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Salient. Victoria University Students' Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 25. October 4, 1976

Why a Cutback In Malaysian Students? — ... a NZer's View

page 22

Why a Cutback In Malaysian Students?

... a NZer's View

NZ—Malaysian/Singapore Relations and the Cut-Back on Malaysian Students

[This article is based on a talk given by Dr Kevin Clements (Asian Studies Dept.. Canterbury) at a National Conference of Malaysian students on the quota on private Malaysian students in New Zealand which was held in Christchurch Sept. 18-19].

This article attempts, as Dr Kevin Clements talk did to sketch NZ's relations with Malaysia. It attempts to :
1.Examine the major problems of NZ's formal diplomatic relations and non-diplomatic or people-to-people relationship with Malaysia.
2.Look at the nature of these problems as they exist.
3.Evaluate the decision to cut-back on Malaysian students in the above context.

New Zealanders, individually and as a people, have great difficulty in understanding Asia and Asian people, whether they be Chinese, Phillipinos, Thais, Indonesians or Malays. By and large the average Fred Dagg-type of New Zealanders has a set tourist mentality of Asia which goes something tike this: he does his first stop off in Sydney, arrives in Singapore where it is a question of buying a paper umbrella, flies off to Hong Kong where he goes to a floating restaurant and gets food poisoning and then he finally takes off to England. On the way he picks up some subjective impressions about population pressure in Singapore or Hong Kong, the supposed aggressive nature of the salesman who tries to sell him some Batik cloth or a gold watch.

Ethnocentricity (which is also common in many Asian and African countries) tends to be an impediment and a blind spot in the present government's formulation and implementation of foreign policy, especially with respect to Asia and Africa.

New Zealand Merely Small Dot in Asia

Another related problem in trying to locate individual decision, like the cut-back on Malaysian students, is that despite the fact that NZ has tended ostensibly to act on its own initiative in Sea (especially since the British withdrawal East of Suez and the 1973 decisions of the Australians to withdraw from Malaysia and Singapore) it has by and large failed to work out an independent identity for itself as a nation.

New Zealanders still tend to think of themselves as an extension of Britain and, more recently in the last 11 months, of Washington. An editorial in the Indonesian Herald (1964) described NZ (and Australia) as just little white dots on a vast Asian Ocean and that neither Australia nor New Zealand had an independent foreign policy of their own towards Asia, tending rather to think and act in a British fashion because they were British.

The National Party and its present government is the best example of such foreign policy thinking and behaviour. In keeping with the best of British tradition,. Wellington is now the faithful and subservient "yes man" to Washington, allowing of course for very, very minor differences. The whole orientation towards Asia is conditioned by the former British colonial relationship in Malaysia and Singapore. Even though New Zealanders do not have any direct colonial pretentions in the Sea region there is a tendency with a Tory government to continue in an indirect, superior and dictating manner some of the former colonial ties and attachments.

It is this that conditions a true-blue Tory governments relationship with Kuala Lumpar and Singapore. It is difficult to think that Messrs Muldoon, Talboys and McCready think in terms of Australia and New Zealand relating to Sea on the basis of equality. There is always this implicit feeling of superiority in relations with South East Asia (Sea). N.Z. considers itself the developed part of the Australasia/ South East Asia region and looks upon South-East Asia as the underdeveloped (or to use a more respectable term, "the developing") part. It is perhaps in keeping with the idiosyncracies of the present Prime Minister and the ruling party to see what is happening in South-East Asia in black and white terms.

Before NZ can develop a very constructive and creative relationship with Sea the National government has to cast aside some of the philosophical cobwebs which determines its view of NZ's identity as a nation and where it is going nationally. If it fails to do this then foreign policy mistakes in this area will be a costly affair.

The National government needs to work out what NZ is as a nation. For example if one compares NZ with South-East Asian nations in terms of population, resources etc., NZ lags behind in many respects. In population terms alone Australia is insignificant when compared to South-East Asia's population of 328 million people.

And yet while South-East Asia is trying to develop a zone of peace, freedom and neutrality, the National government has seen fit to take a retrogressive step by scrapping NZ's plans for a nuclear free zone and has accentuated (via ANZUS) the notion of American military might on South-East Asia's southern periphery. This does not help the Asean proposal for the neutralisation of Sea.

In this sense the National government's perception of New Zealanders as a nation ("NZ the way you want it") is an underdeveloped one.

NZ Must Relate Equally With Asia

Once New Zealand develops an identity of its own, then it has to decide how it is going to relate with Malaysia and Singapore and Sea as a whole on the basis of equality and not on the implicit motion of superiority which characterised some of the current relationships.

New Zealanders have to acknowledge the fact that although they speak English and have British forebears, geographically they are located within Sea and Oceania. With a sensitive Prime Minister who behaves like a bull in a million China shops all at once, it is very difficult to be sensitive to Sea and Oceania or towards New Zealanders for that matter.

