As 63 years of independence and the opening of diplomatic ties with the Kingdom are marked, Malaysian Ambassador to Cambodia HE Eldeen Husaini Mohd Hashim shares with The Post his views on the flourishing relations between the two nations.
What are the main priority areas that will be given preference to enhance bilateral relations between both nations?
One of my main priorities is of course to assist fellow Malaysians in Cambodia, including helping further their business interests here. Helping Malaysians establish a bigger business footprint in the Kingdom will help enhance our ties with Cambodia.
My other priority is to continue engaging closely with all cabinet ministers, senior ministers, members of parliament, local authorities and key Cambodian figures to maintain our existing cooperation, while exploring other areas of mutual interest such as telecommunications, finance and banking, cyber security, sport and tourism.
In view of the Covid-19 restrictions, I intend to keep the momentum going by utilising information technology such as Zoom and social media, as well as organising gatherings and events on a much smaller scale.
Malaysia and Cambodia have enjoyed solid bilateral relations. How do you rate the level of ties so far, both in terms of people-to-people ties and from trade and investment perspectives?
Having been in Cambodia for just over a year now, I would summarise our relations as Malaysia and the Kingdom having collectively built up excellent bilateral ties. We now have a solid platform on which to continue helping each other to achieve further greatness.
I am upbeat because you just need to look at the figures – we are among the top investors in the Kingdom, while bilateral trade and other statistics such as tourism numbers have seen upward trajectories over recent years.
In terms of people linkages, it is clear that our people possess the same qualities, such as perseverance, patience and the tendency to work hard. We also share some common history. These are some of the many reasons why Malaysians and Cambodians interact so well together.
Having our ties in an excellent state does not mean we can now rest easy – there is always a higher level of cooperation to aim for and there is potential synergy in other as of yet unexplored areas. Plus, with the Covid-19 outbreak, we must work even closer to address this challenge and ensure our economies remain on a firm footing.
In which areas if any could both governments improve in to better two-way ties?
As mentioned before, our relations are already at an excellent level. I wouldn’t say there was a need for improvements, but rather for us to think innovatively and do more to capitalise on our excellent state of relations.
Among the things we need to look into is to promote more exchanges of visits by our senior officials and ministers.
We had built up good momentum in 2019 pursuant to our head of government’s official visit in September that year. This had looked set to build further by the end of this year with the ASEM [Asia-Europe Meeting], but the Covid-19 outbreak changed that.
However, I am certain the world will address the pandemic eventually and the momentum of our two-way relations will build again.
Another aspect that I wish to enhance are linkages between our key agencies. For example, I want to engineer closer links between military, trade and investment agencies, our agencies specialising in economic transformation, our respective institutes on foreign relations, and other possible link ups between our governments’ key people and organisations.
That is why I am scheduled to visit a number of provinces, such as Preah Sihanouk, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Ratanakkiri, to explore more possible link-ups.
What is the current status of the Double Taxation Avoidance (DTA) agreement?
The signing of the DTA agreement on September 3 last year, during the official visit of the then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to the Kingdom was a watershed event.
It was one of those milestones that signified an elevation of our bilateral ties.
The DTA agreement is one of the most essential bilateral agreements. The provisions contained therein will go a long way in encouraging greater commerce and easing the process of conducting business between Malaysia and Cambodia.
Regarding ratification, I have reminded the relevant Malaysian authorities to address the issue accordingly and in an expeditious manner.
Bilateral trade is on an upward trajectory. What is driving the trade segment and is private sector participation contributing to the growth?
Malaysia-Cambodia trade over the years has continued its positive momentum. Total bilateral trade for last year stood at $767.3 million. This was a healthy 37 per cent increase on the previous year.
Without the active participation of our private sector, we definitely would not have come this far. Our two governments did their fair share by facilitating, promoting and encouraging business link-ups, but it’s our business people who actually got down and made deals happen.
Our excellent state of trade relations wouldn’t have been possible without the commitment and dedication of both our private and public sectors. However, trade from January until June this year decreased 46 per cent compared to the same period in 2019. This year’s lower figures are due to the challenges brought about by Covid-19.
If it wasn’t for Covid, our trade links would probably have continued on their upward trajectory. That’s why I am confident the numbers will increase again by next year or even earlier as the pandemic clears.
How is bilateral tourism progressing?
With regard to bilateral tourism, the exchange of tourist visits between our two countries before Covid has continued to rise, but again this year’s figures have decreased quite substantially because of the pandemic.
The tourism sector has been one of the hardest hit sectors for many countries. However, once Covid clears, I foresee a rise in the number of tourist exchanges between Malaysia and Cambodia as there is a lot of desire there.
Can Malaysia use Cambodia as a gateway to export halal food into the European market?
Malaysia has already committed its support to Cambodia developing its halal sector. We have been working together since 2016 to realise this aspiration.
Cambodia has certainly shown significant progress in building up the needed SOP [standard operating procedures] for halal certification.
I am confident of Cambodia’s potential as a halal hub – it has a young Muslim demographic, it is strategically located in Indochina and Asean, and there is clear desire and commitment by the Cambodian government to develop the Kingdom’s halal sector.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created unprecedented levels of challenges – in the cross-border movement of people, the suspension of flights and a slowdown of businesses. How have both nations been addressing these issues?
We should be glad and thankful that our governments have been very proactive, and this has allowed our countries to largely halt the spread of Covid-19. However, we must bear in mind that the fight is far from over.
Resolving this requires a multi-pronged approach by governments. There are mechanisms at the Asean and bilateral levels, as well as possible arrangements involving two or three countries.
The Covid-19 situation is something that none of us has been through before. An unprecedented challenge like this requires unprecedented steps.
Due to the novelty of Covid-19, these mechanisms will need to be flexible and fluid in order to stem the tide of the virus while continuing to support our economies.