3rd August 2011, Suva: Last night Tuesday 02 August 2011 Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ratu Inoke Kubuabola was hosted to a dinner in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by the Malaysian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Hon Kohilan Pillay on behalf of the Malaysian Minister for Foreign Affairs who is overseas.
At the dinner Ratu Inoke noted that Fiji has a long-standing history with Malaysia. In terms of military co-operation, Fijian soldiers served in Malaysia from 1952 to 1956. He also observed that the former President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, visited Malaysia in 1961, well before Fiji gained independence in 1970 and that diplomatic relations between Fiji and Malaysia were established in 1977. In 1984, the Malaysian High Commission in Suva was established and four years later in 1988, Fiji established its High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.
On the service of our soldiers in Malaysia Ratu Inoke noted that Fijian troops had played a crucial role during the Malayan Emergency – 1952 - 1956, hence leaving the lasting impact on both countries.
A contingent of troops from Fiji served with bravery and camaraderie, and in some cases, sacrificed their lives for the people of Malaysia. Sergeant Labalaba was the only Fijian to be awarded with the Victorian Cross.
Friendships on and off the battle field developed between the two nations. The first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Raham became a strong friend and mentor to Ratu Sir Edward Cakobau, who was a much loved commander of the Fijian Battalion, and who later went on to become the Deputy PM of Fiji and whose son Brigadier General Ratu Epeli Nailatikau is the current President of Fiji. As a result today we can witness the intertwining of the culture and history between Fiji and Malaysia. Some similarities we share are: lima – for five, ladies attire is similar – sulu jaba & Baju Kuro, shared language, etc.
On training cooperation Ratu Inoke stated that the bilateral relation of the two countries is continuously enhanced under Malaysian Technical Co-operation Programmes [MTCP] and Malaysian Defense Co-operation Programmes [MDCP].
Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme [MTCP] - Since its inception in 1983 till to date, the MTCP has extended short and long term training assistance to approximately 284 participants from the Fiji Islands in various areas. [Ranging from human resources development, broadcasting and media related courses, information technology, diplomacy, agriculture, military training & police training, etc.]
FAB Scholarships – Currently 20 Fijian Students are studying in Malaysia Universities which was made possible through agreement between the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia and the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs which was officially endorsed in 2007.
It is envisaged that 70% of the students will be completing the Bachelor’s Degree Study Programme in Civil Engineering by March 2012. Malaysian Defense Corporation Programme for Military Officers [MDCP] – established in 1993 and from the years 2009 to 2011 approximately 25 Fiji Soldiers have been trained under this initiative. Approval has also been granted for one Military Officer to convene studies under this arrangement in 2012.
Malaysia had also extended the services of its judge Dato’ Zakaria Ahmad as constitutional/legal advisor to the Government of Fiji when it reviewed its Constitution from 1996-1997.
Malaysian International Scholarships [MIS] Programme – recently the Government of Malaysia offered scholarships to International students including Fiji, to pursue post-graduate and post-doctoral level degree at selected and well-established Malaysian Universities from academic year 2011/2012.
On 22 July 2011 the International College of Technology & Professional Perlis, Malaysia invited one Muslim student from Fiji to study Diploma of Pharmacy beginning on 30 January 2012.
On Air Services Agreement Ratu Inoke noted that the current Air Services Agreement and Confidential Memorandum of Understanding (CMU) were signed in Kuala Lumpur in 1990. The Agreement permits two frequencies per week to each of the designated national airlines.
Ratu Inoke went on and explored areas of future cooperation. He said that the balance of trade between the two countries, until 1996, has been consistently in Fiji's favor, averaging close to F$25 million per annum. However, this healthy situation was reversed from 1997. The most recent data from 2005 up to 2010 shows Fiji recording massive trade deficits.
The current existence of political goodwill between the two countries should be used to establish stronger economic relations especially through the establishment of the Economic Partnership Agreement or establishing a Development Cooperation Agreement with Malaysia. (Similar proposal which Fiji has with Indonesia).
Similar to Malaysia Fiji is also strongly promoting the concept of 1 Fiji in an effort to make Fiji a multi-racial country and a country for all citizens. To complement this concept the Government of Fiji recently adopted a policy whereby allowing other citizens to have Dual Citizenship.
Fiji is determined to call for elections in 2014 hence working towards electoral reforms and other essential public sector reforms which will complement well to make Fiji a prosperous country economically and socially.
Fiji seeks Malaysia’s support on its application to join the ASEAN as an observer given that Malaysia plays a vital role in the ASEAN Group.
Technical assistance could be sought from Malaysia in the areas of Agriculture (aquaculture, hydroponics etc.), development of small medium enterprises, fisheries, forestry and in improving manufacturing base of the country.
Further areas of interest could be in renewable energy projects and infrastructural development which Fiji could seek assistance.
Fiji is also considering marketing and promotion of Fiji in Malaysia and the rest of Asia which is imperative for our Tourism Sector. A direct Air link to Malaysia would also provide the much needed boost to the Tourism Sector.
Also present at the dinner is the Malaysian Under Secretary for Oceania Division Mr. Khairi Bin Omar.
(Photo caption: Hon Kohilan Pillay on his right is the Under Secretary for Oceania Division Mr. Khairi Bin Omar)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation P. O. Box 2220 Government Buildings Suva, Fiji