Global Trends by
Monday 22 August 2011
The battle for Merdeka continues
Fifty four years
after Merdeka, Malaysia like other developing countries
is still fighting for full independence, in a globalised world which
has grown more complex and crisis-laden.
The Merdeka season
is a good time to ponder over what independence means to Malaysia
and the other developing countries that are still battling to overcome
the disadvantages that the colonial era brought.
The problems of governance in a developing country, 54 years after Independence, are still
as complex or even more so when compared to the immediate post-colonial
In that first phase of independence, the developing countries were preoccupied
with domestic battles – how to install domestic political processes,
and how to chart new economic strategies to get out of the shadow of
Most countries tried to shake loose from the control of foreign-owned
mining and plantation companies, banks and shops, by boosting their
domestic public and private enterprises. They would, however, remain
over-dependent on a few export commodities for a long time.
In the social sphere, there was the monumental battle to provide jobs,
build up housing, schools, and health systems, and reduce poverty.
Today, many developing countries like Malaysia have succeeded, to a significant
extent, to break the foreign-ownership grip on the economy, to build
their own domestic companies and banks, and to diversify from commodities
to resource-based processing, to manufacturing and construction of houses
While some countries remain poor and dependent on foreign aid, other
middle-income countries have broken through into the development sphere.
Indeed, countries like Malaysia are now worried about being
stuck in the “middle-income trap”.
They are no longer so competitive in the labour-intensive industries
like textiles and electronics assembly because lower-wage countries
have entered the scene, yet they find it difficult to break through
into higher value-added sectors and activities, and thus upgrade their
While the colonial grip on their economies has loosened, the middle
developing countries are now caught in the complex web of global inter-dependence,
in which they have become significant players but are still not able
to call the shots, nor yet to equitably participate in decision-making.
The dependence of immediate post-colonialism is now replaced with the
inter-dependence that comes with globalization. In good times, the
country soars with the world economy.
But in bad times, the
domestic economy is at the mercy of rapidly falling exports and foreign-capital
outflows, as the 1998-99 Asian crisis and the 2008-2009 “global great
With the United States
and Europe caught in a deflationary situation, the next few
years will be another great challenge. Will the middle developing countries
sink with the major players, or break free to chart their own course?
The answer will probably be in between. But “decoupling” from the crisis
in the rich countries can properly be achieved only if there are vision
and action plans, including for national economic restructuring and
greater regional collaboration.
Intense inter-dependence is also evident in the physical world, where
the environment worldwide is collapsing because the pursuit for economic
growth did not take into account resource depletion and pollution.
The science of climate change and the recent radiation from damaged
nuclear plants both reveal that emissions in one part of the world affect
health and life in other parts.
Global solutions are thus necessary, but negotiations to find them are
bogged down by basic issues of North-South equity and the need for balance
between the imperative for environmental protection and the immediate
needs for development.
International negotiations are also stuck in the area of economics.
The World Trade Organisation’s Doha talks have stalled because
of the unreasonable demands made by major developed countries on the
big developing countries.
Despite the G20 Summits, the world is further away today from global
solutions to the financial crisis than in 2008-9 when concerted actions
were agreed to, to stimulate a recovery.
It appears that the US, Europe and Japan, all former colonial countries,
are now afraid that their mastery over the global economy is being challenged
by China, India and some other developing countries -- Asean included.
The middle developing countries like Malaysia are no longer one-sidedly
dependent on their former colonial masters. But in the web of an inter-dependent
and globalised world, they are still in the mode of responding to initiatives
and policies of the major developed countries, or to the unfolding situation.
They do not yet have the power or confidence to initiate and coordinate
their policies and take the initiative to put forward solutions to global
problems. But they now have the growing capacity to do so, if only
they organize themselves better, and find the intellect, skills and
methods to move ahead.
Fifty four years after
Merdeka, the world is still an imbalanced one, and our country is building
more stepping stones towards full independence. It must join other
developing countries to get a full voice and a fair share in the benefits
of the global economy.
In this complex globalised
but still imbalanced world, the developing countries’ battle for independence
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