Another reason why New Zealand has not been able to develop a creative relationship with Sea/South Pacific is because New Zealanders have very distinct language barriers. There is little Bahasia Malaysia taught in New Zealand. Chinese language is reserved for the few who manage to come to terms with it. Japanese is taught with varying degrees of success. Language barriers itself have prevented successive New Zealand governments from putting out feelers which would enable them to sensitively respond to what's happening in South-East Asia.

New Zealand diplomats, for example, when they go to Sea sometimes misguidedly assume that they are going to conduct all their business in English. They breathe a sigh of relief when they are posted to K.L. or Singapore because they can communicate with everybody in English. They feel a little reluctant about a posting to Indonesia for example where it is sometimes insisted that diplomatic exchanges occur in Bahasa Indonesia.

There are then some of the general problems which tend to impede the nature of the relationship between New Zealand South-East Asia. The present government's general cultural, linguistic and social ignorance of the nature and composition of South-East Asian societies tends to be reflected in its political, defence and diplomatic ignorance, the one perhaps being a logical confusion of the other. For example the Minister of Defence Mr McCready still thinks of Sea in terms of "them and us". Singapore as "an outpost for our troops" - what can be described as a cliche-understanding of Sea.

NZ's Defence Committment in Asia

The defence committment is a major component of NZ's foreign policy towards Malaysia and Singapore. The most recent policy announcement in this area by the Minister of Defence (Mr McCready) has been that Wellington has faithfully decided to maintain a foot in the door in South-East Asia on behalf of Washington.

The decision was shrouded in such verbal nonsense as the need in Singapore and Malaysia for NZ's defence know-how. In other words the Malaysian and Singapore governments need to feel that they have NZ experts at their back which allows them a free hand to deal with internal subversion and aggression. The following figures put the NZ defence effort in context and shows how pretentious and inflated the National's government's view of itself is.

"Full of philosophical cobwebs"

"Full of philosophical cobwebs"

Total active personnel in armed services 61,000
Army 51,000
Air Force 5,300
Navy 4,800
40 Combat aircraft.
Total active personnel in armed services 30,000
Army 25,000
Navy 3,000

95 combat aircraft (about 90 more than what NZ has).

New Zealand
Total active personnel in armed services 12,630
Army 5,553
Air Force 4,232
Navy 2,845

10 combat aircraft (of which 2 are constantly operational. This being due to fuel shortage in NZ).

From the above figures it can be seen that Malaysia and Singapore can more than cope with its internal security problems. It is difficult to see how NZ's technical know how would be beneficial when both K.L. and City Hall (the building which houses the office of Singapore's oriental despot - Lee Kuan Yew) are expanding their sources of weapons procurement and technical know away from the traditional sources of which NZ is one. Furthermore, NZ is not a defence manufacturer of any significance.

Reasons for Keeping Troops in Singapore

The real reason for Mr McCready's decision to keep the troops in Singapore is both political and philosophical. Political, because it was committed in its election policy to review the Labour government's decision to bring the troops home - a sugar coated pill designed to prevent a drop in morale and the disatisfaction which was being expressed with regard to service conditions at home. Philosophical, because it is a resurrection of the old doctrine which regards Sea as NZ's first line of defence.

If this is the doctrine the National government is subscribing to then I suppose it logically follows that NZ troops should be trained for a war which, in the opinion of a short-sighted National government, will be fought first in Sea.

National Government Reacts to Situations

In its formulation of foreign policy, the National government tends to be a reactor rather than a co determiner of its policies with regard to Sea.

It is difficult to think that the National government has reached the stage where it has been able to put aside the battles of 1948 or the exploits of its Artillery Battery in Vietnam. This government will always feel that it has some blood ties with Malaysia because it spilled some blood there during the emergency. (There were 21 New Zealanders injured during the emergency in Malaysia).

Because New Zealand has a cultural and linguistic ignorance of what happens in Singapore and Malaysia, the government's of the day in these countries can structure New Zealand's perceptions towards the region.

They can do this so well that the Malaysian government can tell Wellington that there is a whole bunch of trendy leftish Malaysian students in New Zealand, that they are giving moral support to their counterparts in K.L and Singapore universities, thereby affecting the internal security of these countries. They also add that if this international alliance of trendy left-wing students is allowed to continue it might one day come home and create a riot which would make May 13th, 1969 look like a children's picnic.

Reaction to Demand for Student Cutback

So successful is this process of structuring one another's perceptions that the National Government immediately reacts to a cut-back on the number of Malaysian students coming to New Zealand. New Zealanders by and large, and the National government ill-particular, do not have an independent view of themselves and neither do they have an independent, sensitive understanding of the complexi- page break ties of South-east Asian realites.

