India, Malaysia hold strategic dialogue, vow to bridge gap

By Mahendra Ved, IANS
Monday, February 1, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR - Singapore has 3,000 Indian firms compared to 400 in relatively bigger Malaysia. Taking a cue from this, India and Malaysia are now looking to bolster their ties that they agree have performed “below optimum level” thanks to “a large knowledge gap”.

The two sides resolved to bridge the information gap at the Second India-Malaysia Strategic Dialogue here last week.

Ideas mooted at the dialogue included establishing university chairs to promoting people-to-people ties like India promoting Bollywood stars who are extremely popular in Malaysia.

If India looked to strategising its ties with the largest trading partner in the Southeast Asian region last month, Malaysia too looked closely at India and also its own 1.9 million ethnic Indian population.

Prime Minister Mohammed Najib Tun Abdul Razak, who paid a four-day state visit to India Jan 19-23, Saturday visited the Sri Subramaniyar Swami Temple at Batu Caves near here to mark the annual Thaipusam festival celebrated by the Tamils who form the bulk of the Indian community.

Multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia requires its citizens to respect the religious beliefs of one another, he said.

“I want to stress here that respecting each other’s religion is not only a key virtue that we must defend, it is also one of the principles in Islam,” he told a million Hindus who thronged the ancient temple.

Senator A. Kohilan Pillay, Malaysia’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, said that other than India, Malaysia has strategic dialogue only with China.

A strategic dialogue would be worthwhile only with adequate knowledge, the role of experts in each field and a better understanding of issues, said officials, security analysts, businesspeople, economists and academics.

Pillay welcomed India’s growing presence in Malaysia’s economy that, he pointed out, was “below optimum level” although bilateral trade since India initiated liberalisation measures in 1992 has multiplied 17 times.

India’s “Look East Policy” has borne fruit. Trade doubled between 2005 and 2008 to $10.5 billion. However, the global economic crisis brought it down by 28 percent to $8429.68 million during January-October last year.

Both sides took note of the measures undertaken to recover from the crisis and resolved to bring it back on the track following wide-ranging Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) and a clutch of corporate-to-corporate contracts signed during Najib’s India visit.

There is discernible impatience in Malaysia at the slow pace of Indian responses when compared to China where, as a key official pointed out, “the Polit Bureau decides it and that is final”.

Comparisons were odious, Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) director general Sudhir T. Devare, who led the Indian side said, adding “China is both a challenge and opportunity for us.”

“Look beyond Chennai,” said Umang Sharma, chairman of Consortium of Indian Industries Malaysia(CIIM), and urged Malaysian entrepreneurs to focus on India’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

He urged Malaysians to acknowledge the fast rate of growth that India has registered in the recent years.

The dialogue, hosted by the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Malaysia and the ICWA, took a close look at the security situations in their respective regions, particularly the threats from terrorism and piracy on the high seas.

(Mahendra Ved can be contacted at

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