|Name of Event:
Third ICWA-ISIS India-Malaysia Strategic Dialogue"
House, New Delhi
The Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) in association
with the Institute of Strategic and International Studies
(ISIS), Malaysia, hosted the third India-Malaysia Strategic
Dialogue at Sapru House, New Delhi on 12-13 April 2012.
The dialogue spanned into seven sessions, including
five working sessions. The last ICWA-ISIS India-Malaysia
Strategic Dialogue was held at ISIS, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The 3rd Strategic Dialogue took place in the backdrop
of growing convergence of interests of the two countries,
both at the government and track-two levels. Both the
countries wish to strengthen their relationship and
develop common stakes in the future of a stable and
peaceful Asia-Pacific. The seminar intended to discuss
the following issues: international issues of mutual
interests, broadening of security cooperation and greater
role for the private sectors in the economic integration.
Approximately fifty scholars and professionals from
academia, diplomatic services, media and young researchers
from India and Malaysia shared their views in a free
and frank manner.
12 April 2012
The seminar was inaugurated by Shri Sarvajit Chakravarti,
Acting Director-General (ADG), ICWA and Dato’
Dr Mahani Zainal Abidin, Chief Executive, ISIS, Malaysia.
During his welcome remarks, Shri Chakravarti characterised
the strategic dialogue between the two institutions
as a success story. The dialogue has offered an important
avenue for an in-depth discussion on economic, security
and international issues of common interests and the
future trajectories of the relationships of two countries.
Dr Mahani in her opening remarks said that this Dialogue
was important in view of the developments in the Middle
East and Myanmar, and added that India and Malaysia
could come together to enhance the potential of India’s
Look East policy and its engagement with the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. She also
highlighted the importance of “people-to-people”
While delivering the keynote address, Shri Sanjay Singh,
Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs, Government
of India, underscored that India and Malaysia were maritime
neighbours and had common interests, and that Malaysia
could look towards India as a “trusted partner”
as it had played a “constructive role” in
ASEAN. He highlighted the historical linkages between
the two countries and added that there had been a “paradigm
shift” in India-Malaysia bilateral relationship.
He assessed that a remarkable progress had been registered
in the relationship in recent past. Shri Singh said
that the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement
(CECA) could work as the “mainstay” of bilateral
economic relationship and expressed hope that the target
of US$50 billion bilateral trade could be achieved even
before the target year of 2015. While focusing on institutional
linkages between the two countries, he explored the
possibility how India could further facilitate to build
the regional architecture in ASEAN. Shri Singh identified
non-traditional security challenges and natural calamities
as important areas of bilateral cooperation.
Session – I
India-Malaysia Strategic Partnership
The first business session of the day focused on various
aspects of India-Malaysia strategic partnership. The
relationship of the two countries was revisited. It
was observed that the fundamental positive changes had
occurred during the period of the incumbent Malaysian
Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. Growing level of connectivity
at different levels between the two countries; government-to-government,
business-to-business and people-to-people was lauded.
The representative from Malaysia in this session presented
the Malaysian view on India-Malaysia Strategic Partnership.
Alluding to the historical linkages between the two
countries in their colonial past, it was emphasised
that India and Malaysia had come closer after the end
of the Cold War, India’s initiation of ‘Look
East’ policy, subsequently, becoming ASEAN’s
dialogue partner. The role of the Indian diaspora in
building the relationship was also highlighted briefly
during this session.
The participants discussed the India-Malaysia relations
within the larger conceptual framework of ‘strategic
partnership’. It was affirmed that a relationship
became “strategic” when there was an angle
of defence cooperation between the two countries to
deal with a common threat. The scholars were of the
view that the defence cooperation between the two countries,
especially in the maritime sector, had been increasing.
About the bilateral economic development, it was suggested
that the trend in business-to-business contact had been
“positive” and there was an ample scope
to develop this further. India’s trade with Asia
has surpassed its combined trade with Europe and the
US. The Malaysian participants called for Indian defence
industry’s greater involvement in the Malaysian
defence acquisitions to further boost the economic cooperation
between the two countries.
The importance of people-to-people contact was underscored
by all speakers. Both the countries need to enhance
sharing of each other’s experiences in this area
as both are plural societies believing in “unity
in diversity”. However, “managing pluralities”
has been a complex issue and both the countries need
to address it with sensitivity. It was also highlighted
that the relationship should go beyond defence cooperation
and there should be greater ‘visibility’
in the media of the two countries underlining India-Malaysia
relationship. The two countries could work together
in the areas of human trafficking, drug trafficking,
terrorism and renewable energy.
The session ended with a Q & A and open discussion
focusing on three issues – the role of the Indian
diaspora in strengthening the bilateral relations, common
stakes in the bilateral relations and the role of the
media. It was noted that Indians had been very successful
in Malaysia and suggestions were made for increased
people-to-people contacts through Indian diaspora to
increase its engagement with Malaysia as well as ASEAN.
