Malaysia: national involvement in the Indian Ocean region

International relations Marine management Australia

This paper examines Malaysia’s relations with Australia and India, noting some of the commonalities and opportunities they share.


Under Prime Minister Najib Razak, Malaysia has continued to build on its foreign policy credentials, albeit in a more inclusive and nuanced manner. Prime Minister Razak has been a particularly active opponent of Islamist extremism and, as Defence Minister, deployed Malaysian forces on a number of United Nations-approved missions, including in such Indian Ocean Region locations as Somalia and Afghanistan.

Among the countries of the Indian Ocean Region, India and Australia stand out as particularly important. This paper will accordingly focus on Malaysia’s relations with those two countries, noting some of the commonalities they share and the opportunities they present. In the case of the relationship with Australia, it is interesting to note that relations are only now approaching a level that is more consistent with the depth of the two countries’ shared histories.

Malaysia’s contribution to security in the Strait of Malacca and its economic activity, with particular reference to its highly successful Islamic banking system, will also be discussed.

Key points

  • Prime Minister Najib Razak’s moderation has seen a more pragmatic paradigm emerge in Malaysian foreign and domestic policy.
  • Malaysia has co-operated with other countries in the provision of global public goods, including humanitarian and security assistance throughout the Indian Ocean region and beyond. Most notable has been its co-ordination of security and safety initiatives with other littoral states in the Malacca Strait.
  • Malaysia’s longstanding trade surplus and net positive capital (investment) inflow have both begun to diminish. Malaysia is employing diplomatic initiatives, reaching out to both the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds to improve its economic ties.
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