The effects of the ASEAN non-interference principle in managing conflict : the Malaysian experience (1981-2003)

Othman, Muhammad Fuad

February 2012

Thesis or dissertation

© 2012 Muhammad Fuad Othman. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The aim of this thesis is to examine the effects of ASEAN’s non-interference principle towards managing conflicts, with special reference to Malaysia during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s premiership from 1981-2003. The core of the study focuses on the genesis of this principle, Malaysia’s understanding of the principle and the effects that this doctrine has towards managing inter and intrastate political and security conflicts. To elaborate on these focal points, five objectives are set in order to reveal the background behind the principle of non-interference, the effects that it had on Malaysia and the reasons why Malaysia should try to amend this principle for the betterment of the country specifically and for ASEAN as a whole. The results of this study reveal that Malaysia has been affected by the implementation of this principle; however, the complex composition of her citizenry and the embedded preferential treatment policy towards the Bumiputeras has stopped Malaysia from altering its support towards the principle in order to make Malaysia and ASEAN, as a whole, more relevant. Firstly, it is revealed that every country in ASEAN has their own reasons behind the embracement of this principle, which makes it difficult for them to change such their perceptions. The history behind the establishment of ASEAN and the nature of the Association itself means it is in the best interest of every member state that the principle should be protected. Secondly, many events have challenged this principle, thus giving the opportunity for member states to rethink their position towards their adherence to the principle. The Asian financial crisis, the Haze problem, the Myanmar factor, and intrastate conflicts in Thailand and the Philippines have asked considerable questions about the effectiveness of this principle in managing regional crises. Thirdly, it is discussed that Malaysia does not have an official interpretation of what constitutes non-interference, thus making it hard for the administration to act decisively and consistently. This has resulted in inconsistency in policy implementation, the inability to resolve regional conflicts and the humiliation that the administration faced as a result of inaction. Furthermore, the revelation that Anwar Ibrahim acted alone in proposing the amendments towards the principle explains Malaysia’s hesitance towards any modification of the principle. Fourthly, it is explained that Malaysia historically has been a major player in the region and contributed towards shaping and influencing ASEAN policy making. However, domestic politics and leadership style remain as ambiguous barriers to making a push toward altering the non-interference principle. Finally, the report card on managing regional conflicts, especially when it involves political and security issues, is of some concern, thus making it vital that this principle should be modified to suit today’s challenges. This study proposes a number of reforms to make Malaysia and ASEAN, as a whole, more relevant in facing regional challenges. It is hoped that the study will enlighten the public on the non-interference principle and create awareness and understanding of regional politics.

Department of Politics, The University of Hull
Kane, Thomas M., 1969-
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