Tajikistan – Malaysia: Opportunities for enhanced cooperation

10/03/2021 06:20 PM

(This is an opinion piece written by Ambassador of Tajikistan to Malaysia Ardasher S. Qodiri)

KUALA LUMPUR, March 10 — Cooperation with Malaysia is one of the priority directions of Tajikistan’s Foreign Policy. Malaysia is considered a reliable friend and partner in the fast-growing region of Southeast Asia.

However, despite our prominent desire to establish closer cooperation, ever since we established our diplomatic relations more than a quarter-century ago (back in March 1992), we still have not been able to achieve the desired results.

The President of the Republic of Tajikistan,  Emomali Rahmon, visited Malaysia in October 2003 to attend the 10th session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as well as in June 2014 as part of the state visit, during which he’d had constructive meetings with the 14th Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, the then Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, and other high-ranking officials, including former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

These meetings gave fresh impetus to the development of bilateral ties. It should be noted and emphasised that the President and the Government of Tajikistan give great consideration and importance to strengthen friendly relations with Malaysia.

We believe that there is a strong potential for wider development and expansion in regards to the bilateral relations between Tajikistan and Malaysia. We are interested in the development of this cooperation in economic, scientific, technical, cultural, and humanitarian sectors.

High-Level Visits
In order to implement the forecasted cooperation in the below-defined areas, Tajikistan and Malaysia need to intensify the significance of their official visits to be at the highest level.

In February 2020, just one month before the worldwide pandemic outbreak, we’d received the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan, H.E. Mr. Sirojiddin Muhriddin, in Putrajaya by invitation of H.E. Dato Saifuddin Abdullah, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia.

That visit was a continuation of the strategy that we had planned, During the visit, our Minister handed an official message to His Majesty, the King of Malaysia, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa, in which was enclosed an invitation for Him to pay a state visit to Tajikistan. Our Minister also delivered an invitation to the Prime Minister of Malaysia to take part in the Second High-Level International Conference on the International Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development” 2018 – 2028, which was scheduled to be held on 18-20 June, 2020 in Dushanbe, but was later postponed due to unforeseen circumstances (the COVID-19 pandemic).

We are absolutely convinced that following the visits of Tajikistan’s President in June 2014 and the Minister’s in February 2020, the subsequent high-level visits of Malaysian officials will play a critical role in further expanding cooperation between our two friendly countries.

Bilateral Consultations and Intergovernmental Joint Commission
In 2014, two governments signed the agreement on economic, technical and scientific cooperation. According to it, both sides agreed to establish an Intergovernmental Joint Commission (IJC). The sides agreed that the issues of economic, technical and scientific cooperation between the two countries shall be discussed, examined, encouraged, promoted and evaluated by the Joint Commission. This agreement as well as Memorandum of Understanding between two governments determine the conduct of bilateral consultations to develop relations on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.
In cooperation with the Malaysian Foreign Ministry, we had already convened the first of the bilateral consultations in September 2019 in Dushanbe. Taking this opportunity, we express our sincere gratitude to the Malaysian side for being one of the parties at the first bilateral consultations, and we are looking forward to the next round of these consultations, which we believe will be more fruitful.

Continuing such a strategy, we consider it necessary to make efforts to convene the first Intergovernmental Joint Commission, which should include representatives of finance, tourism, education, agriculture, trade and other relevant structures from both parties.

Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Committee
It will also be beneficial for Tajikistan and Malaysia to engage in cooperative efforts of their legislative bodies. Parliamentary diplomacy is recognized as an effective and reliable mechanism in strengthening bilateral relations.

In November 2020, the Chairman of Majlisi Namoyandagon (Assembly of Representatives) of the Republic of Tajikistan, H.E. Mr Mahmadtoir Zokirzoda, held a virtual meeting with the Speaker of Dewan Rakyat of Malaysia, H.E. Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun.

During the meeting, both sides discussed a wide range of issues related to the development of inter-parliamentary cooperation, trade and economic relations, political dialogue, and other important subjects related to our two friendly countries. The Chairman of the Tajik Assembly of Representatives highlighted the interest of Tajikistan in closer cooperation and informed his Malaysian counterpart about the establishment of the inter-parliamentary friendship group from our side. He also expressed hope that the first meeting of the Tajik – Malaysian inter-parliamentary friendship group will be held soon after the setting up of such a group from the Malaysian side, which according to our latest knowledge, is under process.

Continuing in the theme of high-level visits, H.E. Mr. Mahmadtoir Zokirzoda invited H.E. Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun to pay an official visit to Tajikistan. The invitation was accepted and will be underway at the appropriate time after the current pandemic is over.

