Connecting Oceans: Malaysia as a Maritime Nation is the 12th Pok Rafeah Chair Public Lecture, Institute of Malaysian and International Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia delivered on 12 Mei 2017. Malaysia’s geopolitical location connecting the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea, the Nusantara inland seas and the Pacific Ocean is an important locational sustainable maritime resource, ready to be utilized more fully in political and economic terms. This lecture combines a geopolitical analysis with a theory of civilization and argues that Malaysia is a maritime nation embedded in a Nusantara civilization. The role of port cities and socio-economic connectivity for ASEAN integration is highlighted in this context. We show how different conceptions of space anchored in Nusantara and Sinic civilizations have an impact on the formulation, realization and success of maritime policies. In conclusion, the long-term impact of the Chinese maritime silk-road (OBOR) policy on Malaysia’s position as a maritime nation is assessed and the formulation of a new maritime policy is advocated.
The previous Pok Rafeah Chair Public Lecture by Hans-Dieter Evers was entitled: “Nusantara: Malaysia and the Geopolitics of the South China Sea”. In this lecture, Hans-Dieter Evers pointed out that “Malaysia is a maritime nation, strategically placed between the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca. The maritime space between the Indian and the Pacific Oceans has, since the 14th century been conceptualized as the “Nusantara”. First used to describe the sea space between the islands claimed by the Majapahit empire and its surrounding mostly Malay kerajaan, the term has taken on different meanings throughout history. In the original meaning the term Nusantara is clearly a cultural and geopolitical concept, designating a combined land and sea (tanah air) territory with loosely defined shifting boundaries, including current maritime Southeast Asia and its seas (Evers 2016). In this lecture, Hans-Dieter Evers will claim that Nusantara is also a concept describing a civilization, the “Nusantara Civilization”.
Building on the classical theories Yukichi Fukuzawa (An Outline of a Theory of Civilization, 1875, 2009), Oswald Spengler (The Decline of the West, 1818, 1936), Norbert Elias (The Process of Civilization, 1978) and to a lesser degree Samuel Huntington (Clash of Civilizations, 1993), Connecting Oceans: Malaysia as a Maritime Nation look at the Nusantara as a civilization. An “arch-type” (Spengler 1936) of any civilization, the conception of space, prevalent in the Nusantara will be contrasted to the quite different conceptions of space in the Sinic (Chinese and Vietnamese) civilizations. This will eventually lead to a policy analysis, in which civilizational values and exigencies of Realpolitik can be weighed against each other.
In line with the new Indonesian policy of a “Maritime Fulcrum” or the recently renamed Chinese “One Belt, One Road (OBOR)” policy, a Malaysian or ASEAN “Nusantara” maritime policy has to be deeply anchored in Southeast Asian history, being connected to the past and present struggle for freedom, independence and development, but simultaneously conveying the idea of a common mediterranean-type culture binding together, if not all, but most of the peoples and territories that are now striving to create an ASEAN community.
Having dealt mainly with the long run of history, culture and civilization, Connecting Oceans: Malaysia as a Maritime Nation then turn to the hard facts of geography, economy and society. Has Malaysia made use of its geopolitical location between the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the Pacific? Has Malaysia fulfilled its historical and geopolitical role of “connecting oceans”? Has Malaysia already become a “maritime nation” in terms of its economy, socio-cultural awareness and policy? The author cannot promise to come up with a full answer to these daunting questions, but rather provide preliminary results of an ongoing IKMAS research project and a blueprint for further studies. Hans-Dieter Evers draw on the results of this lKMAS project, on his earlier research on related topics and on working papers that have resulted from these studies. By combining bits and pieces of different earlier empirical studies and putting them into a more consistent theoretical framework the author hope to establish a platform, from which further research projects can be launched.
Modern nations do, indeed, depend on access to natural and human resources to ensure their economic and political survival. Producing, securing and utilizing renewable energy has become a major policy aim of industrialized nations. As a matter of fact, the brewing conflict over the governance of the South China Sea can be partially explained by the aim of the surrounding nations to gain and maintain access to energy supplies. As oil and gas reserves at home will not be sustainable in the long run, access to additional resources must be secured. This applies to Malaysia as well as China, Vietnam, Indonesia and the other East and Southeast Asian nations. Wind, solar and maritime energies are alternative renewable energy sources. But there are also other less often discussed sustainable resources. One of these is geographical location.
Malaysia is blessed with this sustainable resource as it is located between several resource rich maritime areas, namely the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, both connected by the Straits of Malacca, and further on to the inland seas of Indonesia and the Philippines and eventually the Pacific Ocean. Geographical location is one of the most sustainable of all resources. It secures access to inter-ocean shipping, deep-sea fishing, wave energy and coastal transport.
Connectivity across oceans has provided riches to trading empires from Venice to Malacca, has propelled island states like Japan or Singapore to the top of the GDP scale. But has Malaysia really made good use of her location as a sustainable resource? Is Malaysia really “connecting oceans” and has Malaysia fully utilized its favourable geographical position between oceans and mediterranean seas? And last not least has Malaysia put in place an appropriate maritime policy to achieve the position of a fully developed maritime nation?
Development planning in general and maritime policies in particular are supposedly rational enterprises, guided by rational thinking, reason, data and factual evidence. But on the other hand, policies and policy recommendations are also value judgments, influenced and in some cases even determined by civilizational factors, like cultural values, a perception of the historical past and conceptions of (maritime) space.
Thus, the author pay respect to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who asserted that both time and space are basic a priori concepts of reason (Kant 1781). This type of analysis will hopefully supplement the arguments put forward in the author’s first Pok Rafeah Chair Public Lecture, where history and culture took the centre stage. But more on this later in Connecting Oceans: Malaysia as a Maritime Nation.