Making Sense of Malaysia's China Policy: Asymmetry, Proximity, and Elite's Domestic Authority

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Abstract

Using Malaysia's China policy as a case study of a smaller state's response to a rising power, this article challenges the mainstream neorealist notion that the growing capability and geographical proximity of a rising power tend to induce fear among its weaker neighbours. By tracing the transformation of Malaysia's China policy, the article's findings indicate that power asymmetry and geographical proximity have no inherent logic of their own; rather, whether and to what extent the two variables will prompt smaller states to become fearful and/or attracted to a rising power is often a function of intervening factors at the domestic level, i.e. the imperative of ruling elite's domestic legitimation. In the case of Malaysia's China policy, it is the ruling Barisan Nasional elite's desire to capitalize on the big power's rise-for the ultimate goal of enhancing and justifying its political authority at home-that has driven the smaller state to adopt a hedging approach characterized by an inclination to prioritize immediate economic and diplomatic benefits over potential security concerns, while simultaneously attempting to keep its strategic options open for as long as the systemic conditions allow.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)429-467
Number of pages39
JournalChinese Journal of International Politics
Volume6
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013

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asymmetry
Malaysia
elite
small state
China
legitimation
anxiety
economics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations

Cite this

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abstract = "Using Malaysia's China policy as a case study of a smaller state's response to a rising power, this article challenges the mainstream neorealist notion that the growing capability and geographical proximity of a rising power tend to induce fear among its weaker neighbours. By tracing the transformation of Malaysia's China policy, the article's findings indicate that power asymmetry and geographical proximity have no inherent logic of their own; rather, whether and to what extent the two variables will prompt smaller states to become fearful and/or attracted to a rising power is often a function of intervening factors at the domestic level, i.e. the imperative of ruling elite's domestic legitimation. In the case of Malaysia's China policy, it is the ruling Barisan Nasional elite's desire to capitalize on the big power's rise-for the ultimate goal of enhancing and justifying its political authority at home-that has driven the smaller state to adopt a hedging approach characterized by an inclination to prioritize immediate economic and diplomatic benefits over potential security concerns, while simultaneously attempting to keep its strategic options open for as long as the systemic conditions allow.",
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