India-Malaysia have been in 60 years long formal diplomatic relationship. In India’s Look East policy, Malaysia is a very important partner. On the agenda with Malaysia, the economic cooperation and defence relationship is being emphasised a lot. Both the countries also want to strengthen the military relationship in near future.
First MoU for defence cooperation was signed in 1963 and since then, there has been extensive cooperation. Malaysia Navy has been participating in the Milan exercise which India holds every two years. There is lot of scope in defence cooperation with Malaysia as it is good in manufacturing and eventually India has to also move forward towards manufacturing of defence products and equipment. And India also needs to have market for its own defence manufactured stuff.
The whole world is today dealing with menace of ISIS. Counter- terrorism is an issue on which India and Malaysia can find a common ground. India is also battling cross border terrorism whereas there have been threats of ISIS on Malaysia. Malaysia is an Islamic country but a moderate country. All the religions are treated equally. There are about 8% people of Indian origin and have full freedom to practice their religion etc. Thus, Malaysia is also worried about the radicalisation that is being forced upon by ISIS. Earlier there were reports of Malaysians being involved in terrorist activists. But lately there hasn’t been such reports. This shows that Malaysians have become very conscious of this danger to their society.
India has taken a consistent view of the same but the nations involved around the issue have not shown uniformity in responding to the same. Some are willing to go with china while some are not. Malaysia has had more of a quiet diplomacy. It feels that South China Sea issue could become a major irritant in the region as the time goes by.
China’s strengths and military capabilities have been known post its reaction to the ruling on maritime security by the international tribunal. The countries which are aggrieved, on whose territorial waters china is encroaching, they are not in a position to take on china directly. In ASEAN also, the members have not been able to take a collective position. Thus there is a move to have some kind of code of conduct for all countries in South China Sea but the progress on it is less. In this environment, role of Malaysia will be important in respect of how it deals with aggressive stance of china.
In the regional equations and the situations of major players in the Asian region, some have referred to it as Asian century given the fact that India and China are fast growing economies of world. Nations like Malaysia, Sri Lanka are trying to wedge their interest somewhere and feel secure. In a practical world, such nations in Asia realised that they need India and also China and hence national interests dictate that they align with multiple partners.
Whether the countries of the region say it publicly or not but they would like to ensure that rise of china is peaceful. If the signals from China are otherwise, then they’ll definitely like to have a balancing power. That balancing power can either be only Japan or India and may be some extent Vietnam. It may not be said publicly, but the strategic thinkers, foreign policy analysts of the countries of the region know that India is a peaceful country and doesn’t have expansionist desires. It is also a reliable partner and thus it should be strengthened.
Malaysia can play an important role in India’s Make in India mission. Malaysia has already invested 5 billion dollars and have many construction projects in India. Hence, the scope for more Malaysian investment is there. They have a sovereign fund which is called ‘khazana’ and they are looking for avenues to invest. For example, they have been present in Rajasthan and Amravati where they are into joint projects.
Malaysia has capacity of becoming part of global value chain in electronic hardware where Indian companies have not been successful in becoming a global value chain. Thus, it is one area where India can learn from Malaysia.
Ayurveda seems to be a growing area in Malaysia. Indian food, yoga and Ayurveda are soft power which has potential for increasing demand. Lot of people are trying to move away from chemicals for their personal use and for good health, they want natural products. Ayurveda has the answers for them which India can extensively promote in Malaysia.
Malaysia has a significant diaspora of Indian population. When one comes from a country which has substantial population that has routes to India, there are bound to be cultural inclination and soft corner. There are at present around 2 million people of Indian origin that are in Malaysia. They have now fully integrated in the Malaysian society. Earlier when they came to Malaysia in 19th century, they were plantation workers who were poor and at the bottom of the society. Now they are gradually coming up and they have a bright future. Politically also they are getting integrated in the mainstream positions.
Ties between India and Malaysia have shown a marked upswing in recent years giving economic cooperation stronger roots. India is keen on building stronger political, economic and strategic ties with Malaysia. In recent years, Indian firms have moved to Malaysia in a big way, making it a base to do business with other ASEAN countries. With respect to counter-terrorism, Malaysia has been greatly successful in countering radicalization and terrorism which is another area from where India can draw critical points. Thus, there is a good potential for both the countries to further their relationship on various fronts.
Connecting the dots:
A strong bond with a country rests first on economic cooperation and then slowly in strategic cooperation. Do you agree? With respect to this, discuss the potential of India’s relation with Malaysia given the constant friction between major powers of the region.