The change of leadership in Malaysia is expected to witness the continuation of Qatar-Malaysia bilateral ties on an upward trajectory, further strengthening the two countries’ close and brotherly relations, Malaysian embassy charge d’affaires Mohamed Shahir Sabarudin has said.
The envoy told Gulf Times that Malaysian Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had a phone conversation in April with His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, in which both leaders agreed to further strengthen bilateral ties.
“Both leaders extended visit invitations to each other, and it is hoped that these bilateral visits will take place as soon as the Covid-19 pandemic is over,” Sabarudin said.
In 2019, he noted that a number of steps have been taken to further strengthen and expand bilateral ties between the two countries, including high-level visits and close co-operation in multilateral institutions.
The visit of the former prime minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, to Qatar in December 2019, followed by the visit of His Highness the Amir to Malaysia provided an excellent opportunity to both sides to engage at the highest level, and gave a fresh momentum to the bilateral ties between the two countries, it was observed.
Sabarudin said the visit also provided an opportunity to better leverage the existing complementarities between the two countries in key areas of mutual interest, including trade and investment, infrastructure, higher education, health, legal and judicial co-operation.
He highlighted trade as a key pillar of Qatar-Malaysia co-operation, saying that total trade in 2019 reached $.079bn (RM3.43bn).
“Although trade between the two countries has come down slightly by 9% in 2019 as compared to the previous year, Qatar has improved its overall ranking from the 5th largest trading partner for Malaysia in 2018 to the 4th largest trading partner in 2019 in the region,” the envoy noted.
He said Malaysia’s main exports to Qatar in 2019 were petroleum products; manufactures of metal; jewellery; transport equipment; processed food; machinery, equipment and parts; iron and steel products; palm oil and palm oil-based agricultural products; electrical and electronic products; as well as chemicals and chemical products.
Meanwhile, Malaysia’s imports from Qatar in 2019 were mainly petroleum and chemical products.
About Qatar Chamber board member Mohamed bin Ahmed al-Obaidli’s earlier statement that the Qatari private sector views Malaysia as one of the “most important” economic destinations worldwide, Sabarudin said Malaysia echoes the same sentiment “mainly due to the fact that Malaysia remains a pro-business nation, backed by strong economic fundamentals, stability, cost-competitiveness and its strategic location in the centre of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean).
“As a gateway for Qatar to access Asean markets with more than 600mn people, Malaysia continued to further explore potential co-operation to address the food security issue, agriculture and tourism. Strategic economic alliances and partnerships are more crucial than ever at this moment due to the great global lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has interrupted the global supply chain,” he stressed.
Sabarudin said several Malaysian companies have been involved in crucial infrastructure development projects in Qatar for the past decade while many others are currently involved in the facility management services for airport operational facilities and ancillary buildings and the hospitality industry.
“We are also working very hard to support Qatar on its National Vision 2030 efforts as well as the efforts that will make the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar a success,” he added.
About the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on Qatar-Malaysia relations, the envoy said: “The Covid-19 pandemic is a test for our leaderships and countries’ economy. I am proud to say that Malaysia and Qatar have passed this test, and we have shown a great example on how to address the pandemic. Low death and high recovery rates for our countries are a testimony to our nations and able leaderships during this crisis.”
He said the Malaysian prime minister thanked Qatar for the medical treatment and assistance to Malaysians affected by Covid-19 in the country.
He also commended the Qatar government for effectively handling the spread of Covid-19 pandemic.
“Malaysia also appreciates Qatar’s efforts in treating 40 Malaysians who were infected with the Covid-19 virus. It is a relief to us to learn that 39 of them have fully recovered. Meanwhile, one Malaysian passed away on June 10,” Sabarudin said.
“Thanks to the swift response from Hamad Medical Hospital, the deceased was buried on the same day and the family member has extended their appreciation to the medical team who had been treating the person for the past one month,” he added.
He stressed that bilateral relations between Malaysia and Qatar are getting stronger during the Covid-19 crisis.
On the cultural front, the envoy said this area has been one of their priorities, which he described as a suitable platform to increase people-to-people contact and to close the gap between Malaysians and Qataris.
The Malaysian embassy organised many cultural and dance performance events for the past few years. The latest event was ‘Colours of Malaysia 2019’, organised in partnership with Qatar Airways to further promote Malaysia’s historical heritage and culture.
Ten professional dancers were flown in from Istana Budaya (palace of culture) to perform at Hamad International Airport and Katara – the Cultural Village.
“These initiatives will be continued in the years to come after travel restrictions have been eased by both Malaysian and Qatar governments,” Sabarudin said.
The two countries, he noted, have actively pursued co-operation in education, which saw the former Malaysian Minister of Education visiting Qatar in November 2019 to attend the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha.
The envoy said Malaysia and Qatar also discussed issues of mutual interest in the higher education sector in August 2019 during its 1st Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting held in Kuala Lumpur. The meeting was held within the framework of the agreement that was signed between Qatar and Malaysia in 2017.
“At the moment, the number of students from both countries is still low. However, Malaysia has been actively engaging with Qatar University, Hamad Bin Khalifa University and top-notch US and UK universities in Qatar to increase the number of Malaysian students in Qatar, including the exchange of students between universities,” Sabarubin said. “There are also Malaysian academicians who are working in various universities in Qatar.”
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