Najib's official visit to India: Towards stronger bilateral ties

B Suresh Ram

THE New Straits Times speaks to the High Commissioner of India to Malaysia T.S. Tirumurti on the upcoming visit by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to India and how it is expected to further boost their diamond jubilee in bilateral ties this year

Question: How are the bilateral relations between Malaysia and India, after 60 years?

Answer: Relations between India and Malaysia are probably at their highest level right now. Apart from our historical and civilisational ties, and the presence of a very large Indian diaspora in Malaysia, the last 60 years have witnessed growing proximity between the two nations in a range of areas. The forging of a strategic partnership between India and Malaysia in 2010 has made the relationship multi-dimensional. I would like to acknowledge the important initiatives taken by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in bringing our two countries closer. This visit, in the context of the 60th anniversary of establishment of the diplomatic relations, follows Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s landmark visit to Malaysia in November 2015.

Q: How significant is Najib’s visit to India?

A: The visit of the prime minister of Malaysia to India promises to be an important one. He will hold bilateral talks with our leadership, including Modi. We are confident that we will take to a new high our close bilateral ties in defence and security, investment and commercial ties, health and Indian traditional medicine, education and entrepreneurship, sports, etc. We expect an announcement of business engagements to the tune of around US$5billion (RM22 billion) during this visit. His visit to Chennai will boost ties between the Indian diaspora in Malaysia and Tamil Nadu, since most of the Indian community here are Tamils.

Q: What are the agreements and memoranda of understanding (MoUs) expected to be inked by Malaysia and India during the visit?

A: While we are in the process of finalising the MoUs and agreements, we hope to sign or announce agreements in the areas of business and investment, defence, health, Indian traditional medicine, sports, entrepreneurship and education. We also look forward to signing more than 15 business agreements. Agreements are also expected to be announced with the states of Rajasthan, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Q: How important was the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement signed by Malaysia and India in 2011, and how has it boosted trade and business between both nations?

A: The signing of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement in 2011 was, indeed, a significant development. The trade had, however, stagnated recently, partly due to external economic downturns and the slide of the ringgit. Trade balance is also against India. We hope that this visit will serve to boost business-to-business engagements and give a fillip to our trade engagement. We also look forward to signing a balanced Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement with East Asian countries.

Q: How can Malaysia and India boost trade and investment between both nations?

A: There is definitely considerable potential in trade and investment between the two countries. As the world economy and the Malaysian economy pick up, we should see a spurt in growth in our trade relations. As regards to investment, I would like to underline that more should be done by the private sector in Malaysia to engage and look for business opportunities in India since, unlike in a few other countries they are used to, Indian business is private-sector driven and the Malaysian companies have to invest that much more effort.

Q: Thousands of Malaysians are studying in Indian universities and more Indians are now coming to Malaysia for their education. How can this be enhanced further?

A: More than 7,000 to 8,000 Malaysians are currently studying in India, mainly in medicine. Furthermore, our educational institutions, like the Malacca Manipal Medical College, are household names. There is a need to open up Indian education to Malaysians in other fields. I hope that the agreement on equivalence and recognition of degrees can be signed between India and Malaysia during this visit, since it will particularly benefit Malaysian students. This is a call which Malaysia has to take, since we have such agreements with all major countries of the world which have recognised the strength of India’s educational institutions.

Q: Some 180 flights connect Malaysia and India. How could this be further leveraged upon by both nations?

A: Tourism and connectivity are certainly of great interest to both countries. Let us not forget that AirAsia is now a domestic airline in India, and various Malaysian airlines fly to most destinations in India. I am happy to note, from press reports, that some of the initiatives announced by the Malaysian government target Indian tourists, whose numbers had decreased last year due to various factors. I am hopeful that these issues will be addressed. The announcement of lifelong Overseas Citizen of India Cards to Malaysian Indians by our prime minister has given a big boost to strengthening our ties with the Indian diaspora in Malaysia, and facilitates their travel to India for pilgrimage and tourism, and also investments in India.

Q: Will visa travel regime between Malaysia and India be reviewed to further ease travel by citizens of both nations to each country?

A: India has already eased the visa travel regime both by granting e-visas to Malaysians, as well as announcing Overseas Citizen of India Cards to Malaysians of Indian origin for lifelong travel and stay in India. I have also read reports of Malaysia easing visa requirements for Indians. Let us hope that this leads to a greater spurt for connectivity between the two nations.