PM in Malaysia to firm up economic, defence, cultural ties

By Minu Jain, IANS,

Kuala Lumpur: Having said sayonara to Japan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived here Tuesday for a three-day visit during which he will underscore the linkages between India and Malaysia, particularly through the 2.1 million strong diaspora, and strengthen economic, defence and security ties.

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Accompanied by his wife Gursharan Kaur, Manmohan Singh, who comes here on the second leg of his three-nation Asia trip, was welcomed at the airport here by three Malaysian ministers – all of Indian origin.

The three were Deputy Foreign Minister Kohilan Pillai, Human Resource Minister S. Subramaniam and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Deva Mani.

Manmohan Singh, who comes here on the invitation of Malaysian Prime Minister Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak, will hold extensive discussions on varied issues with his counterpart. The two are expected to announce the conclusion of negotiations on the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

Both prime ministers will also launch the India-Malaysia CEO’s Forum Wednesday to pursue all round and comprehensive economic development. The forum is also expected to promote greater trade and investment once the CECA comes into force.

The 18-member Indian side, which also includes Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw of Biocon Ltd and Malvinder Singh of Fortis Healthcare, is headed by L&T Chief Managing Director A.M. Naik.

Malaysia is India’s second largest trading partner in the ASEAN region. Trade had gone up from $1 billion to just below $5 billion in 2005; it doubled to $10 billion in 2008 before dipping in the face of the economic crisis and was again expected to touch $10 billion this year, explained informed sources.

While Indian companies have been establishing their footprints in Malaysia, the Southeast Asian country also sees an advantage in benefiting from India’s economic growth. Very large companies, sources said, want to be part of India’s infrastructure growth.

Major announcements are expected in the next two-three weeks, it is learnt. One pointer towards the growing links between the two countries was the fact there were 115 direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Indian cities.

In the field of defence, relations have soared after the Indian Air Force was deployed to train Malaysian pilots on their frontline fighter, Sukhoi-30SKM.

If strengthening economic and defence ties is an area of focus, enhancing people to people ties is another. Indian origin communities comprise about 2.1 million, representing eight percent of the country’s population. It is the largest PIO (people of Indian origin) community outside of India.

Accordingly, Manmohan Singh and Razak will jointly launch the renovated Little India area in Brickfields in central Kuala Lumpur. The settlement of Tamil speaking people of Indian origin people is being transformed into Little India as part of the government’s 1Malaysia programme.

The Malaysian government plans to spend about $10 million in refurbishing and upgrading the area, it is learnt.

This is the first bilateral visit by an Indian prime minister in nine years. The last prime minister to have come was Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001.

Experts here see some significance in the fact that Prime Minister Razak visited India in January this year, within the first year of taking office. He visited India before visiting countries like the US.

During the visit of the prime minister, who will also have an audience with the king and queen of Malaysia, several agreements are likely to be signed in areas like infrastructure, IT and health and medicine.

The prime minister leaves here Thursday for Vietnam, where he will take part in the India-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit.