Sabah: A Pivotal State for Malaysia and ASEAN

Perak Academy hosted Bunn Nagara in its fifth talk of the 18th Perak Lecture Series. The talk, titled, ‘Sabah: A Pivotal State for Malaysia and ASEAN’, was held at Perak Academy’s premises along Jalan Tun Sambanthan recently.

Nagara is a senior fellow at ISIS (Institute of Strategic and International Studies) Malaysia in Foreign Policy and Security Studies, and a commentator on international strategic issues. He has held editorial posts at major Malaysian media and has contributed to academic and civil/public service programmes. His research interests cover Southeast Asia, regional security issues, East Asian integration and major power relations.

In his talk, Nagara gave the audience a detailed explanation of the history of Sabah, her rulers, ownership and disputes, and how they make Sabah the most dangerous yet most promising state in the nation.

“Sabah, Malaysia and ASEAN are linked in vital ways that are urgent because a lot of safety and security issues relate to the lack of security in Sabah, especially on the East Coast.

“We need to find solutions. Personally, I feel that the whole of Malaysia, in particular Sabah, deserves better security in a more systematic and comprehensive manner.

“The issues, problems and challenges that Sabah faces today are actually Malaysian issues. They affect not only Sabah’s security, prosperity and stability, but also Malaysia as a whole,” the speaker insisted.

According to Nagara, many past security issues of Sabah and Malaysia remain till this day. Example, the former (now defunct) royal family of Sulu still claims that Sabah belongs to them, and not to Malaysia.

During the reign of President Marcos, the Philippine government trained a group of native Muslim (Moro) Philippine troops in Corregidor Island, located at the north of Manila Bay, to attack Sabah. However, when some of the soldiers realised that they were going to attack their tribal brothers in Sabah, they stirred up a mutiny and were eventually massacred by the Philippine government.

Nagara explained how the formation of MAPHILINDO, a proposed union of Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia, would have affected Malaysia, in particular Sabah.

“The MAPHILINDO concept would’ve not been good for a multi-racial Malaya and Malaysia to come. Sabah, especially, would have been badly affected, as it’s very ethnically-mixed.

“It’s good that the idea of MAPHILINDO didn’t work. Apart from the dangers it would have imposed on a multi-racial Malaysia, it would have also formed a bigger stronghold and attraction for terrorist groups such as the Islamic State that looks into such regions as its territory to expand since Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia all have strong Muslim influence,” explained Nagara.

The talk concluded with a thought-provoking question and answer session.

Present at the talk was former chief minister of Sabah, Datuk Seri Yong Teck Lee.

Leanne Tan

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