Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced increased cooperation between Malaysia and Thailand

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The story of Malaysian-Thai meetings is a testament to how high-level interaction can resolve any issue between countries, particularly between neighbours.

Following a bilateral meeting with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at the APEC 2012 Summit in Vladivostok, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced increased cooperation between the two countries, focusing on helping Thailand bring harmony to its tumultuous south.

Thailand’s southern, majority-Muslim region has long been a source of unrest, with insurgents apparently planting bombs and raising the Malaysian flag on August 31, the anniversary not only of Malaysia’s independence from British rule, but of the 1989 founding of an umbrella separatist group that combined four Thai separatist movements.

The region is plagued with factional unrest, economic dislocation, and a host of related problems. It was a critical issue in the elections that brought Shinawatra to power, and remains a thorny issue for Bangkok to this day, with no clear resolution of the problem.

Najib’s and Shinawatra’s agreement therefore includes increased border security to prevent insurgent movement across the border with Kedah, as well as the promotion of an economic growth zone. This follows from Najib’s premise that differences between peoples can be harmoniously resolved through expanded trade and other people-to-people ties.

The proposal, which calls for increased cooperation and economic initiatives involving the rubber industry, would serve to end much of the economic unrest that disturbs the Thai south, and also to advance both Malaysia’s and Thailand’s interests in the rubber trade, which has fallen of late. Thus it was that the two nations agreed to address supporting rubber prices as well as develop a ‘Rubber City’ along the Kedah-Thai border, with rubber-based and energy-based industries.

The policy proposal bears all of Najib’s customary approaches to foreign policy: a belief in the power of discussion and compromise to resolve conflict, a commitment to using economic growth and trade as the tools to defuse areas of disagreement, and long-term people-to-people interaction to advance mutual interests and harmony.

This approach is advantageous when dealing with all nations, and especially Asean nations such as Thailand with whom Malaysia has long-standing ties and long-term economic interests. The raising of the Malaysian flag in southern Thailand could have caused enormous diplomatic difficulties, but the Government’s steadfast approach to relations with Thailand and its Asean neighbours clearly provided the goodwill needed to pave not just a quick end to any conflict but a further expansion of ties.

The result is a vindication of Najib’s foreign policy approach, and a lesson to other nations in the Asia Pacific region, many of whom are facing potential conflicts and territorial spats with their neighbours in the near future. – The Choice