Time for ‘middle powers’ to take charge of the Covid crisis

These past few months have been a game-changer for many nations around the world. Covid-19 as we all know has brought countries to their knees and Malaysia was not spared. Lockdowns imposed by nations have disrupted global flows of trade and investment, on top of changing the way societies live and interact.

Interestingly, what’s unique about Covid-19 is that it has levelled the playing field for nations; neither wealth nor power can influence how severely a country is infected. Previously, we lived in a global order dominated by larger nations: smaller nations always had to accommodate their interests and priorities. But as we know, Covid-19 does not discriminate and affects everyone in its path.

My personal belief is that countries like Malaysia must remain strong and independent in this new global landscape. We have weathered the storm and shown that with our strong convictions, we have successfully managed to keep infections at bay. But it is important to remember that we have not won the war against Covid-19, neither have we lost the war yet. We still need the collective strength of each and every one to break the chain of transmission.

It’s a different story altogether in the West as millions have been infected and hundreds of thousands have died. But therein lies another problem – widescale protests and riots are extremely worrying, especially when they are combined with racial discrimination and prejudice.

Unfortunately, the politics of hate and divide seems to be the order of the day and we are not immune from this. We have seen the rise of discrimination and prejudice towards the Rohingya community and foreign workers which reveals an ugly side to our beloved Malaysia.

On the global front, negativity does nothing but promote a more intense rivalry between powers where smaller countries are inevitably roped in.

With the international economy already taking a strong hit by Covid-19, and powers facing increasing domestic pressure to escalate the fight with one another to avoid repercussions back home, the potential for this to escalate from a rivalry into an actual cold war once the pandemic recedes grows daily.

Malaysia along with smaller countries must come together to position ourselves in this new global order. We have proven that without pride and ego, and with humility, we have been fortunate in keeping our people safe while maintaining order and unity. We have been pressured long enough to take sides in the rivalries and always face a dilemma of an alignment which may not be in our national interest.

Malaysia and other smaller countries have proven their worth in the global fight against Covid-19 and must now realise that we do not have to totally abide by the agenda of larger powers.

In the dawn of a new post-pandemic era, we must have the strength and will to stand firmly and never compromise on our values. Just as I have consistently written and championed the value of unity among Malaysians, now is the time for smaller countries to unite and take the lead in charting and navigating this new global landscape.

Historically, Malaysia along with other nations not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc came together under the ambit of the Non-Aligned Movement. This was based on our desire not to get involved in the confrontation of the Cold War, and to focus instead on our national struggles, along with economic development and the alleviation of poverty.

History has proven to us that we can only stand up against pressure when we are united. Malaysia and other like-minded countries must once again reflect on our role on the international stage and find the courage and determination to stand together with others who share our beliefs. The new global order will be focused on international cooperation – we, a collective of middle powers of the world, must consciously play a balancing role while being realistic and pragmatic.

It is strategically imperative for us to counter the geopolitical hypocrisy displayed by certain powers and promote our own template of globalisation, based on fairness, equality, and humanity. Though Malaysia is grateful for all the support and assistance rendered in our collective fight against Covid-19, we know these are not tied down with hidden motives and agendas.

In these times of difficulties, you truly know who your friends are and Malaysia will never forget this.

Globally, Malaysia is also an active member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to name a few. Cooperation with other nations provides Malaysia with the perfect platform to resolve differences peacefully, agree on commonalities, and exchange ideas, experiences and best practices so that we can learn from each other especially while we are all focused on combatting Covid-19.

My view is that the world needs stronger international cooperation among developing nations to tackle our toughest challenges, but our efforts cannot be at the expense of national sovereignty and respect for international laws.

I understand, international unity may seem like a utopian dream but I believe that the strong cooperation between like-minded nations, exhibited during the fight against Covid-19, is a step in the right direction. Working together is therefore more crucial now than ever, but it must be reshaped to answer to our people’s current frustrations and criticisms.

As the world is healing, with more people getting greater access to medication, we must never forget the economy and environment to ensure a fair and level playing field for all nations.

In the last few months, I have had the opportunity as foreign minister to virtually meet and link up with many of my colleagues globally and this has created a chance for us to commit to further constructive engagements, fostering positivity, and putting aside hate and divide.

We must all understand that we have never experienced a pandemic of this scale in our generation but we all have a choice.

We can either emerge stronger and more united, or allow hate and divide to rule.

Malaysia is working hard to ensure we come out as the former to ensure the choice we make results in a future our children and grandchildren will be proud of. Malaysia Deserves Better.

Hishammuddin Hussein is Malaysia’s foreign minister.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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