Tuesday, May 19, 2009

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Southeast Asia, a broad and completely diverse region, has been a zone of contrast which divided into a certain category of cultural influence. There are two implicit reasons as to why Southeast Asia could be described as a diverse region. This question shall be answer with a certain argumentation from the two schools of thoughts such as Marxist and Social-constructionist, which argued that the culture of Southeast Asia have been divided into two categories of influence. The first school of thoughts, Marxism described, The Southeast Asia has been influenced and culturally invented by the Colonialist. This argument could be traced back by looking to the cultural inherited by the Philippines through its colonializer, Spain. Eventually, the Philippines usually described as more “Latin” than “Asia”. The Marxist argued, that colonialization of a country in a certain period of time, does not depend solely on material gain of certain industry, nor does to propagate a specific religion, but it is gradually a process that will change the country’s cultural, similar to its master (Fanon 1967, Said 2003) . From the perspectives of social constructionist, the cultures of each society were invented according to its historical element, which was a primordial sentiment. For example, each society had their own tools of communication such as language, accent and customary value (Burr 1995). The Southeast Asia itself, have usually been considered as part of greater India during the ancient time, and this particular Indian cultural element have always reflected in a local customary as been practiced in Malay, Siamese and Indo-Chinese . From this argumentation, the customary value that they inherited and practiced in everyday, have been assimilated and considered as part of local culture. Thus, this explained how Southeast Asia been formed.

The historical perspectives has shown, that before the invasion of Colonialist to South East Asia region, most of the country in this region such as Siam, Malay Peninsula, Java, Sumatra, Indo-China and Philippines’s island have their own Government, which were based on the monarchy system. Nevertheless, as the invasion took place, the Southeast Asia region has been divided to the sphere of influence among the colonialist. However, by looking at it from different perspective, these forms of European rule were merely expressions of colonial power calibrated to suit different local conditions. Whether under direct or indirect rule, there were no questions that Malaya was a British colony, while Vietnam was under French’s rule and the Philippines subjugated to the United States of America. In contrast to these form of direct colonialism, Thailand on the other hand was never subjected to any colonial powers. However, Thailand monarchy was subjugated to intense colonial pressure from French and the British, as these powers expanded on both side of the Kingdom.

The aftermath of the Second World War, has given the opportunity for the self governing for the colonized countries, it could be prove through cooperation self government that has been established in Malaya under Tunku Abdul Rahman or independence country through revolution such as Indonesia under Sukarno. Meanwhile, the colonialist had to manage their own war cost, as the destruction had pushed the European government on the brink of economy deficit, the only solution to lighten their economic burden were to release their overseas colony. Moreover, the nationalist movement, driven by certain ideology had spread among colonized countries, the country like Indonesia, Malaya, Philippines, Burma, and Vietnam started to gave a political pressure to the colonialist. Furthermore, as the nationalist struggle started to give a pressure to the colonialist whether in a soft resistance or in a radical form, finally after one another the countries in Southeast Asia gained their independence from the European powers. This paper intention is not to discuss regarding the independence of Southeast Asia countries, nor does to debate the discourse about nationalist movement, however it will only trying to investigate the bilateral relationship between the founding members of ASEAN, Malaysia and Thailand in a context of conflict, resolutions and its future.


Malaysia and Thailand had long historical ties, whether in an element of social, politics and economy. The northern parts of Malaysia, a long time ago was under the sphere of Thailand influence. Moreover, according to the Malay annals, Siamese (the others name of Thailand) was one of the super powers in the Malays archipelago and this could be proven through an effort took by Parameswara to seek a help from China, in order to protect his Kingdom from the aggression of Siamese (Samad :1979). Nevertheless, in a modern period, Malaysia was one of close ally to Thailand and this could be seen through an effort taken by Thailand and Malaysia to a establishment of ASEAN as a regional block, it is not merely in a economic aspect, but also in the context of social and politics. On 27 November 1971, located in Kuala Lumpur, Thailand and Malaysia along with their others allies in ASEAN ratified the declaration of to establish The Zone of Peace, Freedom And Neutrality (ZOPFAN) as a reaction of ASEAN to avoid any ideology rivalry between U.S.A and U.S.S.R in the period of Cold War.
Hence, the Declaration of ZOPFAN had signified the first cooperation between Malaysia and Thailand in order to create a peace for common good in Southeast Asia in general and for a better bilateral relation in particular. The Malaysia-Thailand bilateral relationship could be analyzed from three level of analysis, first between governments to government, second through private sectors and the third is people to people.


