DUBAI: Growth in bilateral trade and tourism between the UAE and Malaysia is an indicator of huge economic potential, the King of Malaysia told Emirates News Agency (WAM) in an exclusive interview.
“The UAE has been one of Malaysia’s main trading partners in this region. In 2019, total trade between Malaysia and the UAE was valued at US$6.426 billion, an increase of 12.5 percent from US$5.709 billion in 2018,” said Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah.
The UAE is also Malaysia’s largest export destination and second-largest source of imports in the West Asia region, he added in his first exclusive interview with a media outlet in the Arab world.
“Malaysia and the UAE have a good relationship, especially in trade and investment sectors,” the King continued.
“Given our strategic location in the Southeast Asian region, Malaysia is committed to being the gateway for the UAE to enter the Southeast Asian market, which is home to 650 million people.
“As a major hub in the West Asia region, the UAE has always been an important country to Malaysia and serves as a gateway for Malaysia to new markets.”
Sultan Abdullah was on a working visit to the UAE last week. It was the third visit since he was sworn in as his country’s monarch in January 2019.
He met with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and other senior officials.
“I hope that both countries could continue to explore opportunities to further strengthen our economic ties,” the King said.
“On the tourism front for example, I am pleased to see the growing number of Emirati tourists visiting Malaysia before COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, more than 11,000 Emiratis visited Malaysia.
“When the borders are reopened, I hope that there would be more tourists from the UAE choosing to visit Malaysia as their preferred holiday destination, adding to their rich, varied and diverse travel experience.”
He also talked about his country’s participation at Expo 2020 Dubai.
“I am pleased that Malaysia will be taking part at Expo 2020 Dubai 2020, as preparations have been underway.”
Malaysia believes that its participation at the international event in Dubai will be an opportunity to display the significant trade and investment potential, and more importantly, “our national story to the world,” Sultan Abdullah emphasized.
Malaysia is looking forward to intensifying efforts of COVID-19 vaccine development with the UAE, the monarch said.
“The UAE has demonstrated itself as a friend to Malaysia during this difficult period. For instance, in April, the UAE has been generous to provide medical equipment to assist Malaysia in facing the pandemic,” he said. “In this context, Malaysia looks forward to working together with the UAE in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Both countries could explore and intensify relations in the field of COVID-19 vaccine development and strengthen post-pandemic collaboration in the fields of health, education, food security, agriculture, future technology, renewable and clean energy, halal industry and tourism, just to name a few,” he added without giving further explanation about the vaccine development.
Although COVID-19 is a major crisis, “it also has presented us with opportunities, especially to enhance our relations with other countries, including the UAE,” the King added.
Malaysia-GCC common values
Sultan Abdullah, 61, also spoke about the common values between his country and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, especially the UAE.
“As a trading nation, Malaysia places strong emphasis on its relations with other countries such as the GCC countries, especially the UAE,” he said.
“For decades Malaysia’s Islamic identity has strongly factored into our ties with the GCC countries. We have been engaging closely on issues of importance to the Muslim Ummah (nations).
“Malaysia shares many similar and common values with the GCC countries. With its strategic geographical location, the UAE in particular, has been the main trading hub not only in this region but also in the world for decades.”
Malaysia and the UAE also have been working together at multilateral forums such as the United Nations and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
“Our two nations stand side by side on many international issues,” the King stressed.
Friendship with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed
Talking about his long-time friendship with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the King believes that “this relationship will pave the way for deeper bilateral relations and cooperation between Malaysia and the UAE,” adding: “I also hope that it could serve as an avenue to exchange views over regional and global developments of mutual interest as well as bring the people from our two countries closer.
Their friendship goes back 40 years when they met as officer cadets at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK. The two royals maintained their friendship after completing their time at the military college between 1979 and 1980.
“I have a pleasant and wonderful experience during each of my visits. I am truly honoured and grateful for the warm and generous hospitality extended to me and my entourage by the leaders (of the UAE), especially His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as well as the people of the UAE,” he said.
He added that he would always cherish the interactions with the UAE leaders and people.
“I note with amazement that there are always significant changes whenever I visited the UAE. These changes signify tremendous transformation and development experienced by this country over the past decades, thanks to the visionary leadership of this country.”
Common value of religious tolerance
Religious tolerance is another important value shared by Malaysia and the UAE, the King pointed out.
“Similar to the UAE, Malaysia is also a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. I believe it is important for us to foster peaceful coexistence among the society of different backgrounds.”
The Federal Constitution of Malaysia protects the right to freedom of religion or belief, including religious manifestation by way of professing and practising one’s religious belief, he noted.
“Malaysia and the UAE could work together to promote this value as both countries are a true example of how people from diverse religious backgrounds could live together side-by-side in harmony,” he said.
“I also believe that Malaysian and Emirati policies speak on their own on how we have become a model nation of tolerance and peaceful co-existence.”
The strong people-to-people relations through travel, study and work have translated into a solid foundation of mutual trust and understanding and has been instrumental in the development of the two nations, he observed.
“Malaysia would like to encourage more UAE students to study in Malaysia. Currently, we have slightly more than 750 Emirati students pursuing their studies in various public and private higher learning institutions in Malaysia. Whereas 21 Malaysian students are studying at UAE’s schools and higher learning institutions,” the King explained.
More than 5,000 Malaysians are living the UAE, mostly professionals in various sectors such as the oil and gas industry, aviation, financial and banking sectors and telecommunication.
“The UAE is one of the favoured countries for Malaysian diaspora. This is due to the similarities both countries share, and also because the country (the UAE) provides them with tremendous opportunities for career advancement,” Sultan Abdullah continued.