Ushering in a new phase in their reinvigorated partnership as key players in the emerging Asian order, India and Malaysia have signed seven agreements across the spectrum, and vowed to fight terror and radicalization of youth. In a message to China, the two countries decided to work proactively to promote freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the site of territorial disputes between China and some Southeast Asian countries.
The agreements, some of which relate to recognition of each other’s educational degrees and palm oil production research, and the unmistakable focus on security cooperation, which followed talks between India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in New Delhi on April 1, marked a qualitatively new high in relations between the two countries.
The most important among pacts inked in the presence of the two PMs was the proposed development of a urea and ammonia manufacturing plant in Malaysia and off-take of existing surplus urea from Malaysia to India. The project is expected to cost US$2 billion, with a capacity to produce 2.5 million tonnes per year and meant for catering to India’s market.
Malaysian firm MIGHT Technology Nurturing also inked a deal with the Andhra Pradesh Economic Development Board (APEBD) on implementation of the fourth generation Technology Park in the southern Indian state’s new capital Amravati, a project that is expected to attract private investments of US$100 million as well as spinning off the involvement of 75 small medium enterprises and generating an estimated 5,500 jobs. Both countries also signed a bilateral air services agreement which would enhance air connectivity.
Uniting against terrorism, IS
Security and strategic partnership were in sharp focus as Mr Najib, who is on a six-day visit to India, and Mr Modi spoke to the media after their talks. The Malaysian leader said this partnership “will be very important for us to fight global terrorism, militancy, extremism, that includes fight against Islamic State.” Mr Modi reciprocated by commending Mr Razak’s “leadership in countering radicalization and terrorism,” which he described “as an inspiration for the entire region.” “I deeply appreciate our continuous cooperation with Malaysian government in our joint anti-terrorism efforts,” he said.
“Malaysia and India will cooperate to fight the IS [Islamic State] and deal with radicalisation. We will also share our experience of de-radicalisation with India,” said Mr Najib. “We plan to hold a major conference on de-radicalisation jointly 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.”
Batting for freedom of navigation
In a significant outcome, the Malaysian leader backed India’s “greater role” in maritime security of Asia-Pacific region. For his part, Mr Modi 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.” These remarks acquire an added resonance in view of China’s assertive moves in the disputed resource-rich South China Sea.
A joint statement issued after talks between the two PMs asked all countries to respect the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 in resolving maritime disputes, a clear hint at China. “They urged all parties to resolve disputes through peaceful means without resorting to threat or use of force and exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities, and avoid unilateral actions that raise tensions,” the statement said. Less than a year ago, China had dismissed an order passed by the Hague-based international tribunal rejecting Beijing’s claim over South China Sea.
While India has always been looking forward to cement political, economic and strategic ties with Malaysia, a key ASEAN country, as part of promoting its “Act East” policy, relations between the two countries have shown a marked upswing in recent years, in contrast to 22 years between 1981 and 2003 when Mahathir Mohammed was the prime minister of Malaysia. For Indian entrepreneurs, Malaysia can become a key base to do business with other ASEAN countries. Indian investments in Malaysia stand at $2.5 billion.
Separately, a joint statement issued by the India-Malaysia CEOs Forum emphasised the need for visa-free travel for Indians and Malaysians as travel and tourism in both countries contribute to their economic growth. “Additionally, Malaysia should support and champion the introduction of the ASEAN common visa for travellers from outside the region, including India,” the statement said.
Above all, the Malaysian leader’s visit has imparted a new momentum to strategic partnership between the two countries. “We are leaders in the new emerging order in Asia and the world. Let us continue to work together to build a future based on stability, prosperity and understanding as the centre of the globe moves inexorably to East,” said Mr Razak in an article ahead of his visit to India.
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