Shown above is the night view of Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia. Photo courtesy of Malaysian Embassy in Seoul

Malaysia, South Korea cooperate in overcoming COVID-19

The Korea News Plus recently had an interview with Ahmad Fahmi bin Sarkawi, the chief of the Malaysian Embassy in Seoul, on the occasion of the Malaysian Independence Day, which falls on Aug. 31 this year. The following is the full text of the interview. _ ED.

Q: First of all, in order to secure Korean firms’ penetration into the ASEAN region, how is the political stabilization and social situation in Malaysia currently, including its investment environment improvements?

A: Malaysia is a melting pot of diverse cultures and among the most welcoming and hospitable places in the world to work and live in. Malaysians are warm, friendly people who easily accept foreigners into their circle of friends.

In the Expat Insider 2021 survey, Malaysia was ranked fourth as the best destination for expatriates to live and work in, as well as ranking above the global average in every index such as Ease of Settling In and Cost of Living Index.

Additionally, in HSBC’s Expat Explorer survey, the world’s largest and longest-running study of expat life, Malaysia was ranked among the top 20 best countries in the world to live in and notably ranked 7th for its cultural, open, and welcoming communities.

With regards to the investment environment, Malaysia’s established financial and banking sectors, business-friendly policies, ready infrastructure, and supportive government facilities make it straightforward for companies to set up operations here. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report ranked Malaysia in the top 12 out of 190 economies.

Our policies continue to be pro-business, prudent, and pragmatic to create an environment that is safe, secure, and scalable for the long-term success of businesses here.

This includes 100 percent equity ownership in the manufacturing and selected services sectors, competitive investment incentives, and IP protection laws that conform to international standards.


Q: In that regard, how does Your Charge d’Affaires a.i assess desirable diplomatic development directions between Korea and Malaysia in terms of market potentials in the region in general and concretely speaking in terms of market penetration into neighboring countries, etc.?

A: In general, Malaysia-Republic of Korea’s relations have grown from strength to strength throughout the years. The trade and investment figures for the first half of the year had shown tremendous encouragement as compared to previous years.

I believed that under the framework of the New Southern Policy Plus and under Malaysian Shared Prosperity Vision 2030, the trade between the two countries will continue to grow significantly.

Malaysia has various capabilities in trade and is exporting high value-added products in various sectors, including in technology, electrical and electronic parts, chemicals & chemical products, petrochemicals, optical & scientific equipment, medical devices, machinery, equipment & parts, automotive & aerospace components, building materials, renewable energy, processed food, furniture and lifestyle products. At the same time, Malaysia has been exporting commodities such as oil & gas and palm oil-based products as well as rubber-based products.


Q: For Korean counterpart companies, please state about Your Charge d’Affaires a.i’s opinions with regard to Korea-Malaysia desirable cooperative industry projects in various industry areas and please touch upon frontrunner companies which spearhead Korea-Malaysia partnerships in Malaysia soil currently.

A: Malaysia and the Republic of Korea have always enjoyed a dynamic and mutually beneficial economic partnership over the past decades. I believe that our bilateral relations, especially in the economic sector, could be further raised to greater heights.

Given Korea’s strengths in high value-added and technology-intensive industries, we expect more Korean investments in areas such as energy-efficient vehicles (EEVs), biotechnology, advanced materials, advanced electronics, pharmaceutical, medical devices, petrochemicals, ICT, e-commerce, animation, machinery, and equipment, food products, agro-based products, and value-added products from natural halal resources.

In tandem with the rise of the digital revolution, Malaysia is also embracing Industry 4.0 to raise its competitiveness by encouraging companies to adopt smart manufacturing technologies and processes.

As small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Korea account for over 90 percent of the country’s robotic firms, there is much that Malaysian SMEs can learn from the Korean SMEs, especially in terms of their adaptation to innovation and competitive strategies to become world leaders in advanced technology.

The Republic of Korea has always been Malaysia’s top 10 major investors throughout the years. As of 2020, a total of 387 manufacturing projects with participation from Korea were implemented with total investments of $8 billion.

Lotte Chemical, Samsung, Hanwha Q-Cells, OCI, SK Group, Iljin Materials, Kiswire, and POSCO are among notable Korean companies that have set their footprints in the country.

ROK companies also have a firm foothold in the services sector. Prominent establishments include SK Telecom, Kumho Tire, Hyundai Rotem, Korea Gas Corporation, Hyundai Corporation, and Nexen Tire Corporation.


