By Sharifah Munirah Alatas
On March 30, Malaysian Prime Minister jib Tun Razak arrived in Cheni for an official visit following an invitation from his Indian counterpart, rendra Modi. This was Razak’s third official visit as Prime Minister, and an important one at that, given the number of agreements that were signed. On a six-day visit, Razak reached New Delhi on March 31, and proceeded to Jaipur on April 2 following an invitation by Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia.
The Malaysian delegation’s six-day official visit to India focused on the close political and economic ties between the two tions. Razak had written exclusively in the Hindustan Times about the purpose of his visit and how the two tions have shared similar trade, economic and persol/cultural affinities over the decades.
But what is really behind the Malaysian Prime Minister’s official visit to India?
Razak’s clicking a selfie with Tamil super star actor Rajinikanth at the latter’s home in Cheni on March 31 indicates Malaysia’s conscious attempt to bring “the people” of both Malaysia and India to a certain level of understanding, that the two tions share close cultural ties, apart from the trade and economic ties that already exist.
It is also seen as a move to appease the Tamil community in Malaysia, i.e., to suggest that the friendly and familiar relationship between the Tamil communities in both India and Malaysia remains strong. For Modi, too, the appeasement of the Tamil community in south India is a positive political move in the direction of winning over more adverse political opinions. (The south here includes the states of Andhra Pradesh, Kartaka, Kerala, Tamil du and Telanga and the Union territories of Puducherry and Lakshadweep).
Jaideep Mazumdar, Joint Secretary in charge of Malaysia-India diplomatic relations in the Indian foreign ministry, confirmed the following:
* That India and Malaysia discussed $5 billion worth of two-way investments during Razak’s five-day visit in a bid to boost economic linkages between Asia’s third-largest economy (India) and one of the fastest-growing economies in South East Asia (Malaysia).
* That India is keen on building stronger political, economic and strategic ties with Malaysia, seen as a moderate Muslim tion with a population of approximately 28 million.
* That Indian firms have moved to Malaysia in a big way, making it a base to do business with other ASEAN tions.
* That Malaysia has invested about $6 billion worth of projects in India and Indian investment in Malaysia amounts to about $2.5 billion.
In the defence and security are, Indian pilots operating Sukhoi-30 frontline fighter aircraft were training Malaysian defence personnel on Sukhois in Malaysia between 2008 and 2010. Mazumdar also said that India inducted the Russian-made Sukhois into its inventory in 1997 and has been steadily adding to its numbers in the Indian Air Force. The two countries (India and Malaysia) held their first military exercises in 2012 and their first val exercises in 2016.
In general, the relationship encompasses a very wide canvas from economic and commercial to defence and security, besides the traditiol people-to-people links.
India and Malaysia signed an MoU on Defence Cooperation in 1993 and a Malaysia-India Defence Cooperation Meeting (MIDCOM) was established under its framework. Several MIDCOM meetings and reciprocal visits of high-level defence personnel have been taking place since 1993.
Defence cooperation with Malaysia is in the interest of India from the point of view of both economic and strategic aspects. Besides a seller-buyer relationship with respect to military hardware, India and Malaysia also cooperate to secure the Malacca Straits through joint patrols and other activities. India and Malaysia have discussed the issue of compulsory pilotage of the Malacca Straits at the latest Shangri La security dialogue held in Singapore. India’s expertise in maritime security can be useful for protecting the rrow channel of the Malacca Straits from emerging non-traditiol security threats in Southeast Asia.
Compared to Malaysia’s relations with India during the administration of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, Razak sees a new and improved relationship, a new “high” in the areas of infrastructure development, student exchange, and other areas. The two tions agreed to revitalise the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), as well as to be more proactive in the Regiol Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Overall, the two leaders unimously declared that relations between India and Malaysia are at an all-time high. However, like most official dignitary-level visits and meetings, what is reported of the diplomatic exchange between the leaders of both India and Malaysia goes only skin deep. There is more to Razak’s visit to India.
Domestically the repercussions are enormous. During this somewhat volatile political situation at home (in Malaysia), there is a need to apply a holistic approach to governce. A large chunk of this governce involves placating and seeing to the needs of the different races within Malaysia, including the very influential and visible ethnic Indians — most of whom are Tamils — linguistically, religiously and culturally.
Furthermore, this holistic approach to diplomacy takes into consideration two other important aspects of strategic thinking: First, Razak’s decision to visit India is closely tied to the geopolitical competition between India and Chi in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR); and second, Malaysia’s stance as a small power juxtaposed with the major powers of India and Chi.
Malaysia’s role can be best explained as a balancer between the two formidable powers. Both Razak and Modi realise the threat of an encroaching Chi into the Indian Ocean Region, but this point was not mentioned during talks between the two leaders. (IANS)
(The author is Senior Lecturer in Strategic Studies and Intertiol Relations in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at tiol University of Malaysia, Selangor. The article is in special arrangement with South Asia Monitor/www.southasiamonitor.org)
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