MALAYSIAN NEGOTIATORS AND INTERNATIONAL CRISIS: THE DAVID AND GOLIATH STORY
It has been more than a week since the safe return of the nine Malaysians who were banned from traveling back to the homeland following the month long standoff between Malaysian and North Korea following the alleged Kim Jong-Nam assassination incident.
Thanks to the unconditional support from Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and Malaysian Government official’s diplomacy and negotiation skills, Malaysia has tactfully avoided prolonged stalemate between the two countries in which most analysts predicted could have lasted several more weeks, if not months.
MALAYSIA: DIPLOMACY AND SOFT POWER AT ITS BEST
Foreign observers were astounded and baffled as to how Malaysia was successful in averting a possible protracted international crisis with a country notorious for its strong-headedness and secretiveness. It was definitely no small and simple feat; to secure the return of the stranded Malaysians, the lift of travel bans by both governments and the allowing North Koreans in Malaysia to return to their homeland with Kim Jong-Nam’s body. Don’t forget that all the while, the North Korea – US nuclear threats was at its height.
Amidst hyped media coverage, endless conspiracy theories, wild and false news in social media, Malaysian negotiators kept their cool and focused on the real issue at hand; securing the safe return of the stranded Malaysians. Through countless hours of negotiations and sleepless nights, and with the help of Najib Razak’s high level connections, Malaysian officials were able to come to an agreement with their North Korea counterparts and successfully brought back all nine Malaysians back home.
MALAYSIA AIRLINES MH17
This was not the only occurrence of Malaysia successfully resolving international crisis and diplomatic strains amicably. We, against all odds have tactfully avoided and resolved international crisis. On such instance that is well documented by the international media was the downing of a Malaysia Airlines MH17 in eastern Ukraine in July 2014.
As Western leaders voiced their anger over the atrocity and pointed the finger of blame at pro-Russian separatists, and Moscow itself, the government in Kuala Lumpur said little. This drew heated criticism at home and abroad towards Najib Razak’s seemingly meek response. There was growing pressure on the PM to issue a stronger statement reflecting the increasing impatience and outrage of the international community over the whole situation.
However, Najib’s announcement the week after shocked the world when he announced that the Malaysian government had negotiated the release of the remains of nearly 300 victims of Flight MH17 from separatist-held territory. Najib, working through intermediaries to reach rebel leader Alexander Borodai, had also secured the aircraft’s “black box” voice and flight data recorders and the safe recovery of the victim’s remains from separatist-controlled territory so that international investigators could safely conduct DNA tests and later return the remains to families.
The negotiations were kept under tight wraps, with Najib initiating and leading the talks with his closest confidants with the rebel leader and commanders. Malaysian officials carefully cultivated neutrality was key to sealing a deal that had eluded even the Western powers. Najib said “We must work quietly in the service of a better outcome.”
The unprecedented success of Malaysia’s ‘moderate and tactful negotiation’ has gained the respect and admiration of world leaders especially from the United States, Australia and Britain. To think that a small country like Malaysia was able to successfully broker a deal with the separatist group against the failed international pressure by the Western powers in no small feat.
THE BANGSAMORO PEACE PROCESS
Malaysia has long been involved in the successful peace talks between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine government. We have been instrumental in the success of the Government of Philippines (GPH) – Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) which serve as the legal mechanism to fully implement all signed Bangsamoro accords.
The Moro’s struggle for political and economic self-determination began centuries ago prior to the existence of the Philippine republic. The often violent secessionist movement has over the years seen more than 120,000 people killed and millions displaced in Mindanao. As an Islamic country, Malaysia was compelled to assist and facilitate with ending the bloodshed. Since 2001, we have become pivotal in the peace process aimed towards ending the protracted conflict in Mindanao.
Although criticised even by the Philippine government, Malaysia has been relentless and committed in brokering the peace talks between both parties. Finally, after 15 years, a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed in October 2012 and the CAB in March 2014. This paved the way for the creation of a Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that would draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law which gave birth to a new autonomous political entity called the “Bangsamoro”.
The never-ending commitment of the Malaysian government (as Third Country facilitator) to the peace process has helped avoid further bloodshed and become a catalyst to the much needed ceasefire between the rebels and the GPH. To date, the Philippines and Malaysia have agreed on a new facilitator in the government’s peace talks with the MILF and the continuity of the Malaysian International Monitoring Team (IMT) presence there, re-affirming the role Malaysia has played in the peace process.
SOUTHERN THAILAND PEACE PROCESS
Malaysia has also played a pivotal role in resolving the protracted conflict in Southern Thailand. Similar to the Bangsamoro peace process, Malaysia’s moderate and tactful diplomacy as a facilitator for the peace talks between the MARA Patani – an organization representing the rebel groups in Southern Thailand and the Thai government, has led to some semblance of success to that of the Bangsamoro Peace process.
Riddled with waves of violence and hindered by Thailand’s government policies and bureaucracy, the peace talks brokered by Malaysia has seen several setbacks and success. However, with staunch support from the Prime Minister Najib Razak and Malaysia’s skilful negotiators, a “refreshed formal dialogue” has resumed in September 2016 which many sees as a new hope in ending the decade long conflict in Thailand’s southern region. Since January 2004, more than 6,500 people have been killed due to conflict between separatists and government forces.
During his visit to Thailand, Najib issues a statement; “In the context of security, Malaysia continues to be willing to provide our role as a facilitator to help in the peace process in the south. I, once again, reaffirm our commitment – and also our understanding – that this is a Thai domestic matter and will proceed according to the framework and guidelines given by the Thai government”.
Without a doubt, the Southern Thai peace process between the MARA Patani and the Thai government is much more complex compared to that of Bangsamoro Peace Process. Malaysia, nonetheless is committed in making the peace process a success, thus ensuring the peace and stability of the region bordering between two countries from acts of violence, terrorism and cross-border criminality such as human trafficking and smuggling.
Malaysia is a leader in moderate and diplomacy. There are countless instances, where thanks to the tactful and resourcefulness of the Malaysian government, and with the strong support of the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, we were able to pull the rabbit out of the hat, especially when dealing with international crisis.
Against all odds, Malaysia has time and time again proven critics wrong. We were able to broker the safe extraction of the ‘black box’ and the remains of the victims of MH17 downing from separatist rebels in Ukraine when no other Western superpowers could. We have successfully facilitated the Bangsamoro Peace Process and brought a much needed peace in the southern region of the Philippines. Malaysia again is in the limelight for pledging its commitment to facilitate in ending the protracted violence between the MARA Patani and the Thai government in southern Thai, where even analysts and experts see it as a ‘losing battle’.
There is no doubt that the success of Malaysian Government’s prowess in diplomacy and negotiations in handling tricky and challenging crisis will be a thing of interest, attention, and daresay, emulated by the international community. All this thanks to our Prime Minister Najib Razak and the dedicated Malaysian officials.