It's time to bring foreign policy closer to home and the masses

30 Dec 2021 02:07am
Volunteers from the Southern Volunteers group organising various types of contributions from 20 local companies worth RM400,000 for flood victims at the Sukma Secretariat Office in East Ledang.  (Source: Bernama)
Volunteers from the Southern Volunteers group organising various types of contributions from 20 local companies worth RM400,000 for flood victims at the Sukma Secretariat Office in East Ledang. (Source: Bernama)

"This the times' plague, when madmen lead the blind." This William Shakespeare's quote undoubtedly holds more reason to reflect on what is more needed, significantly when the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated existing discord and disillusionment upon a global economic recession, policy disruption and leadership crisis.

While in the word of the Minister Counsellor Permanent Mission of Malaysian to the United Nations (UN), "...pandemic has brought the world to its knees – a real-life example of the butterfly effect where small deviations can have big consequence".

It is, therefore, reasonable during his official launching speech of the Foreign Policy Framework for Malaysia's Foreign Policy in a Post-Pandemic World, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri reiterated the unchanged objectives of our foreign policy to remain pragmatic, independent, principled, and non-aligned.

The critical challenge remained in reinterpreting fundamentals of our foreign policy within the new norms of normalising people's livelihood and their everyday transboundary transactions.

Meanwhile, in justifying another foreign policy framework blueprint after the previous initiations of the New Malaysian Framework of Foreign Policy, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah convinced that the priority of health diplomacy is the key to unlock the right path in aligning diplomacy and managing expectations in overcoming the uncertainty of risk and opportunity for the coming years ahead.

Undoubtedly pandemic defining moment for everyday citizens to realise foreign policy as a viable pathway to reach a global solution in overcoming existing woes and searching for new opportunities. So far, response remained divided over the debate on measurements of success and tragedy of reengineering foreign policy during this extraordinary time.

Nonetheless, Wisma Putra, through the works of the Consultative Council on Foreign Relations, has identified eight main agendas as the immediate priorities and concerns, namely revitalising Malaysia's links to the global economy, health diplomacy, digital economy, cybersecurity, cultural diplomacy, peaceful coexistence, upholding multilateralism and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

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While having multiple blueprints in the short periods is attributed to the reality of frequent changes of the administration and leadership, the challenge is then the viability of the political and economically fatigued Malaysians to be convinced on their wellbeing are being prioritised.

Despite the devastating risk and threat of the pandemic, the estimate consequences of Covid-19 upon foreign policy remained unclear.

In their article "Why the COVID-19 response needs International Relations", renounced commentators like Sara E Davies and Clare Wanham linked fighting covid and the crucial reality in which 'government responds dictated by politics".

Thus, the pandemic is a retrospective moment to circumspect a right foreign policy decision.

Advancing IR knowledge and inclusive resolution in which public health stakeholders, front liners, and other critical salient actors is part of the foreign policy decision-making process.

In line with the growing Critical, Postcolonial and Feminist foreign policy critiques and calls of emancipation and the marginal placement of Malaysia's uncelebrated contributions in world politics, gone are the days where top-down diplomacy and foreign policy decisions are confined only by the Ivory Tower's mentality and insurance policy analogy of hedging yet unrealistic derivative assessments.

Perhaps Alatas's Captive Mind is a reminder that even after nearly 70 years of Merdeka and making our voice matter at the global stage, our efforts in bringing foreign policy to the broader masses are guarded by the old school and reluctancy that we are a prisoner of replicated foreign thoughts and without our indigeneity to dictate our relative autonomy and identity.

Interestingly, however, at the right timing in launching the new foreign policy blueprint, it was unfortunate when our country was dealing with the catastrophe from the flood and unexpected disaster in national humanitarian relief.

Despite every political corner’s support for UNDI-18, there is a more needed for actual work towards reaching youth and identifying their role in the foreign policymaking process of Malaysia.

Aside from that, we need to pay closer attention to overcoming the digital gap first for the country to escape from the challenge of the first-class infrastructure but third world mentality. Malaysian youth are diverse by backgrounds and opinions.

However, they are the vehicle in the development of the digital economy and more likely to facilitate the public outreach of the foreign policy and its special attention upon cultural, health, and digital diplomacy, as well as bring Malaysia's fundamental and priorities in more meaningful multilateral engagements and SDG realisation.

Moreover, the recent cascades of floods had enabled youth to be inclined to volunteerism rather than keen in learning more about foreign policy. For them, they are capable to learn faster about our country and foreign affairs through Twitter hashtags, YouTube vlogs, video viral and TikTok.

We must locate the soft spots to empower youth to learn about the recent foreign policy framework. But first, we need leaders and implementers close to the nation's heartbeat. After all, foreign policy begins at home.

Dr Muhammad Danial Azman is a Senior Lecturer in Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya and Visiting Consultant with International Relations Program, School of Management, Asia Pacific University, Malaysia. He is also a columnist at Sinar Daily.

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