Malaysia and Thailand's Southern Conflict: Reconciling Security and Ethnicity

Neil Funston

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Malaysia's policy towards southern Thailand has always required a balance between the country's internal security and concern about a neighbouring Muslim minority linked not only by religion but also ethnicity and culture. Security was a paramount concern at independence in 1957, with the southern provinces used as a base by the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), the Communist Party of Thailand and Malay irredentists. But after Parti Islam made inroads against the ruling United Malays National Organization by capturing Kelantan (a state adjacent to Thailand) in the 1959 elections, the two premier Malay parties competed to present themselves as the protector of Thailand's Malay Muslims. Security concerns eased with the surrender of the CPM in 1989, but re-emerged in late 2001 with the resumption of conflict in southern Thailand, and the surfacing of militant Islamic groups in Malaysia. Though initially supportive of Thai security interests, Malaysia's delicate balance swung towards focusing on the well-being of Thailand's Malays in 2004: the tragic 28 April Krue Se mosque and 25 October Tak Bai incidents led to strong Malaysian protests, an unprecedented parliamentary debate and a general willingness to push the envelope on intervention in Thailand's internal affairs. Tensions remained high through much of 2005, with Thailand alleging that Malaysia was complicit in southern violence. Nonetheless Malaysia ensured Thailand was not embarrassed in international forums such as the Organization of Islamic Conference or A SEAN, and relations improved late in the year. Changes in Thai policy after the September 2006 coup were largely welcomed in Malaysia, but since then Thai-Malaysian cooperation to address the problem has made little headway.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)234-257
    JournalContemporary Southeast Asia
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


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