By Collins Chong Yew Keat
Queen Elizabeth II marked a defined distinction for her nation and the world. A symbol of unity, wisdom, humility and grace, she has charted a new era of progressive dynamism with embedded values and principles as the central unyielding pillars in her reign. She remains as the ultimate manifestation of a uniting figure in Britain, superseding the divide and onslaughts of the dysfunctional political spectrum at times with her selfless service and commitment as the unifying monarch. At the global level, she remains a respected and towering figure, striving to play her best part in bringing messages of peace, progress and hope and to shape stability and norms with a lifetime of service and sacrifice. Throughout her monarchy, Britain finds itself in a new footing of global power shifts and transitions, serving as the bedrock of guided strength and unapologetic rooting for national and global rejuvenation with civilisational impact.
Britain, once the most powerful empire in the world by far, finds itself in a new sphere of power dichotomy in the aftermath of the Second World War. With losses and structural changes that forced it to relinquish its vast empire, it received a mixed spectrum of both appreciation and admonishment for its role and outcome of the colonial period in large swaths of the world. Some have been highly critical of its abuses and injustices in the former colonies, and have equated the atrocities as a symbol of the West’s continuous oppression. Some of these have been translated to the jubilant reactions over the passing of the late Queen, which is unfortunate. Britain has predominantly been a force of good and for good, where the legacies and contributions to the former colonies have been integral and pivotal to the current state of progressive affairs today in most of the states. With expanded influence throughout the world in which the sun never sets in its empire, prevailing narratives have been formed for decades that painted its role in the negative light, framed from the narrator’s perspective and agenda.
The new predominant and prevailing engulfment of woke sentiments and the cancel culture, have pushed the tide towards the sway of the new demographic groups, almost all of which have not lived through the real context of colonial times. Emboldened by the impact and momentum of efficacy and reach of woke voices and the far-reaching implications, narratives and sentiments are moulded to champion the causes that are deemed to be most timely with the change of the monarchy in piling on the pressure for both Britain and the royal family to embrace a guilt stricken path and to be held morally responsible of past colonial policies, regardless of true affiliations or roles.
While not dismissing outright the other spectrum of the outcome and implications of Britain’s past, the positive contributions and legacies of its hallmark remain buried and chastised. The truth remains that values and principles of democracy, constitutional sanctity, equality, rule of law and justice form the main attributions and impact of Britain’s rule and influence. Unlike some past hegemonies, the British empire has been predominantly a force that seeks to expand its global economic and political intent with self-awareness of principle-based obligations in constructing the foundation of respect for rights and an ethical economic derivation. In most colonies under its rule, economic progress and foundation have been earmarked for development, ranging from infrastructure to educational support in developing local talents and ensuring a systemic culture of local expertise and capacities for self progress in the future.
Physical development in the form of aids and hardware facilities have been numerous, but the core contributions have always been the institutional systems of governance, law and order and value-based approach in the political system. Democratic system of governance with adherence to the basic universal principles of human rights protection, freedom, justice and rule of law remains the ultimate reflection of the British legacy, in creating a lasting cultural and socio-economic framework that forms the very foundation of a country’s future progress post-colonialism. Pillars of social mobility and social cohesion were pursued, with the right indicators and supportive tools in ensuring collective economic progress in developing local human capital and physical growth., based on an open and capitalist economic model of advancement with the pursuit of open trade and alignment with the global trade and economic networks. All these enabled states to thrive and to push themselves out of economic stagnation and poverty, unlike the autocratic and closed systems of states under the authoritarian and non-democratic models. From Commonwealth to bilateral engagement, the sphere of post-colonial obligation and moral duties remains self-sustaining and mutually comprehensible, with ingrained sense of principled push for duty-bound orientation.
The legal system based on justice and rule of law, with constitutional governance models remain the cornerstone of governing legacies. Britain also continued to play an integral part in assisting its former colonies in planning their own path of development and advancement, with various measures and aid in providing both the moral and structural support.Democratic system is introduced and developed, and it gives rise to democracies in various parts of the world. Malaysia, Singapore, India and many others all enjoyed the fruits of the labour in establishing the right institutional foundation in moulding the rights of the people to choose and elect their own governments and assure their basic rights and freedom. Hong Kong benefitted from this before the handover to China, with Britain still maintaining the obligation and moral support in supporting Hong Kong’s universal rights. In Malaysia’s case, Britain continued to provide defensive and security support and assurances during the early period of independence, continuing to today with the FPDA security pact, together with Singapore.
It is this conviction of faith and value-driven approach in its empire rule that sets it apart from its long list of predecessors. The self-realisation and self correction capacities that enabled it to mend ways and to set the best path forward for its nation and civilisations, bound by the code of moral and global obligations, validate its global standing. Another often overlooked aspect is how it manages to accept the peaceful transition of global power and primacy to the US, where past histories have always been the contrary. An ascending power that is keen to replace the existing hegemonic power always ends with inevitable conflict, as espoused by the Thucydides’ trap. The decline of the British empire and the eventual handover of global dominance and leadership to Uncle Sam was one of the rare moments of a peaceful acceptance, realisation and transition, minus the potential bloodshed and decades of another global war with unimaginable consequences for a world that still reels from the aftermath of the two great wars. Passing the baton to another power in succeeding global leadership without destabilising global peace and stability creates a moral legacy and precedence, notwithstanding the weaknesses and inability to maintain its global primacy which tied up Britain’s hands. Britain would still possess sufficient firepower in remaining unfazed, with the capacity for a scorched earth option, but democratic peace theory again ensures that an equal acceptance of similar values and models avoids the openings for conflicts.
Both democracies with robust underlying democratic structures, Britain and the US have shown how conflicts and wars are not inevitable, with spirited commitment to the principles of freedom and respect for the ideals of democracy, good governance and rights of the people. Britain remains a force with utmost importance to global peace and stability, notwithstanding the uncertainties ahead with the full blown impact of Brexit and the challenging internal political climate, coupled with the guessing game over the future orientation of the country under King Charles III. Britain’s Indo Pacific presence and counterbalancing measures against China are still needed by Washington and the rest of the containment team against Beijing. Although misaligned with Brussel’s central objective and policies, Britain’s current and future economic and military potential and strength remain an indisputable part of Europe’s strategy in facing both the conventional threats from Moscow and Beijing and the non-traditional challenges of climate and health risks, among many others.
The change of the monarchy with Queen Elizabeth’s passing charts a new era of Britain’s new purpose and footing in a new global geological complexity. Its role and influence have not diminished, but are further rejuvenated by its centuries of solid institutional values and principles that form the essence of its greatness in the past. Various countries, including Malaysia, remain progressive in their current development paths as a result of the systemic and structural legacies left behind by the British. We share the global sorrow of the passing of a great figure, the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Collins Chong Yew Keat has been serving in University of Malaya for more than 9 years. His areas of focus include strategic and security studies, America’s foreign policy and power projection, regional conflicts and power parity analysis and has published various publications on numerous platforms including books and chapter articles. He is also a regular contributor in providing op-eds and analytical articles for both the local and international media on various contemporary global issues and regional affairs since 2007.