MALAYSIA is doing something it has never done before.
The country has formulated a Defence White Paper (DWP) setting out the direction on how Malaysia will remain a secure, sovereign and prosperous nation in the coming decade.
Yesterday the DWP went inaugural in the Dewan Rakyat. But the DWP path is not a less travelled one. Other countries — France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and Canada — have taken a similar road.
Malaysia isn’t in a state of war, for sure. So why the DWP? The DWP has a Roman response: “Si vis pacem, para bellum” (If you want peace, prepare for war).
For a maritime nation that is separated by the South China Sea, Malaysia’s security challenges are aplenty. We will name three. One, the constant power play between big nations. Of these, sea games and other ploys between the United States and China rightfully worry us to no end.
There is also the rapid militarisation of the South China Sea by China. Here our Exclusive Economic Zone comes clashing with China’s so-called Nine-Dash Line. Two, geopolitical developments in Southeast Asia. Conflicts in our neighbouring countries do, at times, compel refugees to cross borders. The Myanmar Rohingya refugee crisis is a case in point.
Three, the ever increasing non-traditional security threats. The 21st century isn’t only about nations going to war with nations. It is also about nations at war with non-state actors.
Read militants, terrorists and an assortment of others. The Lahad Datu intrusion by some 200 militants from the southern Philippines is one example.
Our security forces had to fight a guerilla war for weeks at the cost of 16 Malaysian lives.
We will be foolish to be not ready for another. Then there are cybersecurity threats. Some numbers will justify the alarm.
Just last year alone, CyberSecurity Malaysia recorded more than 10,000 cybersecurity attacks on corporations and individuals nationwide. Were they by individuals or states? Evidence from around the world point to both. Such are the blessings and blights of living in a connected world.
There is one area which should get more than the brief mention it gets in the DWP. It is China’s strategy.
This Asian giant is a mighty piece in the chessboard that is Southeast Asia. If we want to defend peace, we must know what the Chinese dragon is up to. Is China toning its military muscle or ramping up its commercial cunning? Strategy begets scenario.
Analysts differ in their reading, depending on where their bias resides. Those who see with Chinese lenses do not spot any major geopolitical threats. They see bridges, roads and belts, with a generous sprinkling of financing and technology with Chinese characteristics. They think these to be influence peddling by the Chinese.
Analysts with an American world view, however, have an entirely different way of seeing. They spot an empire builder in the making. Vladimir Lenin famously said: The East will help us to conquer the West. Lenin was onto a great game with Britain of old. Should China’s moves be read Lenin-like? Conflict or commerce, a reading is required for defending peace.