It is important to understand this because it puts into context some of NZ's foreign policy blunders. It means that when the Malaysian or Singapore governments misperceive as to what is happening in their own backyards, then it is very likely and highly probably that a New Zealand government (especially one with blind spots) would also misperceive the situation in South-Hast Asia.

New Zealand has therefore developed a diplomatic relationship with Malaysia and Singapore so that when the late Prime Minister of Malaysia visited New Zealand last December he could express Malaysia's "long standing and friendly relations with New Zealand" and "note with satisfaction that the relationship has progressed and remains Tree of any gigniflcant differences." This means that if you do what I want you to do and I do what you want me to do, we can both scratch each others backs.

During this visit Mr Rowling gave Tun Razak notice that the government had decided to give urgent consideration to assure the most equitable distribution of overseas students studying in New Zealands educational institutions. This was actually the consequence of the 1972 request from Razak to Kirk about Malaysian students in New Zealand. As early as 1972 the Malaysian government was concerned about its students studying in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, the US and India.

Request From Razak on Restrictions

This request asked if there was anything the New Zealand government could do to restrict the flow of Malaysian students to New Zealand and at the same time the Malaysian government said that it would do what it could to restrict the flow from the point of exit m Malaysia. Hence the Bahasa Malaysian requirements and the financial bond and registration that is now required with the Malaysian Ministry of Education. One therefore has to ask what is it in Malaysias interests to restrict the number of Malaysian students to New Zealand and what is it in New Zealands interest to aid and abett in this process, and then look at the internal situation in all three countries.

In terms of diplomatic relationships, from an Asian perspective New Zealand gets lumped with Australia, and by and large there are three dimensions to this relationship:
a)Defence - The formal military ties (i.e. the Five Power Defence Arrangements) rightly or wrongly reassure Malaysian and Singapore that they have a couple of friendly western democratic nations to their south who are willing to rise up in their defence. The defence arrangements are an important link because Australia and New Zealand are seen as integral stabilisers within the region. (It will take a National government in New Zealand donkeys years longer than any other country to realise that South-East Asia wants a zone of peace, freedom and neutrality and that New Zealands military presence is incompatible with this aim).
b)Economic/Aid - Kuala Lumpur and Singapore see NZ as important in terms of supplying some economic assistance although NZ's economic aid is in no way as significant as that rendered by the US, West Germany or the UK. It is also seen as a source of private investment which is fairly marginal.
c)Education - New Zealand is seen as a centre to take the strain off some of the indigenous educational resources. It has been seen as a provider of educational institutions.

Apart from this New Zealand is also seen as a Western outpost in the Southern hemisphere which may or may not be reassuring depending on how New Zealanders view the west. Under the Muldoon government the principal objective of New Zealands foreign policy has been to play second-fiddle to the US and to act as a kind "trip-wire" or "trigger" in SEA for one of the world's most devastation nuclear arsenals. This is, what New Zealand is to South-East Asia.

NZ View of South East Asia

How NZ views Malaysia and Singapore can be seen quite clearly from Mr Talboy's comments after his tour of the Asean countries the report argues that there are two views to the present situation in South-East Asia. The pessimistic view (whose proponents claim to be realistic) that communist expansion in Indo-China will lead Hanoi to give substantial material support to the insurgent movements in Thailand and Malaysia, assuming that support for these movements take priority over consolidation in Indo-China.

It claims that the insurgents will step up the exploitation of grievances like Bangkok's traditional neglect of the remote North-east provinces or racial animosity in Malaysia. While Bangkok and K.L. do the most to overcome the worst of their problems time is not on their side The optimistic view is that the new Socialist Republic of Vietnam will prove to be as nationalist us it is communist and that it will have to concentrate more on consolidating its position internally in Indo-China. It will not give more than moral support to the Thai and Malaysian insurgent movements. This view assumes that there is a new spirit of determination in the Asean countries to solve their political, social and economic problems.

He says that the National government should bear both these views in mind. Put another way it means that the government cannot decide for itself what exactly is happening in SEA. (It is interesting that South-last Asia is always interpreted according to the threat it poses to NZs security. It is always described as an insecure, unstable region needing the solid stable support of Godzone and Australia, And look how "stable" NZ has been since November last year).

Basically, he said the Asean countries accept that the contest that they are in cannot he won solely or merely by military means, The challenge is one in which they have to convince people that their form of government and socioeconomic organisation is preferable to the ones they have to compete within Indo-China.

The danger is that some governments may feel that the way to go about doing this is by conducting mass public relations exercises to show the people that they are doing well socially and economically even if they are not. In Malaysia for example the old myth that the Malays hold the reins of political power and the Chinese are economically supreme seems to be giving away as the true facts become known.

