Connecting Oceans, Volume 1: Malaysia as a Maritime Nation attempts to contribute towards the realisation of the ASEAN vision, by adding to the scholarly literature based on discussions and research into various aspects of a contemporary Nusantara civilisation, eventually leading to an integrated ASEAN community. All chapters in this book and the companion volume are written by professorial fellows, academic staff and associates of the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. They have been presented at several Pok Rafeah Chair workshops from 2016 to 2018 and thoroughly revised by the authors and the editors.
The outcome of this project are two volumes, the fourth and fifth in a series of books written and edited by holders of the Pok Rafeah Distinguished Chair of International Studies at IKMAS. The chapters span a wide variety of topics that are nonetheless closely connected, yielding an interdisciplinary view on the ASEAN region with a focus on its maritime culture. It is our aim to show that different fields of the social sciences and humanities from history, anthropology, linguistics, literary studies and cultural analysis to geopolitics, sociology, economics and political science have to be marshalled to analyse current problems and future prospect of a complex region like Southeast Asia that is aiming to become an integrated ASEAN community.
The seas and oceans around Malaysia have once again become a flashpoint of international politics and an important part of the changing world economy. Volume One of Connecting Oceans offers a rigorous analysis of Malaysia’s position as a maritime nation in Southeast Asia or what has been termed the Nusantara. The collected essays offer; timely conceptual, historical and contemporary analyses of connectivity, civilisation and culture in the making and remaking of the region. They examine critical issues such as Malaysia’s relations with China and its projection of a Maritime Silk Road; efforts to deepen ASEAN integration; ongoing maritime territorial disputes; and issues of national and regional governance. In doing so, the book opens up crucial questions of Malaysia’s place at this crucial maritime crossroads and will appeal to all those interested in its history, political economy and development.
In Chapter Two, ‘The Nusantara Model: Malaysia and the Governance of the South China Sea’, Hans-Dieter Evers argues that Malaysia is a maritime nation, strategically placed between the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca. The maritime space between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean has, since the fourteenth century, been conceptualised as the Nusantara.
These historical links between Malaysia and the Nusantara or what could even be called the Malay world are elaborated in Chapter Three, ‘Reconnecting the Nusantara: Historical Antecedents and the ASEAN Community’, by Abdul Rahman Embong. As he points out, this fluid world has had modern nation-states superimposed on it. In light of this, the chapter asks whether the longue durée historical links of the Nusantara are amenable to strengthening an ASEAN community in the making. History matters in identifying the antecedents for region-building.
Hans-Dieter Evers elaborates on some of these themes in Chapter Four, ‘Connecting Oceans: Malaysia as a Maritime Nation’. Malaysia’s geopolitical location is an important sustainable maritime resource, ready to be utilised more fully in political and economic terms. The analysis combines a geopolitical analysis with a theory of civilisation and argues that Malaysia is a maritime nation embedded in a Nusantara civilisation.
The return of China as a prime geopolitical player has reignited a dilemma between the country and its smaller neighbours, including Malaysia. In Chapter Five, ‘Connecting Malaysia and China: From the Past to the Future’, Abdul Muein Abadi examines the historical and contemporary connections between China and Southeast Asia. On the one hand, the withdrawal of China and its tributary influence in the past resulted in a power vacuum that was decisive in paving the way for Western imperialism. On the other hand, China’s current growing influence has in a way compromised its neighbours’ sovereignty.
In Chapter Six, ‘China’s New Maritime Silk Road Initiative and Its Impact on Malaysia’, Mohd Azwan Abdul Rahman argues that although Malaysia has obtained positive levels of cooperation with the new Maritime Silk Road because of its attractive prospects, there are new challenges especially with regard to the nation’s autonomy. Drawing on both macro history and in-depth interviews, this discussion proposes that Malaysia needs a more comprehensive step-by-step approach in terms of institutional policy building to cope with the far-reaching impacts posed by collaboration with China. At its heart are questions of the national interest and national autonomy.
Clearly, if ASEAN is to deal effectively with the challenges posed by China’s assertiveness in the region, the construction of coherent policy regimes is a priority. In Chapter Seven, ‘Towards an ASEAN Single Shipping Market’, Andrew Kam Jia Yi and Tham Siew Yean focus on one of the most strategic sectors: shipping. The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) established in 2015 was the outcome of almost four decades of incremental economic cooperation and liberalisation, including the pivotal ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) which aimed to create a single market and international production base, attract foreign direct investment and expand intra-ASEAN trade and investments.
In Chapter Eight, ‘Contested Waters: Maritime Territorial Disputes of Malaysia’, Faisal Syam Hazis acknowledges that the maritime sector plays an important part in the Malaysian economy. Yet in spite of the close associations with the sea in historical, cultural and economic terms, the country has yet to secure full sovereignty over its waters. Malaysia currently has five outstanding maritime territorial disputes with neighbouring countries, with no settlement in sight.
One of the major impediments to equitable conflict resolution in the ASEAN region is the paucity of coherent policymaking. In Chapter Nine, ‘Towards a Maritime Policy for Malaysia: Outline of a Comprehensive Framework’, Rashila Ramli and Nik Adi Sukiman provide a survey of maritime policies of some major powers and selected ASEAN member states. They show that most countries have fragmented maritime policies. Malaysia is no exception.
Four elements are identified as key premises of such a framework border communities, economic empowerment, maritime space and environmental sustainability. All four elements have the potential of achieving the goals of societal well-being and inclusive development of the global commons. As countries strive to develop, a shift from land to maritime development may prove to be more sustainable in the long run.