Nicholas Nugent’s view that political change in Malaysia‘is not considered as significant as it might have seemed’ following Mahathir Mohamed’s election win (Asian Affairs, June issue) is fair comment – to a degree. Mahathir hasn’t proved to be a great defender of liberal democracy in the past, while the country’s ‘Bumiputera’ policy, however well-intentioned at the outset, could cause ongoing ethnic tensions as long as it remains in place, and the role of women in the elite body politic needs to be addressed.
However, I’d argue that some real change could be in the pipeline. It’s important to remember that it was people from diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds who voted to unseat Barisan Nasional and elect the coalition Pakatan Harapan to form a government. That in itself is cause for hope. The May 9 general election showed thata desire for social justice lay at the heart of ending 61 years of BN rule, and this includes reducing endemic corruption, economic inequality and press control, and embracing religious harmony, so that Malaysia’s Shia and other minorities have greater parity, and freedom to practise their faiths. It is, of course, too soon to get too hopeful, but the fact that many young expatriate Malaysians are even talking about returning home gives cause for tentative optimism that has long been absent.
Elspeth G Fanshaw
A match made in heaven?
I was impressed by the article written by Mr G. Parthasarathy in your May edition (‘The Geopolitics of Oil’). As Mr Parthasarathy points out, India will have to perform a lot of skilled diplomacy if it is to keep all of its conflicting relationships – with Israel, Iran, the United States, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinians et al – in a healthy condition, especially as Mr Modi has very publicly backed the Iran Deal so hated by President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and now roundly rejected by Mr Trump. Some people have previously referred to the India-Israel relationship as ‘a marriage made in heaven’, and it truly is a good match for the arms trade and for public relations between the two countries. But since Mr Modi will not lose faith with the Palestinians or abandon ties with Iran, there could soon be trouble in the marriage. India must perform a delicate balancing act to meet its oil and energy needs from West Asia, keep influence in the region and maintain vital allies. It will not be an easy task.
China’s regional role
The US-Chinatrade spat and Chinese military expansionism, as analysed in Stephen Nagy’s ‘Troubled Waters’ article, are indeed resulting in shifts in the global balance of power, though predictions of China displacing the US as the new world hegemon are unlikely to prove true. China’s huge cultural differences with the West mean it does not attract the wealth of immigrant talent that America does. Furthermore, its limited sway with organisations such as the UN mean its influence is much more likely to remain regional, even as its economic growth outstrips that of the United States. Being a world hegemon requires scope as well as size.