Business & Investment
Malaysia is an Asian country that has managed, in such a short period of time, to prove its potential to the world, making a breakthrough from the third world and establishing itself as one of the leading states in the region with a high level of development.

Tajikistan also takes confident steps towards long-term development.

Over the past decades, Tajikistan has made steady progress in reducing poverty and growing its economy. Between 2000 and 2019, the poverty rate fell from 83 to 29.5 percent among the population, while the economy grew at an average rate of 7 percent per year.
If we look closely into and compare the level of our bilateral trade, it is small. I would actually mention that it is insignificant. In 2019, the volume didn’t even exceed RM24 million. In addition to this, the direction of the trade has been absolutely in your favour. We have mostly been importing edible oil, furniture and electronics from Malaysia.
I believe now is the time when we must consider increasing our turnover by multiple folds.

According to tradingeconomics.com and Malaysia’s Department of Statistics, Malaysian investments overseas have rebounded to RM26.1 billion. Malaysian companies have largely been investing in the service sector, specifically in financial activity, followed by industry and mineral products. Referring to Chief Statistician, Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Uzir Mahidin, Malaysian companies received six sen for every RM1 investment abroad; while in reality, pursuing investments in Tajikistan could provide significantly more profits to investors, considering that this Central Asian country is at its most promising stage of attracting foreign investors.

In 2019, Malaysia forked out more than RM80 billion to import some base metals (lead, zinc, nickel, copper), iron, aluminium, ores slag and ash. Malaysia spent more than RM10 billion for some agricultural products and RM2 billion for cotton that can alternatively be imported from Tajikistan or its neighbouring countries. It is also worth noting that some of Malaysia’s neighbouring countries (Thailand, the Philippines) import the same goods (minerals, cotton) in larger volumes and in this case, Malaysia could play a vital role as the trans-shipment base for re-exporting.

We are currently able to partially meet the needs of Malaysia and its neighbouring countries in terms of mineral resources, agricultural products and cotton.

We invite Malaysia to consider the possibility of creating a trading and logistics hub in Tajikistan, both for exporting its goods to Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries and Afghanistan, as well as for pre-processing and importing products to Malaysia and the rest of the Southeast Asian region from Tajikistan.

Tajikistan can play the role of a trade gateway for Malaysia to Central Asia, Afghanistan and other neighbouring countries. At the same time, Malaysia can be a connecting link for Tajikistan with ASEAN countries.

Establishing of a Business Council and Exhibitions & Forums
Considering the trade and economic orientation of our and your diplomacy at the current time, we consider it appropriate to make efforts to create a business council, and in anticipation of this, to organize an exhibition showcasing Malaysian goods and services, within which we could convene a business forum.

In an attempt to activate trading relations between Tajikistan and Malaysia, we have appointed an official representative of Tajikistan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry to Malaysia. In addition to the aforementioned reason, this designation also hopes to more broadly introduce the Malaysian society to Tajikistan and its trading opportunities. We are also planning, in consultation with Wisma Putra, to appoint honorary consuls in the Eastern region and in Penang, which is considered to be one of the most vital economic powerhouses in Malaysia.

Finance & Banking
In order to activate trade and economic relations, we must concurrently make efforts to establish relations in the finance and banking spheres.

Malaysia operates a dual banking system: conventional and Islamic. The extensive experience of Malaysia in the banking and financial sector is worth studying, and the creation of direct interbank relations between the structures of our two friendly countries will create a pleasant ground for closer cooperation.

Tourism
One of the most important industries in which, in our vision, we should intensify cooperation is tourism. Considering its beneficial economic and sociocultural impacts, we could significantly increase the possible advantages of cooperation in this field. Not to mention, it would contribute positively in the interactions between our people, who have similar yet also different cultural backgrounds, attitudes and behaviours.

In 2019, more than 26 million tourists visited Malaysia. With this parameter, Malaysia entered into the top 20 touristic countries in the world, and it was the 2nd in the Islamic world after Turkey. This clearly demonstrates the true potential of Malaysia in this sector of the economy.

Tajikistan also has significant tourism potential, but we are just now beginning to take the first steps to enter the club of world-famous tourist destinations.

Tajikistan is rich in its bounty of unique natural habitats, beautiful mountain sceneries and springs. There are numerous historical and cultural monuments in our country, some of which are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. They attract the attention of tourists from far and near, including Southeast Asia. The revival of international tourism on the path of the Great Silk Road, that is the shortest route from East Asia to Europe, may become one of the most important directions of cooperation among tourism authorities of our countries.

The establishment of close cooperation between Tajik and Malaysian tourist companies and agencies, together with the organization of focused forums will facilitate cooperation and increase the tourism potential of both countries.

