Fifty years of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and Argentina

Last Wednesday (June 7) was not only Journalist’s Day but also the golden anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and Argentina � a useful reminder that in two months’ time the 10-nation ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) regional bloc with a combined population of some 635 million people and a total economic output of US$2.8 trillion will be celebrating the golden anniversary of its creation.

Neither the size of Malaysia (330,000 square kilometers) nor its population (31.7 million) can be considered large, especially by Asian standards, but the country is unique for various reasons � it has the most multi-racial society in Asia (the Malay majority is just over half the population with important Chinese, Indian, indigenous and other minorities) and its export-driven economy is so open that it is one of the very few nations in the world whose trade volume (354 billion dollars) is not a certain fraction of its Gross Domestic Product (just under 300 billion) but considerably larger. Another unique feature is its rotating monarchy (Malaysia’s nine sultans take it in turns to be King every five years).

The diplomatic ties with Argentina came at a significant time for Malaysia � just 10 years after achieving independence from Britain in 1957 and two years after the separation with Singapore, thus prompting Malaysia to seek its own gateways to the world, as well as playing a key role in the creation of ASEAN that same year (1967).

Argentina was covered from Brazil until 1989 but the consolidation of democracy during that decade encouraged Malaysia to open its Embassy here in that year (Buenos Aires had already established its Embassy in Kuala Lumpur in 1983). Good political relations were soon followed in the next decade by close economic ties (including direct flights by Malaysian Airlines through to 2012) based on a productive triangle between three Ms � then-president Carlos Menem, Mahathir bin Mohammed (prime minister from 1981 to 2003 and a frequent unofficial visitor here) and Malaysian Ambassador Tan Sri Marzuki

Yet these ties failed to blossom in the new century due to Argentina’s 2001-2 meltdown and the isolationist tendencies of the subsequent governments. Until recently � the Mauricio Macri administration elected in late 2015 is viewed by Kuala Lumpur as more open to the world and Malaysia’s new ambassador here, Mohd Khalid Abbasi Abdul Razzak (who only arrived on March 21 and has yet to present his credentials sometime this month), is dedicated to giving a new thrust to relations.

He has something to build on, all in Argentina’s favour � exports to Malaysia account for just over US$1 billion out of a bilateral trade volume of US$1.22 billion and Petronas (whose twin towers designed by Tucuman’s Cesar Pelli dominate the Kuala Lumpur skyline) is a major partner of YPF in exploring Vaca Muerta shale with an initial investment of 550 million dollars. The new envoy would like to even this lopsided trade balance a bit but first he has a hot tip to boost Argentine sales even more � Malaysia is something of a halal hub in Asia (as well as a leader in Islamic finance) and could do much to revive Argentina’s lagging beef exports in that multi-trillion market.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia (News from Mission)