Malaysian and Indonesian governments have adopted different approaches to deal with the risk of radicalization. Overall, Malaysia has taken a top-down approach Terrorism Prevention Act 2015, which allows suspected terrorists to be detained for up to two years or more. In Indonesia, State action is complemented with activity of different agentsfrom security services to both local government and the two largest Muslim social movements in the country, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah.
In summary, the amalgamation of domestic and international factors related to Malaysia and Indonesia’s relations with the Middle East has resulted in a series of different state actions. Since 2011, the governments of the two countries have adopted both complementary and conflicting positions with different parties such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and the US in the region. Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta supported different players in the region, opposed them and stood out from them, sometimes happening at the same time. This has led to an orientation that international relations scholars call “accident insurance. “
Hedging is an approach that other intermediaries and Emerging powers like China have adopted it in the Middle East as well, before the chaotic situation in the region. But while hedging may be the most favored strategy right now, one big question remains: What will happen when the region begins to stabilize or external powers like the United States and China? begin impose a more bipolar “Cold War” on the region? Then, is the approach taken by mid-tier powers like Indonesia and Malaysia that have regional ties combined with domestic considerations?