Of Malaysia and Indonesia : Little Brother Big Brother No More?

Amongst the eleven countries that makes up the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN), Malaysia has, arguably, the most common with Singapore and Indonesia.

But then again, that would not be surprising as Malaysia’s relationship with Indonesia is as Malaysia’s relationship with Singapore ie the ties that bind are just too many to deny or ignore, no matter how hard you try.


In the 1970s, before the financial downturn of the mid 1980s and the financial crisis of the late 1990s, the relationship between Malaysia and Indonesia was most often described as that of Big Brother and Little Brother.

No prizes for guessing who Big Brother was though.

In terms of land mass, human capital, natural resources, and military might, Indonesia had these aplenty as compared to Malaysia.

With the Indonesian economy doing quite well then, the then President of Indonesia, President Suharto, assumed the role of senior statesman in ASEAN, despite not being the longest-serving national leader within the grouping at that moment in time, as well as big brother to Malaysia.

Having established his position at the apex of political power in Indonesia, playing the role of senior statesman in ASEAN and big brother to Malaysia came naturally to President Suharto. Malaysia, on the other hand, was in the midst of a transition with the sad passing of Tun Abdul Razak to his successor, Tun Hussein Onn, as Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Fast forward forty years and times have certainly changed. Big Brother Indonesia had fallen on hard times, brought about by a lethal combination of corruption, nepotism and abuse of power, allegedly of course (and we are not talking of allegations against President Suharto and his family alone), as well as a regional financial crisis in the late 1990s (krisis moneter or krismon, as most often referred to by the Indonesians).

Krismon made it so bad for Indonesia that the country had to go, begging bowl et al, to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) for assistance.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, any semblance of Indonesian pride  left went out the window once the images showing President Suharto signing the official IMF documents, with the head of IMF, with arms crossed, looking down at the Indonesian President, were released the very next day.

President Suharto signing the documentation for IMF assistance (source : hermansaksono.com)

If ever there was a PR disaster for the IMF and all that it stands for, that picture was it. As they say, if a picture can say a thousand words, then Indonesians (and Malaysians, for Malaysia too was under intense pressure to accept IMF funds) were left speechless, angry and sad.

Whatever the reasons, Malaysia did the unthinkable in addressing the issues it faced with the onset of the regional financial crisis. Malaysia went maverick.

It turned down the offer of IMF funds, rejected the prescription offered by IMF and did the unthinkable. Malaysia, under the leadership of Tun Dr Mahathir, chose to solve its financial woes by going down a different path, a path that was so against conventional wisdom, that Malaysia was roundly condemned and declared a pariah state by the international finance community.

The condemnations came thick and fast, with the bandwagon not big enough to fit all those who wanted their turn to condemn Malaysia for its actions, which must have come across as part irony and part hypocrisy, both in equal measures, of the highest order.

It was always thought that if one tries to put things right without assistance from others, they should be encouraged instead of being condemned, should they not?

Tun Mahathir and his team persevered though, and saved the day for Malaysia. Malaysia is where it is today, thanks to the chain of events that unfolded during that fateful period in the late 1990s.

Tun Mahathir and his team stood their ground, irrespective and regardless of world opinion and remained true to their well thought out game plan until the Malaysian economy turned in Malaysia’s favour.

Dr Mahathir

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia. Went against the grain and won.

For that, Tun Mahathir and his team earned the eternal thanks and admiration of Malaysians everywhere.

It would not be wrong to state that the names of Tun Mahathir and that of his merry men and women will be forever etched in the annals of Malaysian history, if not the world’s, as those who dared go against the grain and won.

Night View of Kuala Lumpur Skyline
(source : wikipedia.org)

Today, the realities have changed. The scenario of a Big Brother and a Little Brother is no more. Both Malaysia and Indonesia have grown older and mature albeit in different directions.

Whether any the wiser, that remains to be seen. What is important though is that both economies have since recovered, admittedly one faster than the other as most Indonesians and Malaysians will readily testify.

It is, however, noticeable that there still is, within Indonesian society, a segment that still clings on to what-was instead of trying to accept what-is.

To them, Big Brother is still Big Brother and Little Brother is still Little Brother and Little Brother being little brother, it must therefore defer or seek approval from Big Brother in anything it does.

Since Malaysia, as an independent and sovereign nation, has never ever deferred to Indonesia in anything that it does, to defer or seek approval for whatever Malaysia intends to do now would be unacceptable and totally out of the question, would it not?

But there arise however another phenomenon, a phenomenon which, if left unchecked, is more worrying and could do more damage to the current state of bilateral relations ie unbridled jealousy.

Envy or jealousy, taken positively, can prompt one to compete and to improve oneself and is therefore acceptable, encouraged even.

