Central Asian countries have the potential to be the New Axis of Growth for Malaysia, offering huge opportunities for enhanced collaborations in existing and new areas which could bring mutual benefit for the country and the region, said Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Datuk Kamarudin Jaffar.
Kamarudin said this year marks the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Malaysia and the five Central Asian countries, adding that the region — with a combined population of 76 million people and estimated gross domestic product (GDP) of US$1.02 billion — presents a window of opportunity for Malaysia.
The five Central Asian countries are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
“While taking stock of the last 30 years, it is only natural for us to look at the state of our relationship now and for the next 30 years in future,” he said in his keynote address at the “30 years of Diplomatic Relations: Symposium on Malaysia and the Central Asian countries — The New Axis of Growth” at Wisma Putra here on Thursday (June 30).
The deputy minister said as a region, Central Asia has long been linked to the Silk Road trade routes, serving as crossroads for people, products, and ideas travelling from Europe to the Far East, adding that as a trading country, Malaysia sees the potential of the region.
He also said that Malaysia was among the first to establish diplomatic relations with all Central Asian nations following their independence in the 1990s and since then, the relations have grown from strength to strength in areas such as energy, trade and investment, education and capacity building, and tourism and culture.
“Malaysians could easily associate themselves with the region; famous names like Imam al Bukhari and Imam al Tarmizi are familiar figures to Malaysians,” he added.
Kamarudin said Malaysia has strong economic linkages with the region, namely in the oil and gas sector, with the country contributing to human resources development and capacity building in the region mainly through the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme since the early days of the countries’ independence.
He also highlighted four areas of strategic importance for enhanced collaboration between Malaysia and Central Asia in connectivity, trade and investment, education, and tourism.
“Malaysia could leverage on the issue of connectivity with the Central Asian region. The region is among the least connected economies in the world with the region’s connectivity indicator averaging below 60% in terms of the ratio of access to the global GDP — the lowest in the spectrum.
“Moving beyond the oil and gas sector as well as the capacity building programme, Malaysia could play our role here by offering our expertise and experience in good governance, Islamic financial system and macro planning of nation building,” he said, adding that both sides could also cooperate in cultural diplomacy, as they have affinity towards each other.
The symposium, participated by five heads of missions of the Central Asian countries in Malaysia as panellists, focused on the prospects for economic integration and regional cooperation between Malaysia and the region.
Considering the five countries are landlocked small economies, long-term economic growth and political stability are pre-requisites for a successful economic integration to further strengthen close collaboration between Malaysia and the Central Asian region.