How do we remain free of superpower influence?

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By TK Chua

What has happened to the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (Zopfan) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)?

I am no foreign or international relations expert, but self-determination, freedom and neutrality of nations were part of my worldview when growing up and now growing old.

It was natural for smaller states to assert their freedom and neutrality from the major powers. It is to their interest not to be officially aligned with or against any of the major power blocs.

There is now a raging debate in Singapore over its role in the world. Could it be the “carry over” effects of what is happening in Qatar? Is it true, “small states must always behave like small states”? Can small states stand tall and be counted while at the same time being friends with all?

Don’t get me wrong; my concerns are not with Singapore or Qatar today. I think they will know how to do deal with the situation.

I am asking about our own country, Malaysia. How do we, as a nation, look at the world order today? The world is changing rapidly, no doubt, but how do we continue preserving and protecting our enduring interests and independence?

We have read news of smaller and poorer nations succumbing to the domineering influence of major powers. We have read news of how these countries have become indebted, helpless, and dependent.

I think the key to preserving a nation’s independence is its ability and tenacity, not whether the country is big or small.

Some smaller states are well governed and rich. They are poised to sustain their independence and protect their national interests. They become too “independent” in the eyes of some major powers and that is why they are told to “behave”.

But many of the smaller nations are probably in limbo – badly governed, heavily in debt and highly dependent on foreign aid. What choice do they have if not to align themselves with a major power that can bail them out, or provide temporary relief?

Sometimes, smaller nations tend to blame foreign powers for their intrusive interference and influence. I think the problem is probably more complex than that. Helpless nations saddled with insurmountable quagmires must have provided a convenient beachhead for subjugation.

What can we learn from Qatar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the South China Sea dispute, and nations of Southeast Asia in recent times?

My take is: Don’t blame the superpowers per se, for they are always there waiting to exert their dominance and “sphere of influence”.

Second, we mustn’t blame ourselves for being a “small state” unable to withstand the “onslaught” of major powers. It is the tenacity in us that counts.

Third, we mustn’t blame global vulnerability or emerging trends for our predicaments. All nations face new realities every day. Malaysia is no exception.

The key to our independence and enduring interests is our resilience and capability. If we fall under their influence easily, we must seriously look at our ineptness, stupidity and corrupt ways.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

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