Milestones for Malaysia-Vietnam bilateral relationship

Update: 17:18 | 22/08/2019
Friendship between the two countries has strengthened over the years and it will grow stronger given the many bilateral and regional initiatives both sides are pursuing. 
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Over the past 46 years, Malaysia and Vietnam have been close friends at the bilateral level, in ASEAN framework or at the international front. With the tireless efforts by leaders from both sides, as well as, the close proximity between people of the two countries, we have managed to achieve substantial development and positive outcomes on cooperation in various fields.

Elevating close ties

At the end of this month, we are given the opportunity to further elevate our bilateral relations with the Official Visit of the Honourable Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to Vietnam. This will definitely be a milestone for Malaysia-Vietnam’s bilateral relationship. This visit is special because Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir is returning to Vietnam once again as the Prime Minister of Malaysia after a 17-year gap. In the 22 years of his first premiership (1981-2003), he visited Vietnam in 1992, 1996 and two times in 1998, during Vietnam’s chairmanship of ASEAN.

This upcoming visit would reaffirm the strong relationship between Malaysia and Vietnam. It would also open up many opportunities to further strengthen already close relationship in areas such as trade, investment financial sector, defence and security, agriculture, education, labour, energy, culture, youth and sports, tourism and transportation.

During his first tenure as the Prime Minister, Malaysia referred to him as the “Father of Modernization”, as Malaysia experienced a period of rapid modernization and economic growth, which include modern infrastructure projects. Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir’s visit to Vietnam highlights the importance of Vietnam as a partner to Malaysia. Furthermore, Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir has always believed in the principle of “prosper thy neighbor”. He also introduced the “Look East Policy” in Malaysia, which focuses on the cooperation with and importance of neighbors in East Asia as compared to the West in nation-development.

milestones for malaysia vietnam bilateral relationship
Dato’ Shariffah Norhana Syed Mustaffa Ambassador. (Source:

The upcoming visit by the Prime Minister of Malaysia to Vietnam aims to elevate the two countries’ close ties. Last year, Malaysia and Vietnam celebrated the 45th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations. The visit will contribute towards maintaining the momentum of high-level visits between leaders of both countries. Earlier, the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia visited Vietnam in 2018, followed by the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia in May this year. During this visit, Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir will meet with leaders from Vietnam, and discuss ways to further enhance the Malaysia – Vietnam Strategic Partnership signed in August 2015.

Such discussion would encompass trade and investment, economic cooperation, culture, education, agriculture, innovation, science and technology, security and defence. In addition, both sides’ common interest in strengthening the rule-based multilateral system will lead both Prime ministers into the discussion on regional and international issues of mutual interest, especially since Vietnam will be the Chair of ASEAN in 2020 and one of the non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the 2020 – 2021 term.

Excellent bilateral ties

Although I just arrived in Ha Noi a few weeks ago, I had a good experience in cooperating with my Vietnamese colleagues during my tour of duty in Jakarta as the Permanent Representative of Malaysia to ASEAN. The Permanent Representative of Vietnam to ASEAN was one of my closest friends and we always discussed matters pertaining to Malaysia and Vietnam and shared information for the betterment of our countries and the ASEAN region.

Malaysia and Vietnam enjoy excellent bilateral ties. 46 years ago, the official exchanges and cooperation frameworks between the two countries were just a start. Today, friendly exchanges at all levels have blossomed into solid partnership. Despite the lack of high-level exchange of visits, the two sides have established dialogue and cooperation mechanisms in various fields such as politics-diplomacy, economy, trade, agriculture, defence-security, as well as cultural exchange. Since the two nations’ leaders agreed to upgrade the relations to a Strategic Partnership in August 2015, Malaysia and Vietnam have witnessed great strides in bilateral diplomatic ties on the basis of mutual trust.

Perhaps we may not agree on every issue, but the two sides have always insisted on handling differences through friendly consultations, building on consensus and mutual trust. Furthermore, the governments of both sides have always adhered to the principles of mutual equality, mutual respect, mutual trust and sincerity towards each other. No matter how the situation may change, the great foresight of the leaders of the two countries and the strengthening of political trust between the two countries will safeguard the healthy development of Malaysia - Vietnam relations.

Stars of the emerging markets

When Vietnam opened up its economy and introduced reforms, Malaysia was one of the first countries that was bold enough to enter its market. Now, with Malaysia’s investments of 12.5 billion USD in Vietnam, and Vietnam’s investments in Malaysia recorded a net inflow of 24.45 million USD as of 2018, economic cooperation is still an area that both countries can further strengthen especially since Vietnam is one of the stars of the emerging markets.

Malaysia is pleased with the positive trend in the volume of bilateral trade between both countries. In 2010, the bilateral trade volume between Malaysia and Vietnam was around 6.16 billion USD. By 2018, it has surged to 13.3 billion USD, increasing by more than 100 times. Among ASEAN Member States, Vietnam ranked as the 4th largest trading partner for Malaysia after Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, while Malaysia ranked 3rd largest trading partner for Vietnam, after Thailand and Indonesia in ASEAN.

In terms of future prospects on economic cooperation, both sides could look into realizing the aim to raise bilateral trade to 15 billion USD or higher by 2020. The consensus to raise the bilateral trade was reached by Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah during the latter’s visit to Ha Noi in May 2019.

The governments of both sides have always adhered to the principles of mutual equality, mutual respect, mutual trust and sincerity towards each other. Win-win cooperation could only come about by continuous irrigation of economic cooperation. Both Malaysia and Vietnam support economic globalisation, openness and cooperation. Malaysia has abundant natural resources, conducive business environment and high-quality talent, while Vietnam is a strategic investment hub, large available labour force, open economic market and strong agricultural potential.

milestones for malaysia vietnam bilateral relationship
Over the past 46 years, Malaysia and Vietnam have been close friends. (Source:

Both sides have advantages of their own, and may benefit mutually from each other, besides providing opportunities for each other. Our interests are closely integrated. Malaysia has always adhered to and will further carry on the spirit of equality, mutual benefit and win-win results in her cooperation with Vietnam. We should work more on facilitating our businesses and creating more favourable conditions. With continuous efforts to enlarge the pie of common interests between the two sides, there is a steady driving force for sustaining growth of Malaysia – Vietnam relations. Among the potential areas of future collaboration include urban and rural development, renewable energy, industry 4.0 and agro-forestry-fishery industry, cooperation that are beyond traditional fields.

On the multilateral front, we could enhance our close cooperation and coordination at multilateral forums such as the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). At the same time, we could also promote regional economic connectivity through Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and work together to ensure the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement at the end of this year.

Trade remains an effective tool to generate jobs and income, enhance productivity, technological development and sustainable and inclusive growth. We should be driven by these opportunities. Together, we can exploit our position in ASEAN. We should take advantage of the opportunities and make more deals and capture more trade, capital, education, technology and tourists for our peoples.

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