Malaysia and Thailand government, as been observed had a strong bilateral relation particularly in the field of economy. From the statistics of Ministry Of International Trade And Industry for the year of 2008, it indicated that Thailand was the second largest trading partner for Malaysia in ASEAN and the fifth place in the international trade after Singapore, U.S.A, Japan and China (MATRADE 2008). Thailand’s exports to Malaysia can be observed through the chart below:

In the year of 2008, the total Malaysia’s exports increased to RM 663.51 billion and total Malaysia’s exports to these 10 destinations were indicated RM 474.05 billion, which were nearly 71% of total exports. Meanwhile, total Malaysia’s exports to Thailand summed RM 31.75 billion, which represented nearly 6.6% of total Malaysia’s exports with other countries (MATRADE 2008). Malaysia and Thailand respectively had a close economy relations within ASEAN members. From the statistics that have been provided by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Malaysia (MITI), Thailand was the second largest trading partner of Malaysia within ASEAN members. Malaysia’s exports to Thailand from January to December 2008 are 18.5% of total Malaysia’s exports to ASEAN, summed RM 171.2 billion. Thus, in an activity of imports, Thailand indicated as the second largest imports destination with 23.2% from total sum RM 126.4 billion, behind Singapore who indicated total 45.5% of Malaysia’s imports from ASEAN countries.
International politics, from the perspective of realist theory, have often explained the important of the state as the main actor of the global system. The realist scholar such as Morgenthau (1904-1980), had frequently analyzed how the global system in a state of anarchy and self reliance. From this assumption, the roles of the state as a main actor are necessary. Hence, if we analyze the situation between Malaysia-Thailand relations, the roles of the government as the main actor is very important, since the both government have often acting as an arbitrator to start the trade negotiation. Eventually, the roles of government to government could be seen through the trade and investment mission conducted by the Malaysia Ministry of International Trade and Industry to Thailand on 11-13 March 2001 (MITI : 2005). The mission that had lead by Malaysia’s Minister of International Trade and Industry, Y.B Dato Seri Rafidah Aziz with a objective to search for a trade and investment prospect in Thailand accompanied by 38 representatives from 38 Malaysian companies (MITI : 2005). According to the report prepared by MITI:

…“Addressing a seminar on Malaysia-Thailand Business Opportunities”, attended by more than 600 Thai participants, Minister Rafidah urged the private sector of the two countries to take advantage of the framework provided by the government of the two countries, as well as that provided by ASEAN to develop business relations between the two countries”.
(MITI: 2005)

From this explanation, it has been proven that the relations between Malaysia-Thailand in the level of government to government are often in a smooth circumstance. Moreover, in order to avoid any dispute regarding overlapping issue and territory, the government of both countries took one step further in a diplomatic relations with the establishment of Malaysia-Thailand Joint Authority (MTJA) in 1979. The reason to establish MTJA is to promote the spirit of friendship, mutual goodwill and cooperation in any effort to settle any dispute among two countries . There were many overlapping area located in the border between Thailand and Malaysia, particularly in the northern territory. Thus, certain area located offshore with approximately 7,250 square kilometers and claimed by the both countries. Hence, from the establishment of MTJA, the government of Malaysia and Thailand could negotiate to find any solution for any dispute. The establishment of MTJA, the relationship in the level of government to government could be seen through an effort taken by the both government to establish a sub-organization under MTJA, which called Joint Development Area (JDA) and with its function to handle every matter regarding to any offshore dispute such as petroleum, gas or any natural resources to be found in the area of under JDA supervision. Currently, MTJA and JDA located at Kuala Lumpur and governed by equal representatives from the Malaysia and Thailand.


The private sectors were the third pillar of democracy in a country, behind the government and the Non Governmental Organization (NGO). The importance of private sectors in inter-relations between the two governments is yet reflected in the theory of neo-liberal. The neo-liberalist, argued the importance of Multi National Corporations (MNC) as the representatives of their country (Kegley & Wittkopf : 1993). This argumentation could be referred to the case of Singapore’s MNC, Temasek Holdings, which the company decision to take over the Thailand’s communication company, owned by Thaksin Sinawatra caused a military coup in Thailand on 2006. The globalization of the world, apparently change the world system from country based to the market orientation.