Q: As a testbed for attracting foreign investments into the ASEAN region, how can be Malaysia ‘s location & its geographic significance explained in terms of its investment advantage for Korean investors who are eager to penetrate into the regional market in general, including Oceania and West Asia region among others?

A: Malaysia is well-positioned to serve as a central hub for worldwide trade. Strategically located between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, Malaysia is well serviced by all primary air and shipping lines. Our air transport infrastructure is among the best in the world. Our coastal ports provide direct maritime access in Asia to Singapore, China, as well as to Europe and the U.S. We also offer investors a selection of secure trade corridors and industrial zones that regularly facilitate a continual supply chain and business operations.

This, coupled with the country’s sustainable and solid economic foundation, comprehensive business-ready environment, future-forward focus, and dynamic skilled workforce, have made Malaysia an attractive cost-competitive investment location in the region and is fast becoming a preferred center for shared services and leading technology industries.

As global businesses get back on track, many see Malaysia as an attractive manufacturing hub. Beyond durability, several other factors make it the ideal location, including the ease of doing business, top talent, the depth of its connectedness, tax and investment incentives, and its commitment to innovation.

Likewise, its strategic location creates vital opportunities for supply chain diversification amid the ongoing pandemic and lingering U.S.-China trade uncertainty.


Q: Within the framework of the ASEAN region, how are Malaysia’s regional cooperation with these countries in terms of developing regional infrastructure and for the maintenance of regional peace and stability?

A: Malaysia remains firmly committed and has been an instrumental actor in the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) which was adopted by ASEAN in 2010. The MPAC serves to improve connectivity within ASEAN under three major pillars, namely physical connectivity, institutional connectivity, and people-to-people connectivity.

Since its adoption in 2010, The MPAC has had a huge positive impact on the region. Better connectivity helped facilitate flows of goods, services, and persons across the ASEAN subregions and states, which in turn drove up trade and production.

Now, under MPAC 2025, ASEAN plans to achieve a seamlessly and comprehensively connected and integrated ASEAN that will promote competitiveness, inclusiveness, and a greater sense of Community. Greater connectivity is the foundational supportive and facilitative means to achieving the political-security, economic, and socio-cultural pillars of an integrated ASEAN Community.


Q: Please touch on non-governmental collaborations between the two countries in the areas of religion, sports, culture, education. etc., to name just a few.

A: Collaborations between the two countries, especially people-to-people contact, have been very vibrant for the past decade. Previously before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Republic of Korea was the main tourist destination for Malaysians.

The same can be said for Malaysia, as Korean tourists to Malaysia increased exponentially during the past few years. In 2019 alone, 673,000 Korean tourists visited Malaysia while 408,000 Malaysian tourists visited the Republic of Korea.

The Republic of Korea continues to be one of the main destinations for Malaysian government-sponsored students to get their tertiary education, especially in the fields of engineering. Currently we have around 500 Malaysian (government and self-funded) students studying here.

In sports, a Malaysian coach is part of the Badminton Korea Association’s (BKA) coaching line-up, Wong Tat Meng, and Malaysian athletes had also benefited from Korean coaches, particularly from sports such as archery and taekwondo. Currently, they were also several Korean football players that are currently making their names in the Malaysian football league.

In terms of culture, the Korean Hallyu has made a very big impression throughout the world, and Malaysia is not spared. K-pop and K-dramas, as well as Korean dishes, are very popular nowadays in Malaysia.   


Q: On top of the non-governmental collaborations, please let us know travel spots in Malaysia for Korean tourists who are eager to explore Malaysia sooner or later by way of mutual travel bubble programs, etc.

A: For Koreans, our main attractions are usually our many renowned golf courses around the country, our huge shopping malls as well as our many nature sites from virgin rainforests to Mt. Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia outside the Himalayan range.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, is a cosmopolitan city with amazing shopping and stunning architecture. It is a mixture of both the modern and the old where you will find the tallest twin towers in the world, the Petronas Twin Towers, and a number of colonial buildings such as the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, which previously housed the High and Supreme Court of Malaysia.

Venture further to East Malaysia; then, you will find Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo. Sabah has been one of the top holiday destinations in Southeast Asia among South Koreans prior to the outbreak.

Nearly 400,000 South Koreans were recorded visiting Sabah in 2019, with 67 direct flights departing from Incheon, Busan, and Muan to Kota Kinabalu.

Sabah is also home to the Kinabalu Park, which is renowned as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The diversity of its culture owing to its 33 ethnicities who speak in different languages offers a truly unique experience, especially to those who are not accustomed to a colorful multicultural society.

Apart from cultural, natural, and adventure destinations, Sabah is famous for its exotic marine life that attracts divers and wedding planners from all over the world.