However, it was also suggested that people-to-people
relations should not remain limited to the Indian diaspora
alone. A suggestion was made to set up a Joint Council
of Social Interaction. Two common stakes in the relationship
were identified - freedom of navigation in the Bay of
Bengal, Strait of Malacca and South China Sea, and stakes
in the sustenance of regional multilateral organizations
and disaster management.
Session – II
India, Malaysia and Multilateral Institutions: Building
a Common Regional Agenda
This session primarily dealt with India’s engagement
with multilateral institutions of Southeast Asia and
how India and Malaysia could work together towards developing
a common agenda at these forums and strengthen them.
It was observed that India had shown enthusiasm in the
recent years about its participation in the ASEAN multilateral
Changing strategic dynamics in the region in view of
the “rise” of India and China was discussed.
It was observed that the East Asian Summit (EAS) was
linked with the Asian security, and the EAS had broadened
the scope of “inclusive security”, “cooperative
security” and “comprehensive security”.
India’s increased support to Malaysia-based Southeast
Asia Regional Cooperation to Counter Terrorism (SEARCCT),
set up in 2003 was highlighted. The recent developments
in Myanmar were also discussed. India and Malaysia’s
common interests in Myanmar’s rehabilitation to
the ASEAN community were analyzed, and it was suggested
that the country should not be allowed to become a “proxy”
of any major power. The speakers suggested that the
two countries should work together towards strengthening
ASEAN-driven forums, identify potential agenda for deliberation
and implement them in a time-bound manner. The challenges
facing the two countries are managing diversity and
pluralism, strengthening counter terrorism cooperation.
India and Malaysia should collectively propose a Joint
Working Group to oversee different aspects of maritime
security cooperation within the forum.
There is a need to bring issues to the table for deliberations
and India-Malaysia cooperation in these forums can be
valuable in managing regional uncertainties in future.
It was proposed that India and Malaysia should spearhead
the EAS agenda of sustainable development, climate change
and energy security, facilitate softer areas of engagement.
The two countries, at the ARF, should work together
towards the implementation of the Vision Statement of
2009 and the Hanoi Plan of Action of 2010.
The presentations were followed by a comment and question-answer
session. During this session, the panellists agreed
that the countries could enhance facilitation to each
other. Malaysia can be India’s “gateway”
to ASEAN and vice versa, to SAARC and BIMSTEC. In this
manner both the countries can play an important role
in bring the South Asia and Southeast Asia closer, resulting
into increased stability and prosperity in both the
Session – III: Enhancing India-Malaysia
Defence and Security Cooperation
The third session of the Dialogue discussed various
dimensions of India-Malaysia defence and security cooperation.
Remarks were made that the defence relationship had
been “cordial” and “long-standing”
between the two countries. An outline of bilateral defence
and security relationship was drawn and it was found
that the relationship had been “below par”.
The participants suggested that there was an ample scope
to grow this relationship in the security paradigm in
the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Malacca. Greater
interactions between the two countries in the areas
of non-traditional security challenges such as food
security, human trafficking, disaster management etc.
as well as in the areas of sea monitoring were sought.
The Malaysian representative in the session rather focused
on military-to-military cooperation, and the ways to
devise working relationship between the two countries.
Rejecting the idea of the ‘below par’ level
of India-Malaysia defence relations, it was argued that
since security objectives of India and Malaysia were
different, imperatives for greater defence cooperation
had been absent.
During the Q & A session, it was agreed that Indian
Ocean and Pacific Ocean or Indo-Pacific fell within
the ambits of India’s Look East policy. It was
suggested that more focus should be given to promote
economic cooperation and the bilateral security cooperation
should focus on softer security issues such as immigration,
drug trafficking and piracy. The participants also expressed
concerns over the presence of large number of regional
and extra-regional navies in the South China Sea area.
The third session concluded with the screening of a
documentary on the history of ICWA by Mr. Suhas Borker.
After the documentary, the Acting Director-General thanked
all participants for their contributions during the
13 April 2012
Session IV: India-Malaysia Economic Integration
While discussing the strategic partnership between India
and Malaysia, it was suggested that the economic integration
would depend upon how the economic factors figure in
the mutual partnership. Putting India-Malaysia relations
in the multilateral context of ASEAN, the economic determinants
in India’s Look East policy were also discussed.
Locating India-Malaysia economic relations within the
larger context of India’s Look East policy imperatives,
it was underscored that the policy represented a strategic
shift in India’s world view. Major challenge for
the Indo-Malay partnership is to scale up the economic
relations. A lack of production and manufacturing network
between India and Malaysia exists that in return is
affecting the potentials of the two countries.
Trade and investment between the two countries has
increased substantially after the signing of CECA
in 2011and various policy initiatives put in place
for further improvement in the bilateral economic
relations. The CECA has the potential of reshaping
the partnership between two countries and would facilitate
movement of business people and help boost cross-border
investment between the two countries. A study group
has been created.
