|By Nilova Roy Chaudhury||April 2017|
New Delhi. As India and Malaysia celebrate 60 years of their bilateral diplomatic relations, the visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak said he wanted increasing numbers of Indian to visit his country and announced that visa restrictions for Indians had been considerably eased.
“I would like more Indians to visit Malaysia and I have informed the Prime Minister that we have decided to allow no visa fee, online application approval within 48 hours and multiple entry to be accorded for Indian nationals,” Najib said.
To further enhance bilateral people-to-people contacts, India and Malaysia April 1 signed seven agreements, including an air services agreement and one to give mutual recognition of educational qualifications of both countries. They also agreed to soon finalise a Memorandum of Understanding between the Indian Ministry of Shipping and the Malaysian Ministry of Transport on cooperation in Merchant Shipping.
A key pact in the growing strategic partnership between the two countries is the agreement to enhance defence exchanges through regular dialogue at various levels, including between the Defence Ministers, senior officials, Chiefs of Services Talks and through military-military talks.
Speaking at a joint media interaction with his Malaysian counterpart, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “In our extensive conversation today, Prime Minister Najib and I took stock of the full range of our cultural, economic and strategic engagement. We agreed on a shared vision to enhance our strategic partnership. A vision that prioritizes an action oriented approach. In this effort, deepening the existing areas of cooperation, and charting new territory of engagement are among our key objectives,” he said.
Speaking on defence cooperation between the two nations, Mr Modi said its scope encompassed training and capacity building, maintenance of equipment and military hardware, maritime security and disaster response.
The joint statement issued at the end of PM Najib’s six-day state visit to India also emphasised the “growing defence cooperation between the two countries, especially after the signing of the MoU on Defence Cooperation in 1993.”
The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) and Indian Air Force (IAF) are working on the terms of reference for the setting up of the Aircraft Safety and Maintenance Forum for cooperation in training, maintenance, technical support and safety-related issues, the statement noted.
The leaders approved a proposal for Navy to Navy field exercises between the two countries and “welcomed the outcome of the joint Army exercises HARIMAU SHAKTI and agreed to hold the exercises to company level, and subsequently as tri-services exercises,” the statement said.
The visit of India’s Director General of Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) to Kuala Lumpur in February 2017 helped to operationalize the mechanism for sharing information including for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) and white shipping, the statement added.
“Ties of culture and religion provide a strong connect between our people. The contributions of a large Indian community in Malaysia are of special value. They have not only nurtured our shared heritage. They have also been a strong driver of economic and people to people connectivity between our two countries,” Mr Modi said.
Apart from the air services agreement, the two nations signed an MoU on cooperation in developing a proposed urea and ammonia manufacturing plant in Malaysia, manufacturing 2.5 MT per annum. India has also proposed to take the existing surplus volume of urea from Malaysia. An agreement was also signed to develop technology in the palm oil sector and implementation of a fourth generation technology park in Andhra Pradesh.
New Delhi sought to scale up economic ties with key ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nation) partner Malaysia in areas like infrastructure and building of smart cities and enhancing food security during talks between the delegations and Prime Ministers.
This was Prime Minister Najib’s third visit to India since he took office as prime minister of Malaysia in 2009. Mr Modi visited Kuala Lumpur in 2015.
Describing the bilateral economic partnership as a “thriving one,” Mr Modi said: “To build new avenues of prosperity in our societies, we are ready to expand trade and capital flows between our two economies.
“Infrastructure has been an area of fruitful partnerships between us. But, we can do much more. India’s infrastructure needs and our ambitious vision of developing Smart cities match well with the Malaysian capacities. Malaysian companies are participating in many of our infrastructure projects across different states in India,” he said.
“We are also converging efforts aimed at food security that are linked to the wellbeing of our farmers. The MOU (memorandum of understanding signed on Saturday) on the proposed development of a fertiliser plant in Malaysia and off-take of surplus urea from Malaysia to India is a welcome development,” the prime minister said.
Terrorism and de-radicalisation of youth is another key area of bilateral strategic collaboration.
The Malaysian PM said he had offered insights into the success of Malaysia’s de-radicalisation programme.
“We are willing to work closely together with the Indian government for a special conference that will be held in near future and we will provide our experience and with our partners to make sure Malaysia and other parts of the world will never be a place in which militancy and extremism will take root,” PM Najib said.
The joint statement reflected their strong commitment to combat terrorism.
“Terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to peace and stability in the region,” it noted, with the leaders reiterating “their strong commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.” They “stressed that there can be no justification for acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever,” adding that “the fight against terrorism should not only seek to disrupt and eliminate terrorists, terror organisations and networks, but should also identify, hold accountable and take strong measures against States, which encourage, support and finance terrorism, provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups, and falsely extol their virtues.”
In an oblique reference to Pakistan, the joint statement said Modi and Najib stressed “there should be no glorification of terrorists as martyrs. They emphasised the need for urgent measures to counter and prevent the spread of terrorism, violent extremism and radicalization and expressed their determination to take concrete measures to step up cooperation and coordination among the law enforcement, intelligence and security organisations.”
China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea also came in for critical review. Beijing has faced opposition from its ASEAN neighbours for its efforts to claim parts of the sea as its territorial waters.
The Indian PM, commenting on the issue, said: “Prime Minister Najib and I are also conscious of our role and responsibility in promoting economic prosperity, freedom of navigation, and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, especially its Oceans.”
China claims most of the resource-rich region as its own and has carried out land reclamation and construction on several islands in the Spratly archipelago, parts of which are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
New Delhi feels bilateral ties with Kuala Lumpur have improved markedly since Najib took over as prime minister. His predecessor Mahathir Mohammed had a more distinct pro-Islamabad and pro-Beijing stance in his conduct of foreign policy, an official told India Strategic.
In fact, President Pranab Mukherjee characterised the centuries-old relations between India and Malaysia as “the best ever so far”. The two countries have taken their strategic partnership forward, particularly after the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Malaysia in November 2015, he said.
The President said commercial and investment relations have become the mainstay of India-Malaysia relations. There is also considerable potential for collaboration in defence production especially under the Make in India initiative. He thanked Malaysia for the close cooperation on counter-terrorism issues.
Reciprocating the President’s sentiments, the Malaysian Prime Minister said India has always supported Malaysia in difficult times. Malaysia wants to raise relations to new heights. Bilateral relations between India and Malaysia are multi-dimensional and Malaysia would like to achieve a target of US $15 billion bilateral trade by 2020.
Mr Najib was accompanied by a delegation of 80 leading business representatives, many of whom participated in the CEOs forum. According to sources, “more than three dozen agreements” were being finalised by these business leaders.
“Investments in two directions being discussed are in excess of $5 billion,” sources told India Strategic.