Sarawak, the largest state in Malaysia, is home to 27 ethnic groups. With 45 different dialects, each group has its own unique stories, beliefs, traditions, and cultures.

You can meet people from the Iban tribe, known for their legendary headhunting customs from days of old. They have long since ceased headhunting, but they still maintain their rich customs, art, practices, and language.

The Orang Ulu, or “people from upriver,” is composed of different tribes such as the Kayan, Kenyah, Lun Bawang, and Kelabit. Their exotic art and music have spread internationally, as seen in the growing popularity of the musical instrument called boat lute or sape.

The sape has become the symbol of the Rainforest World Music Festival, Malaysia’s largest music festival.

Sarawak has a whopping 56 totally protected areas, 37 gazetted national parks, five wildlife sanctuaries, and 14 nature reserves. Its rainforests are the size of Austria.

Sarawak’s rainforests house one of the world’s richest and most diverse ecosystems. Home to the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia (that can grow to the size of a coffee table), squirrels and snakes that fly, deer the size of cats, plants that eat insects (and small animals).

The orangutan, proboscis monkey, hornbill, the Rajah Brooke butterfly, and the silverleaf monkey, all call Sarawak home. Experts believe that there are some species of flora and fauna yet to be discovered.

The Mulu National Park in Sarawak is a priceless UNESCO World Heritage Site, in a league of its own as it qualifies for all four of the World Heritage criteria.

Fewer than twenty World Heritage areas have managed this feat. Bako National Park traces its first visitors’ footprint to 1957, making it one of Malaysia’s oldest National Parks.

Niah National Park is famed for Sarawak’s genesis, with evidence of human presence from 40,000 years ago discovered in the form of Paleolithic and Neolithic burial sites.


Q: How are the policies of the Malaysian government to protect pandemic spread in your country’s soil and in particular for collaboration with Korea in relation to vaccine supply, booster shot, and travel bubble exchange with Korea?

A: The government of Malaysia firmly believes that “no one is safe until everyone is safe” with regard to the current COVID-19 pandemic. With this mantra in mind, the government has put tremendous efforts into combating the pandemic to protect its citizens.

To stem the initial outbreak, the government put a national lockdown in March and May in 2020, and this resulted in only double-digit infections per day. During this period, the government worked tirelessly to secure COVID-19 Vaccines, COVID-19 test kits, N-95 facial masks, ventilators, rubber gloves, and PPEs.

Malaysia is grateful to the government of The Republic of Korea for their assistance in ensuring enough supply of COVID-19 test kits, which were instrumental in Malaysia’s effort to contain the pandemic.

The government is currently implementing the National COVID-19 Immunization Program (PICK). As of February 2021, Malaysia has secured 66.7 million vaccines covering 109.65 percent of its population through the COVAX Facility and early purchases from COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers, among them Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinovac, Sinopharm, and Cansino.

The COVID-19 National Immunization Program had successfully rolled out a daily vaccination rate of more than 500,000 doses. This achievement was in line with the set target and must be further enhanced so that the target of 26 million Malaysians receiving a complete vaccination can be achieved. Malaysia recorded its highest daily jabs administered at 556,404 on July 29, 2021.

A total of 33.75 million doses have been administered up to Aug. 27, and 19.2 million people, or 60.2 percent of the nation’s population, had received at least the first dose, including 14.5 million, or 45.3 percent, who are now fully inoculated.

Malaysia expressed its appreciation toward the assistance provided by the Republic of Korea in combating the COVID-19 pandemic through the “Enhancing the Detection Capacity for COVID-19 in ASEAN Countries” project under the framework of New Southern Policy Plus.

The medical supplies provided by the Korean government contributed to the Malaysian government’s overcoming of COVID-19 and led to further deepening of friendship and solidarity between the two countries.

Malaysia also wishes to learn more from the ROK in terms of methods and ways to combat the COVID-19 pandemic following the Republic of Korea’s success in handling the pandemic.

In efforts to balance public health, livelihoods, and economic sustainability, a One-Stop Center (OSC) has been set up by the Malaysian government effective on Oct. 2 last year to ease the movement of business travelers by expediting the approval of their entry to do business in Malaysia.

This center assumes a critical role in ensuring that Malaysia remains steady on the path of economic recovery and growth by enabling business travelers’ movement to do their business or work in Malaysia.

Yeo studied German in Seoul. He has worked as a journalist for the past 40 years. He has mostly covered diplomacy, foreign schools, regional festivals, culture and other areas. He can be reached at hyeo7832@gmail.com or 82-2-6956-6698.