India can be a big market for Malaysian palm oil especially
after the reduction of the import tariffs and an important
destination for Malaysian investment in the development
of infrastructure. While discussing India’s
infrastructure development programmes, such as Jawaharlal
Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), it
was noted that the number of cities was increasing
and urbanization was picking up pace in India, thereby,
offering immense scope for the Malaysian investment
in infrastructure and construction sectors. On the
other hand, Malaysia is the largest market for India’s
engineering goods in the ASEAN region. It was argued
that India-Malaysia partnership was a classic case
of mutual benefits and trust. To expand the partnership,
double taxation should be avoided and medicine and
energy should be included in the partnership.
There are immense opportunities for greater bilateral
economic integration and investment in the infrastructure
sector. Several initiatives have been taken by the
government of Malaysia for the promotion of FDI, such
as a special chapter for the FDI and business people.
Malaysia and India have created the CEO Forum to promote
business-to-business networks between the two countries.
The concept of Islamic banking was also discussed.
It was explored that how can it promote business and
investment in India. A suggestion was made that the
Islamic banking should not be looked only through
religion. The idea and mission of the Islamic banking
is quite broad and compatible with India’s secular
social and political ethos. It can promote Malaysian
investment in India. In relation to the low level
of India-Malaysia economic relations in comparison
with that of Malaysia-China, it was argued that the
economic partnership with India should not be compared
Session V: India-Malaysia People-to-People Contacts
People-to-people contacts were discussed in the final
session of the dialogue. A need was felt to adopt
a cautious approach while dealing with people to people
relations, which was a sensitive issue between India
and Malaysia. Despite some contentious issues, India
and Malaysia share a long history of their cultural
relations. Tamil movies, foods, cultural strands can
be easily found in Malaysia. Earlier doctors and lawyers
in Malaysia were predominantly from India.
The Malaysian perspective on India has generally been
derived from the Indian diaspora present in that country.
It generally portrays a partial image of India represented
only by the IT professionals and unskilled workers.
For broad-base relations, common people should be
included and some of the best ways to promote these
relations are through cultural functions, dances,
music and films. This is a kind of multi-layered cultural
exchange. Malaysia India Foundation should be set
up and the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas should be expanded.
An India culture centre has already been established
Generally, media ignores positive aspects of India-Malaysia
relations. It often sensationalises ethnic issues
in Malaysia. Malay foods and dresses are popular in
India. Indian films and film actors, especially the
Khans, dances, music and arts are very popular in
It was noticed that approximately 26 per cent of the
affluent Indians liked to travel Malaysia for tourism.
The Malaysian conditions in terms of foods, culture,
weather and services costs are favourable for Indians.
Former Indian President Abdul Kalam mooted the idea
of Indo-ASEAN knowledge hub. People-to-people contacts
should be carefully nurtured and governments of both
the countries should play the role of facilitators.
In conclusion, the panellists during all sessions
were unanimous that India-Malaysia relations are getting
stronger and the two countries must explore new vistas
to deepen bilateral cooperation and strengthen their
joint presence at multilateral institutions.
The 4th session of ICWA-ISIS India-Malaysia Strategic
Dialogue is scheduled in Malaysia.
Following suggestions for deepening and widening the
India-Malaysia cooperation were made during the dialogue.
Defence and Security Cooperation
• To increase defence cooperation, especially
in the maritime security, to deal with non-traditional
security and natural calamities such as tsunami
• To cooperate to control human trafficking, drug
trafficking and terrorism
• To increase the involvement of Indian defence
industry in Malaysia
• To work together on climate change
• To work together in the areas of renewable
• To explore the area of bio-fuel, bio-diesel,
using waste cooking oil and vegetable waste
• To work on increasing visits by tourists in
each other’s countries
• To cooperate in WTO negotiations
• To bring the issue of food security, energy
security and disaster management in the domain of
Public Diplomacy and People-to-People Contacts
• To establish connectivity at different levels,
government-to-government, business-to- business and
• Regular visits by countries’ leadership
• To explore the possibility of Indian diaspora
playing a role in furthering the country’s engagement
with Malaysia, and using them as “bridge builder”
between two countries
• To establish India-Malaysia Foundation on
the pattern of Japan Foundation
• To sensitize people, establishment of a Malaysian
Cultural Centre in India
• To urge media to increase coverage of India-Malaysia
• To create a joint council on social interaction
• To establish India Chair in different Malay
• To increase exchange of students
Cooperation at Multilateral Fora
• India and Malaysia should work together towards
strengthening the ASEAN cooperative forums and develop
a common regional agenda in these forums
• Malaysia as India’s “gateway”
• India as Malaysia’s gateway to SAARC
• Increased interaction among civil societies
of the two countries.
Report by: Dr.
Athar Zafar and Dr. Dinoj Kr Upadhyay, Research Fellow,
Indian Council of World Affairs