The private sectors were the key players between a relation of Malaysia and Thailand. The MITI, in a report of Malaysia-Thailand trade for the year of 2001, had reported there were 50 Malaysian companies operated in Thailand in a various field of business (MITI : 2001). Most of the Malaysian companies involved in the sector of telecommunication, rubber plantation, property development, petroleum, automotive components, food outlets, banking and trading, manufacturing of precision engineering equipment and international schools and hotels with a investment estimated US$ 6.3 billion, an increase of 28.3 % over the last year (MITI:2001). In the year of 2000, the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (MIDA) reported to received 4 applications from a Thailand’s investors which estimated US$ 16.8 million. Moreover, for the period of 1990-2000, total manufacturing projects approved in Malaysia with Thailand investment was thirty six with investment amounting to US$ 19.9 million. The investments are in machinery manufacturing, transport equipment, food manufacturing, wood and chemical products.

Thailand approved investment in Malaysia for the year of 1998-2002 amounted to US$24.9 million with 17 projects. In addition, 31 Thai companies are in operation in Malaysia producing wheat flour, motorcycle and car spare parts, timber and other consumer products (MITI : 2003). The Ministry of International Trade and Industry also reported, in the year of 2002, The Summit Group Ltd based in Thailand, had expanding its interest in Malaysia by putting up new plant in Tanjong Malim for the manufacture of animal feed products (MITI: 2003). The bilateral cooperation has also been extended to include areas such as energy. On December 2002, The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and Tenaga Nasional Malaysia Berhad (TNB) signed an agreement to establish the 300 MW Malaysia-Thailand HVDC interconnection systems. This strong trade links proved how Malaysia and Thailand had a very strong economy ties and a bilateral relations is not merely in the level of government to government, but also happened in the level of private sectors.


The future direction of relations between Malaysia and Thailand could be measure through the services sectors. Malaysia and Thailand, which located in the most wonderful place in the Southeast Asia, could be easily attracting foreign tourist to travel either in neither Malaysia nor Thailand. Nevertheless, according to the annual report of the Malaysia Ministry of Tourism, each year indicated massive arrival of Thailand tourist to Malaysia. Since 1992 until 2008, The Ministry of Tourism Malaysia launched a campaign of Visit Malaysia and various campaigns had attracted approximately 16.45 million tourists from Thailand. The flow of Thailand’s tourist to Malaysia could be seen through the table 2.3 below:

From the table, approximately 3,209,990 million Thailand tourists have come to Malaysia. Nevertheless, the statics indicated a flow of Thailand tourist to Malaysia before Asian economic Crisis took place in 1997. In the year of 1992, according to the annual report of Tourism Malaysia, 432,147 Thailand tourists came to Malaysia and it indicated positive growth each year until 1997, when it indicated 563,683 tourists from Thailand to Malaysia. Thus, Thailand tourist flow to Malaysia, started to decrease when the Asian economic begin in 1997. Post Asian economic crisis 1997, the arrival of Thailand tourist to Malaysia in 1998 decreased 53,911 from 563,683 in 1997 to 509,772 in 1998. However, in 1999 has shown Thailand tourist arrival started to increase 1577 from the last year record. Starting from year 2000, arrival of Thailand tourist to Malaysia has shown a positive growth, when it indicated 940,215 arrival of Thailand tourist to Malaysia. The flow of Thailand tourist to Malaysia post-Asian economic crisis could be seen through the table 2.3.1 below:

Apparently, Thailand tourist arrival to Malaysia post Asian economic crisis from 2000-2008 was 13,244,750. In year 2000, 940,215 Thailand tourists came to Malaysia and over a year it indicated a positive growth until year of 2008. The highest Thailand tourist arrival to Malaysia was in the year of 2004, when 2,220,256 tourists had visiting Malaysia. However, in 2005 it indicated decrease to 1,734,841, which is caused by political turmoil in Thailand, particularly in Southern territory such as Pattani. Hence, the political implication influenced tourism sector not just in Thailand but it also affected Malaysia tourism sector. In 2008, the flow of Thailand tourist to Malaysia started to decreased to 1,493,789 from 1,625,698 in 2007.