Cultural Weeks
Culture can play a key role in the convergence of tourism and spheres of cooperation. Introducing the people of Tajikistan, as well as other nations of Central Asia, to the rich culture of Malaysia, and vice versa, will significantly affect the flow of tourists to and from Malaysia. Organizing themed cultural weeks, food, art, local attire and music exhibitions, film screenings and other such cultural activities will have an obviously stunning influence on tourism cooperation.

Our tourism authority has issued an official invitation to the Minister of Tourism and Culture of Malaysia, and we are awaiting the visit of the Malaysian delegation with a grand cultural program that will certainly stimulate and inspire activities in the tourism sector.

Education
The Government of Tajikistan gives priority to the education sector and is interested in giving opportunities for its citizens to get educated in countries where highly qualified educators provide the best possible knowledge and guidance. In our society, Malaysia is perceived to be one of such countries.

Allowing students from one country to study in another creates quite a good ground for closer acquaintance with local customs, culture and people of the host country. At the same time, these graduates will act as potential, indirect promoters of Malaysia in their homelands, as Tajik youth are increasingly becoming interested in studying in Malaysia.
Conducting educational fairs and establishing direct contact between the educational institutions of our countries will vastly contribute to the active exchange of students and scholars.

Agriculture
Agriculture remains an important sector to Malaysia’s economy. In 2019, the share of GDP contributed by the agriculture industry was estimated to be a little more than 7 percent, and the industry provides employment for more than 10 percent of the population.

Malaysia’s total volume of agricultural product imports in 2019 reached nearly RM72 billion. A notable part of this sum was for fruit and vegetables.
In our case, agriculture contributes to about a quarter of the GDP, and around half of the nation’s workforce is employed in this sector. The export of cotton, vegetables and fruit is one of the main sources of our country’s income.

To put it very simply, we propose that we could be one of the exporters of these goods to the Malaysian market. At the same time, we should consider the possibilities of cooperation in attracting our production and consulting potential in this sector, taking into account the financial capabilities of your country and attracting our investors by offering them soft loans.

Combating Terrorism, Extremism & Radicalism
Tajikistan considers terrorism, accompanied with extremism and radicalism, as the most serious threats to peace, security and stability, as well as to the recognition of human rights and socio-economic development. Terrorism intends to undermine the very values that unite us as humans.

Countering terrorism is one of the main priorities in our policy to ensure national security.

Tajikistan strongly condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and advocates the adoption of collective efforts by the world to combat this phenomenon.
Simultaneously, we unequivocally reject the connection of terrorism with any particular race, nationality or religion.

However, over the past two decades, the definitions of our religion “Islam” and terrorism have unfortunately been synonymized. This is because in reality, some key stakeholders of destabilization make use of the religious ignorance of populations and try to cover up their wicked actions with the claim of protection of religious values.

Religious fanaticism gradually transforms into terrorism.
Tajikistan, in principle, is on the front line of the fight against international terrorism and religious fundamentalism—more specifically, I can say, Islamic militant fundamentalism.

From our point of view, it is worth noting that the Southeast Asia region periodically encounters elements of a surge in terrorist and extremist attacks. However, given the geographical distance of Malaysia from the epicentre of international terrorism and its competent religious and racial policies, it is also worth noting that certain destabilizing forces employ your country as a “safe haven” for themselves.

In this regard, I consider it vital to coordinate the actions of our relevant anti-terrorism structures so we may establish closer cooperation in the fight against these evils of the modern world.

International Organizations
The position and opinion of our countries, Tajikistan and Malaysia, when it comes to the most important regional and global issues, is similar.

The Republic of Tajikistan, along with other countries, values close cooperation with Malaysia in the framework of international organizations, including the United Nations.
Tajikistan has been recognized in the international arena as an initiator and active leader in solving global problems related to the rational use of water resources.

On December 21, 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted the relevant resolution and declared 2018-2028 as the International Decade for Action on the topic of “Water for Sustainable Development”. This initiative was originally put forward by the Leader of Peace and National Unity – the Leader of the Nation, the President of the Republic of Tajikistan on April 12, 2015 at the World Water Forum in Daegu, Republic of Korea.

In this regard, I would like to thank the Government of Malaysia for support on the initiative from the Republic of Tajikistan and adoption, by the UN General Assembly Resolution 71/222, of the International Decade of Action “Water for Sustainable Development, 2018-2028” and 73/226, entitled Midterm Comprehensive Review of the International Decade of Action “Water for Sustainable Development, 2018-2028.”

Summary
In conclusion, I would like to reemphasize that the Republic of Tajikistan is constantly striving for enhanced cooperation with Malaysia.

We hope that joint efforts will ignite a new momentum for bilateral and multilateral relations between our two countries, as we serve to further strengthen the friendship between the people of both countries.

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