Malaysian PM in India: Focus on business, counter-terrorism

malaysia-pmBusiness, defence and counter-terrorism cooperation are set to get a big leg-up during Malaysian Prime Minister Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak’s ongoing visit to India.

During their talks on April 1, Mr Najib, who is accompanied by his wife Datin Sri Rosmah Mansour, and Mr Modi will witness the signing of at least six commercial agreements and possibly a Memorandum of Understanding to expanding the defence cooperation.

Setting the tone for Mr Najib’s third visit to India as prime minister in five years (the previous one in 2012), the two leaders reflected their close rapport by taking to the micro-blogging site Twitter on the eve of the visit. Tagging Mr Modi in his post, the Malaysian PM tweeted: “I’ll be travelling to India for a five-day visit. A country that’s been our friend since 1957. Looking forward to meeting PM (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi again.” The Indian leader quickly responded by saying, “India is delighted to welcome you, Prime Minister. Your visit will further boost India-Malaysia ties.”

In a separate statement on the eve of his departure for India, Mr Najib identified key focus areas for his India visit. “We have established the Malaysia-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) and India is among Malaysia’s largest trading partners and largest export destination. We have also established partnerships in terms of defence cooperation, counter-terrorism, tourism and culture relations, IT and services as well as infrastructure projects.”

During Mr Najib’s maiden visit to India in January 2010, the two countries upgraded their relations to strategic partnership. This time around, the Malaysian leader’s delegation comprises several Cabinet Ministers and senior officials and a large business delegation.

“Overall, this visit is an extremely important one from a country which has very close relations with India and from a leader who has contributed considerably to enhancing India-Malaysia bilateral relations. Its added significance is that it comes on the 60th Anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries,” said said Jaideep Mazumdar, joint secretary (South) in India’s External Affairs Ministry.

Mr Najib began his visit by flying into Chennai on March 30 as an acknowledgement of the centuries-old close links between south India and the large Indian community in Malaysia. Malaysia is home to the second largest Indian diaspora of around 2.7 million, of which a vast majority are Tamils. He will also be travelling to Jaipur where he will meet Rajasthan state Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje who will also host a lunch in his honour.

Infrastructure & business

Closer collaboration in infrastructure will be one of key thrusts of the visit. Malaysia is bidding for several road construction contracts in Rajasthan amounting to US $ 1.2-1.4 billion.

The strong business component in Mr Najib’s visit is reflected in an array of projects being considered during the visit, which could amount to about US$ 5 billion, said Mr Mazumdar. India’s apex chambers of commerce and industry will host a business summit on April 3 where more than 15 business agreements are expected to be signed. The re-constituted India-Malaysia CEOs Forum, which comprises several prominent Indian and Malaysian business representatives, will be meeting for the first time on the margins of Mr Najib’s visit and they will present their recommendations to the two prime ministers on April 1.

Malaysian investments in India stand at $6 billion and an additional $6 billion in projects has been executed in India. Indian investments in Malaysia are around US $ 2.5 billion, reflecting the robust economic relationship. The southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh will allow Malaysia to build a 250-acre “fourth generation technology park” in its new capital Amravati which is being built by Singapore and Japan.

Scaling up defence & security ties

Defence and security relations are growing. India sent SU-30 fighter aircraft pilots to Malaysia between 2008 and 2010 to train the Malaysian pilots. The two countries also held their first joint army exercise in 2012 and expanded it between their navies four years later. This is important at a time when Malaysia juggles its ties with both India and China in Southeast Asia where an assertive Beijing has territorial disputes with a number of countries in the region. India is also reportedly looking at the commercial viability of buying Malaysia’s MiG 29 fighter aircraft fleet, upgrading and inducting them into the Indian Air Force.

Counter-terrorism is another area of close cooperation between India and Malaysia as both face the challenge of radicalization of youth. A MoU on cyber terrorism was signed during Mr Modi’s visit to Malaysia in November 2015.

“We have a very robust cooperation between India and Malaysia in the area of counterterrorism. A very real-time exchange of information happens between agencies on both sides. Certainly, world international terrorism and terrorism in our region will be an important subject in the bilateral discussions between the two sides,” said Mr Mazumdar.

(Pallab Bhattacharya contributed inputs for this article)

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