The measurement of Thailand and Malaysia bilateral relations could be seen through educational sector. The Ministry of Higher Education of Malaysia, reported from a year of 2003-2007, estimated 2511 Thailand’s student pursue their higher education in government funded University in Malaysia. Where in private higher learning institutions, it estimated 4577 Thailand’s student from year of 2003-2007 . The finest infrastructure and educational condition that have been provided by the Government of Malaysia attract Thailand’s student to pursue their higher education in Malaysia.


Malaysia and Thailand, historically had a close ties whether in a culture or in a social system. Thailand which is the only country in the Southeast Asia region never been colonized by any Western powers. Thus, the King of Thailand was subjugated to the Western powers such as British and French, in order to protect his Kingdom. Malaysia, has been formed in 1963 was a British colonial at once time before its independence in 1957 as a Malaya. Despite being a neighbour, Malaysia and Thailand shall strengthen their diplomatic relationship through many ways, whether in a level of government or the level of the people. In the level of government to government, Malaysia and Thailand established an institution of joint committee such as Malaysia-Thailand Joint Authority (MTJA) in 1979, to promote a mutual goodwill and to find a solution for overlapping dispute over a area of Malay basin.

In the field of economy, Malaysia and Thailand shared a many economic opportunity such as investment and trade. Malaysia government provided a lot of incentive for Thailand investor to invest in Malaysia such as telecommunication, rubber plantation, property development, petroleum, automotive components, food outlets, banking and trading, manufacturing of precision engineering equipment and international schools and hotels. Despite, the political turmoil that happened in Thailand, Malaysia from a long time ago until this day, still be a one of the largest trading partners for Thailand whether in ASEAN or in international level . Malaysia and Thailand must realize that they shared a same future and same direction in the era of globalization. Therefore, mutual cooperation between the both countries is necessary in order for Malaysia and Thailand to compete in an equal playing field and avoid any possibility to strand in dependency to the super powers in the age of globalization.

John Hobson (1858-1940) had stated, imperialism took place when the capitalist industry in Europe, had achieved the stage of stagnation as an implication of overproducing a goods. In order to avoid the high risk of loss, the capitalist have to expand their trade to all over foreign country, especially those who has been classified as the third world nowadays. According to this situation, all the material that has been produced could be sell to gain a profit. Nevertheless, this liberal argumentation had debated among the Marxism proponent. Lenin (1870-1924) had argued in his monumental works “Imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism” which was published in 1916, imperialism was one of the implications caused by high production of capitalism in the western region. In his works, Lenin has shown how capitalism by its nature of exploitation, will manipulate every each segment in the society even though the government itself. From Lenin’s point of view, the class struggle between the bourgeois and the proletariat had resulted the bourgeois domination over the government. In addition, the control of bourgeois over the government indicated the legislation of imperialism foreign policy that benefited the capitalist the most in term of to gain a raw material from the colony instead of to market their product to the colony. From Marxist view, the imperialism paved the way to justify the needs of capitalism. See Lenin (1970) & Jomo & Shamsulbariah (1986).

[1] The Malay annals, written by Tun Seri Lanang had asserted the evidence that Malay Peninsular, specifically have been influenced by the Indianization process, which took place before the teaching of Islam came to The Southeast Asia in 13th century. This argument might be prove through the characterization of Krishna Pandita, Nila Pahlawan and Nila Utama, who been referred by the Malay Mythology as people who are a heir of Alexander The Great and suprisingly riding a white ox. The Indian influence of characterization could be seen through a metaphor of a white ox which was a symbol of the sacred animal in Hinduism. See Samad (1979).

[1] See Malaysia-Thailand Joint Authority, available online: http:// www.mtja.org. Accessed on 18 May 2009.

[1] See Thailand’s student to Malaysia, available online http:// www.mohe.gov.my. Accessed on 18 May 2009.

[1] Recently, a political turmoil that had captured the headlines of news in Thailand, make us to reevaluate again the future of bilateral relations between Malaysia and Thailand. The biggest international programme that has been disrupted blatantly by the protestors of pro-Thaksin was The 14th ASEAN Summit as being scheduled to take place on 11 April 2009 in Pattaya. The peace demonstration at the beginning, however had became violent when the thousands of protesters started to intruded into the meeting and caused a chaotic situation in the building of Pattaya Exhibition And Conference Hall, Royal Cliff Bay.

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