MALAYSIA looks set to extend the limits of international diplomacy to achieve its foreign policy goals.
What is needed is for the country to go beyond ambassadorships, diplomatic missions, protocol and etiquette practised under the Vienna Diplomatic Conventions 1961 and 1963 to one that is more functional and diverse today.
In the early 1970s, the United States introduced ping-pong and shuttle diplomacy, bypassing the Westphalian model of international diplomacy, which laid the foundations of peace in the world based on a new order of relations created by states as early as 1648.
Other functional and diverse forms different from traditional diplomacy followed.
For many countries, these were their foreign policy options in the wake of multilateralism and globalisation.
Multilateral diplomacy came to replace bilateral diplomacy as countries began to conduct their international relations in a multicountry setting.
The boundaries of diplomacy were expanded to include military, economy, trade, culture, public and even scientific and nuclear and chemical weapons.
These days, besides managing its foreign policy based on domestic factors, Malaysia has to also consider external environmental factors.
These include involvement in conflict-resolution negotiations between different parties in southern Thailand and southern Philippines, handling the plight of Rohingya refugees, seeking statehood for displaced Palestinians, bringing peace to warring areas in Yemen, and fostering Islamic unity based on the principles of moderation, deradicalisation and maqasid syariah.
Looking ahead, we can expect Malaysia to take up new positions influenced by several factors:
ONE, to get Asean to be more assertive on regional issues;
TWO, to aggressively promote Malaysia’s halal products overseas;
THREE, to pave the way for other state and non-state actors to take on a more visible presence in international diplomacy in the interest of the country; and,
FOUR, to enable the country to gain from advances in social media, e-commerce and data usage.
Asean must prove to the world that its diplomacy is here to stay.
It must press for a resolution of issues, intensify economic exchanges between Asean and East Asian countries on investment in infrastructure and trade, cooperate under a revived Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and move on migrants, climate change and security, human trafficking and illegal fishing.
The many bilateral and regional free trade agreements between Malaysia and the countries involved will have to be reviewed in tandem with the changing international environment.
Halal food certification and export of halal-food products, synonymous with the country’s growing Islamic diplomacy focus on food and branching into fashion and pharmaceuticals, have made inroads into new markets, especially in East Asia and the European Union.
Malaysia’s success in getting halal certification to be introduced as a new standard for food production and packaging internationally will create opportunities for Malaysians.
As a dynamic country, Malaysians enjoy the economic benefits from cross-border activities of Malaysian banks, construction companies and airline operations.
Others make up the business diplomacy that is helping to spread the Malaysian story abroad. The range of businesses joining the drive to go overseas include telecommunications, transportation, property development and tourism-related.
The use of data in diplomacy grew in prominence as a tool for policy and research since the advent of social media in the early 2000s.
Governments and international organisations began to include data to reach decisions and support policies.
Over time, data usage became a tool for diplomacy to warn of emerging trends and developments in foreign policy, consular affairs, mapping of bilateral relations and multilateral negotiations.
With data diplomacy, the government’s intention to make Kuala Lumpur a digital hub will soon be realised.
Dr Azhari-Karim, Former Malaysian ambassador