Will India's vote reshape ties with Malaysia?


India and Malaysia remain committed to strengthen their bilateral ties. — Unsplash

WITH India's recently concluded general election results expected on June 4, speculation swirls about New Delhi's future foreign policy agenda.

One key region in focus will likely be South-East Asia, with India's Act East Policy reaching its ten-year mark in 2024. Within Asean, Malaysia stands out as a crucial partner for India.

Malaysia's leadership role in Asean takes on added significance in 2025 as it assumes the Chair position. Malaysia's ability to navigate complex regional issues, including the Myanmar crisis, South China Sea dispute, regional economic integration and connectivity, and managing relations with China and the United States will be vital for Asean's role in shaping the Indo-Pacific. India, as a like-minded democracy, is a natural partner for a peaceful, inclusive, prosperous, rules-based, and stable region.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's upcoming visit to India scheduled for the fourth quarter this year underscores the commitment to strengthening strategic cooperation. This follows a period of increased bilateral interaction, including enhanced joint military exercises.

India and Malaysia boast a rich tapestry of connections woven from historical, economic, and cultural threads. The vibrant Indian diaspora of more than 2.77 million in Malaysia acts as a bridge between the two nations. Economically, Malaysia is India's third-largest trading partner in Asean, with bilateral trade poised to reach US$25bil (RM117.7bil) in the next three years. Malaysia's leadership in the semiconductor sector aligns with India's tech ambitions.

Indian citizens are now able to enjoy visa-free travel to Malaysia which permits a stay of up to 30 days for each entry and visit to the country, showcasing Malaysia's commitment to strengthening bilateral ties with India.

Both New Delhi and Putrajaya are mindful of the importance of their partnership on diplomatic, trade and investments, technology, and higher education fronts but also for regional peace, stability, and growth.

The future of this bilateral relationship holds promising potential for further cooperation in areas such as digital economy, semiconductor, renewable energy, pharmaceuticals, traditional medicine, artificial intelligence, small and medium enterprises (SME) and cooperatives and regional security frameworks, making Malaysia an indispensable partner for India.

As one of the world's biggest markets with huge skilled human resources, India offers equally important possibilities for Malaysia.

India is poised to become the world's third-largest economy by 2030, with an expected 7% GDP growth in 2026-2027 fiscal year.

India is currently the fifth-largest economy globally, trailing the US, China, Germany and Japan. Foreign investment and the movement of supply chains are two positive elements for India's future development. Over the last few years, India has increased its bilateral interaction, not only with the US and its security partners in Europe and Asia, but with countries in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Despite the strong foundation, challenges remain.

Geopolitical issues, trade disagreements, and diplomatic sensitivities require candid dialogue and mutual respect. The humanitarian crisis in Myanmar and heightened tensions in the South China Sea are worrisome for both New Delhi and Putrajaya.

While the 2009 Asean-India Trade in Goods Agreement is being reviewed by the two sides, Asean members have also urged India to reconsider joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The recent increase in bilateral visits, including Anwar's upcoming trip, signifies a commitment to addressing these concerns.

Since Anwar assumed office as Malaysia's Prime Minister in November 2022, there has been an upswing in bilateral visits, highlighting a shared commitment to address bilateral and regional matters through meaningful consultations.

In March this year, India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar paid a courtesy call on Anwar and the two leaders discussed cooperation in the areas of trade, science and technology, education, agriculture, tourism, defence and also on regional issues including Myanmar.

Although the outcome of the Indian elections may not directly influence India-Malaysia relations, India's rising trajectory in global politics and growing economic prowess are key factors why Malaysia should take India more seriously.

Malaysia's economic platforms and strategic role has significance for India in sustaining regional security and stability, especially considering its Indo-Pacific engagement plans such as the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative and Security and Growth for All in the Region (Sagar) initiatives. The two countries have boosted their defence cooperation through enhanced and upgraded joint exercises, training programmes, and high-level military exchanges.

With over 30 years of institutional partnership between Asean and India and centuries of close ties between Malaysia and India, there is optimism that a shared Indo-Pacific vision can contribute to maintaining a peaceful, prosperous, inclusive, and rule-based Indo-Pacific region with Asean at its core and Malaysia playing a crucial role in engaging the rising new India. — 360info™

Dr Rahul Mishra is an associate professor at the Centre for Indo-Pacific Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

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