A study for the Ontario Economic Council by a Dr Osmeey Mehmet on income distribution in Malaysia between 1947 and 1967 utilizes a profile by race and rural areas. The study shows that the principal beneficiaries of rapid economic growth have been urban Malays, followed by rural non-Malays (i.e. Chinese and Indians), urban non-Malays and rural Malays (the largest numerical group). The popular political and economic myths do not stand up to this evidence.

Conclusions in Talboys Report

Mr Talboys outlines several conclusions from his report:

1. New Zealand should continue to support Asean as a group and its individual nations with whatever limited support Wellington can give. Such a policy may not be without its risks because some pessimists believe that the insurgency in North-east Thailand has already gained the upper hand. There does not seem to be any alternative for New Zealand and the more support New Zealand gives the quicker the pessimists would be proved wrong. NZs own security will be assured with a peaceful and stable South-East Asia, with the Asean and Indo-Chinese countries working in a cooperative relationship with each other. The big powers should only be indirectly involved (presumably via Wellington).

2. Defence Cooperation

It is unlikely that NZ would be asked to participate in a defence pact in South-East Asia. The Minister claims that the armed forces in these countries value the close cooperation between their senior officers and their New Zealand counterparts. Over the 20 years or so New Zealand defence forces have established a good relationship with the countries, the politicians and the officials in the region. Senior military officers in these countries play a key role in the formulation of national policies (and presumably if NZ officers have the ear of these indigenous officers the possibilities are there for NZ to influence the national policies of these countries).

3. Singapore

The Minister's views about Singapore reflects the simplistic and naive manner in which National Party politicians structure the country's foreign policy. There is no consciousness whatsoever of the repressive nature of Lee Kuan Yew's governments. Lee Kuan Yew's highly efficient concrete jungle is something to be admired The "tencno-fascist" nature of Singapore society escapes some people with regard to Malaysia. The Minister concludes that the problem there is the racial balance. It is not a question of poverty or the economic gaps between the rural and the urban areas. Such views are symptomatic of the recipe understanding that most people have about Malaysia. In other words, the Minister is implying that if we solve the racial problem then all other problems will be solved.

4. Malaysian Students

The Minister's views are brief in this regard and he reserves his comments until the Immigration Minister submits his reports to cabinet. Thus when Talboys was in South-East Asia Gill was already formulating a policy to cut-back on Malaysian students.

Malaysian Education Minister, Dr Mahathir

Malaysian Education Minister, Dr Mahathir

This report underlines the government's simplistic view o f South-East Asia's realities and because of this the government will respond in an unsophisticated and simplistic manner.

In the early '60s the decision to commit combat troops to Vietnam was based on a failure to understand the Vietnamese situation. An almost dehumanising understanding of Asian people accompanied that decision, and it can be summed up in the old aphorism that it is better to spill blood over there than here. Asian life is cheaper than Western life. This may be rubbing it in a bit too much but one would be surprised to find that many of Mr Muldoon's "ordinary blokes" share this belief.

Therefore while New Zealands relationship with Malaysia and Singapore at the formal or diplomatic level are cordial and while all three government have a lot in common (because they are all conservative governments) by and large, on a people-to-people basis the relationship is really an unsatisfactory one On a government to government basis it could be much better. For example New Zealand could opt for a neutral stance in its foreign policy or it could link itself to an Australasia - South-East Asia zone of peace, freedom and neutrality.

But at the moment is unwilling to do this because New Zealanders have a view of the world now being structured by the National party according to Washington's thinking. It is willing to play ball with the Malaysian government on the cut-back issue because there are certain kinds of symbolic benefits in doing so.

Clearly therefore a new basis for relating to South-East Asia has to be worked out. If the number of Thai. Malaysian or Indonesian students drop dramatically NZ will be further isolated than it is at the moment. Overseas students provide New Zealanders with an alternative reality.

The new relationship that has to be worked out should be non-colonial and must move away from this "big-little" power pretension of a small insignificant nation among nations. The figures quoted for the armed services underlie this point. The new relationship should be a sensitive one where NZ is ready to listen to what people in this region have to say instead of having their perceptions structured for them by K.L. and Singapore.

New Zealand has to develop a whole variety of stimuli to listen carefully to what people other than officials from these countries say. There is a need to work out what kinds of resources can be shared between the three countries and education is one of them.

It is good for overseas students to come to NZ because it allows New Zealanders to gain a broader view of the world and vice-versa. As a corollary of a changing relationship there is a need to bring the troops home because of its neo-colonial posture in South-East Asia.

Only when there is a language and cultural understanding of South-East Asia and recognition of working on an equal basis, can there be a more creative diplomatic exchange at the nation-to-nation and people-to-people level. New Zealanders must get away from the cold war rhetoric of the present National government.