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New dimensions of mutual relations are opening up in the countries of the world facing the Corona crisis. The rift in the friendship of India-Malaysia is also confined in this era of crisis. Will the friendship of these two countries rise again.

The last two years have been tense and full of ups and downs for India-Malaysia relations. During the tenure of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, India-Malaysia relationship declined unexpectedly and this was not a matter of foreign policy but the internal affairs of India. Mahathir made several statements against Section 370, CAA and NRC. In this, his statement on Kashmir in the United Nations was quite disputed. India strongly opposed these statements.

The more surprising thing for India is that like India, Malaysia's foreign policy is still based on the fundamental principles of non-alignment. Not interfering in the internal affairs of other countries has been its important dimension. Despite this, Mahathir had almost decided that he would only accept his views on India's internal affairs and he tried to do so many times. Significantly, Mahathir's silence in the case of Uygur Muslims in China left no doubt in India's mind that Mahathir's statements are rooted in internal party politics, growing proximity to Pakistan, and new regional equations. However, the situation worsened and bilateral trade relations had to bear its brunt.

Waving malaysia india flag

New governance, new initiative

In a dramatic political development, when Mahathir was ousted from power and formed the government of Tanshree Mohideen Yasin in March, the foreign ministries of the two countries got a new opportunity to demonstrate their skills of bilateral diplomacy, although this has not been so easy. The new government has not said anything on India's internal issues so that it seems that it is following the footsteps of its predecessor government. Apart from this, both Prime Minister Mohideen and Foreign Minister Hishmuddin Hussain have strongly advocated positive relations with India.

In recent times, the decision of Indian traders not to buy Malaysian palm oil has put Malaysia in trouble. A large part of Malaysia's economy is dependent on palm oil exports. Malaysia is the world's second largest producer of palm oil. On the other hand, India has been the largest importer of Malaysian palm oil for the last more than five years. Although everything will take time to be the same, but efforts are continuing from both sides.

For example, in March, India lifted the 5 per cent import duty on edible oil, which was seen as a major step towards improving the relationship. The decision to not extend the 5 percent bilateral safeguard duty on palm oil coming from Malaysia also gave a lot of strength to the new government of Malaysia. This was a necessary step for both Malaysia and India, who were struggling with uncertainty in economic matters. Malaysia's commodity minister Mohammad Khairuddin Aman Razali considered it a positive step and also showed hope of improving relations.

Steps taken

With Tanashree Mohideen Yasin becoming Prime Minister, India and Malaysia started efforts to improve relations. The Indian High Commission in Malaysia contributed significantly to this, whether it was the beginning of a dialogue between the two Prime Ministers, an online conversation between Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and Malaysian Foreign Minister Dato Hashimuddin, or the Kovid-19 pandemic in which the two countries were stranded to secure their citizens. To get back to their homeland, Indian and Malaysian High Commissions and Ministries have worked shoulder to shoulder. This is the reason that the possibility of improvement is looking strong.

Between the Kovid-19 epidemic, the two countries have greatly strengthened mutual cooperation and there are strong reasons for this. Both India and Malaysia know that they are important to each other. This is the reason that soon after the arrival of the new government, both countries started to bridge the rift in diplomatic relations.

On 14 April, India accepted Malaysia's request to export 89,100 hydrochloroquine tablets to it. It is an anti-malarial drug which is proving to be very effective in fighting Kovid-19. India is the largest producer of hydrochloroquine. In March, India had banned its export completely and currently only 55 countries are being exported this medicine. India's largest producers are Tata Pharmaceutical, IPCA Laboratories and Cadila Healthcare.

This friendly step of India was well appreciated by the Malaysian government. Going a step further, last week, Director General of Health Department Dr. Noor Hashim also revealed that Malaysia is working with some selected countries to make the vaccine of Kovid-19. Apart from China, Britain, Russia, and Bosnia, India also has a name in it. Malaysia has been recognized by WHO as a research center for the trial of the Kovid-19 vaccine. Efforts to produce the Kovid-19 vaccine together will undoubtedly increase cooperation in the health sector of both countries.

Age old relationship

Relations between Malaysia and India are centuries old. This relationship is much deeper and broader than historical contexts, archaeological evidence, democratic systems and diaspora relations. For example, after the death of Mahatma Gandhi, the then Prime Minister Nehru made a special arrangement that Gandhi's ashes be sent to the then Malaya (today's Malaysia and Singapore) so that people could have their last darshan. When Malaya was partitioned and it was decided that Malaysia and Singapore would become two separate countries, India supported Malaysia with great outspokenness, however, because of this Indonesia became very angry and in 1965 it attacked Pakistan in support of Pakistan. Threatened.

Malaysia has supported India on every diplomatic front in every war, including the 1962 war between India and China. Although in the 20th century, India did not have as good relations with the countries of Southeast Asia due to the Cold War, but Malaysia stood firmly with India and India did not leave Malaysia. In Indian foreign policy, Malaysia occupies an important position in every field, economic, commercial, strategic, diaspora, and diplomatic.

With the coming of Look East Policy in 1992, relations got stronger and both the countries were quite sure that their friendship was only to move forward. Since the introduction of the Act East policy in 2014, India's relations with Southeast Asian countries have only strengthened, but the tension with Malaysia in the last two years has been stinging like a grimace of the eye.

With the recent efforts, it seems that both the countries will be able to move forward by forgetting the disputes. It is expected that as soon as the Kovid-19 crisis ends, a Malaysian delegation will visit India and take positive steps on the issue of palm oil. Whatever the future, at least it is clear that both countries are aware of their relationship and are also trying to improve them. This is the essential requirement of keeping a friendship intact and strong.

(Rahul Mishra is Senior Lecturer of International Politics at the Asia-Europe Institute, Universiti Malaya )

Article was first published on DW.com Hindi version

Last Update: 11/11/2021