Night View of Jakarta Skyline
(source : wikipedia.org)

But unbridled jealousy with all its negative connotations and bordering on sheer hatred for all things Malaysian is something else. The funny thing is that this unbridled jealousy applies to Malaysia and all things Malaysian ONLY and not anyone else in the region eg Singapore, Thailand or even the Philippines.

Should Malaysia resort to issuing travel warning guides whenever there arise instances of Indonesians working in Malaysia being allegedly mistreated in Malaysia?

No doubt there are genuine cases (thank God they are few and far in between) BUT there are also cases where the allegations are trumped-up by Indonesian employees not getting what they want from their Malaysian employers.

The Indonesian media is fond of portraying Indonesians in Malaysia as being the victims of ‘heartless Malaysians’. Spin being spin, a runaway maid can be made to look like she’s a victim of a heartless Malaysian employer, never mind the fact that the maid ran off with the employers’ valuables whilst the employer was away at work (despite free food and lodgings and sometimes, a holiday as well), and in doing so left the employers’ children in her car to fend by themselves and in some cases, even running off with the employer’s baby or child.

And spin being spin, the fact that being a runaway maid is not something new to the maid in question was never brought to the attention of its readers. Some of these runaway maids even admitted that they never intended to be maids in the first place.

When a gang of Indonesian robbers are shot dead after a shootout with the police, who do you blame? The police? Never mind that the gang initiated the shoot out and never mind the gang has committed many an armed robbery IN Malaysia. Never mind that Malaysians have been physically hurt during these robberies, with some having a female member of the household raped. And that includes the household’s Indonesian maid, mind you.

Many a household have also complained of being robbed by gangs employing their pukau knowledge (pukau being the term for hypnosis), with cases dating back to before the turn of the new millenia even.

Many more have claimed to be cheated of thousands of Malaysian ringgit by the so-called Indonesian bomoh who convinces you that somebody has cast an evil spell on poor unsuspecting you and that only he can cast away the evil spell. And if you happen to be a member of the fairer sex, then you are fair game for his sexual advances.

When media reporting goes awry, bilateral relations can be affected. (source : thejakartaglobe.com)

Do all these instances of Malaysians being mistreated by Indonesians in Malaysia get reported in the Indonesian media? Your guess is as good as mine.

Malaysians are well aware that not all Indonesians are as that portrayed by the runaway maid or members of the armed gang or that cheat of a bomoh.

There are many Indonesians who are hard-working and conscientious and they far outnumber the runaway maid or members of the armed gang or that cheat of a bomoh.

All they want is a chance to earn an honest living, to support whoever they have to support back home in Indonesia. And so be it. No problems there, as far as most Malaysians are concerned.

Admittedly, there are genuine cases of abuse and these are all dealt with in accordance with Malaysian law, regardless of who does what to whom and regardless of where you originate from.

A criminal act is a criminal act, regardless.

In all these cases, Malaysian laws reign supreme and when the charges are proven correct, then the punishment shall be in accordance with Malaysian law.

Anti Malaysia protests in Indonesia. (source : newshopper.sulekha.com)

It must be re-iterated that Malaysia is an independent and sovereign nation, as is Indonesia.

It must also be re-iterated that Malaysia has its own system of governance, its own civil service, its own judicial system (who take great pains to be fair and independent and seen as such), its own set of laws (enacted by a set of elected representatives elected every five years WITHOUT fail, mind you) and its own security apparatuses (and no, they don’t pay to get recruited into the force) to deal with crime and other criminal acts. So has Indonesia.

The Indonesian media should take pains to be fair and objective in its reporting, instead of playing to the gallery making Malaysia out as a lawless country and Malaysians as a heartless lot.

If that be the case, why then, pray tell, Malaysia is always among the first, if not the first, to offer assistance (funds, supplies and personnel) every time there is a natural disaster in Indonesia or pray tell, why did Malaysia offer UNCONDITIONAL financial assistance to Indonesia during and even after krismon or pray tell, even offer employment opportunities to Indonesians wanting to earn an honest living in Malaysia?

When emotions run high, reserved only for Malaysia. (source : thejakartaglobe.com)

This reality may sound petty to some and indeed, it is not easy for us Malaysians to highlight as it goes against what we were taught since young ie to do good without expecting any rewards. But highlight we must.

After all, all that’s good in any bilateral relationship is seldom seen as news worthy or worth reporting, UNLESS the reports by the Indonesian media are meant to stir up frenzied anti Malaysia demonstrations and actions and instigate another round of Malaysia bashing, be it in the printed media, social media as well as on the streets of Jakarta and other Indonesian cities.

We hope not but if that is the case, the question that begs an answer for both Malaysia and Indonesia, two independent and sovereign nations in their own right, is, whose agenda is it and why and what’s next on the agenda?


First Posted : 28 November 2012 (Reviewed : 22 August 2017)


One thought on “Of Malaysia and Indonesia : Little Brother Big Brother No More?

  1. Hello there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it is very informative. I’ll appreciate if you continue this in future. A lot of people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s