How will Trump’s Immigration Ban affect ASEAN?

Photo: Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0

Trump’s immigration ban sent shockwaves around the world, but Indonesia’s Jokowi and Malaysia’s Najib find no cause for concern.  Is there nothing to worry about?


While the rest of the world is in an uproar over Trump’s Immigration ban, Indonesian President Jokowi is not worried at all. He says, “We are not affected by the policy. Why should we worry?” Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib commented on the issue, “It does not involve Malaysia at all.”

Bilateral and economic relations between America and the two Muslim majority countries are unlikely to be affected. However, Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, an analyst at BowerGroupAsia, thinks that Trump’s executive order “will certainly sway public perception, against the U.S.” American influence in the region will weaken, leading to China playing a dominant role in the region.

Trump’s policy will create potential political backlash against Muslims and might even boost radicalism in the region. Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said, “For us, there is no great effect as we are not included there, but it can add more suspicions, especially against Muslims.” Malaysia’s opposition leader Saifuddin Abdullah warns, “What the executive order has done is to give more reason for people to be radicalised and join ISIS, It falls right into the narrative of ISIS that you cannot believe in democracy.”

Trump’s policy might have been exaggerated. A report by Pew Research Center estimates that Trump’s executive order only affects about 12% of the world’s Muslims. This gives credit to his assertion that his executive order is not a Muslim ban. 61.7% of Muslims globally are located in Asia-Pacific according to Pew Research Center.

According to Zaid Ibrahim, a Malaysian former cabinet minister, Trump’s executive order forms a dangerous precedence. He says, “Autocratic Muslim leaders will emulate Trump and using strident Islamic rhetoric and laws, they will strengthen their position. He adds, “In this condition, it is almost certain that liberal democracy will disappear and jihadists will take over. Malaysia is one such example where Islamic autocracy will impose their power in the near future.”

Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, a political science professor at University Sains Malaysia, believed that Washington stands to lose more in their bilateral relations with Kuala Lumpur, whose leaders are fond of whipping up religious sentiments for political mileage. He said that ethnoreligious identity is more important in Malaysia than in Indonesia.

With Jokowi and Najib likely to remain quiet on the issue, the status quo will continue to be for the ASEAN region for now. There is no economic benefit to gain by provoking President Trump.