Navigating unity between Malaysia and Indonesia
This article is authored by Ananya Raj Kakoti and Gunwant Singh, scholars, international relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
In the intricate world of international diplomacy, the strength of the relationship between nations is frequently gauged by their capacity to align their interests and work in unison to attain shared prosperity. This is particularly evident in the enduring partnership between Indonesia and Malaysia, which stands as a noteworthy example of the effectiveness of collaborative efforts in the realm of global politics. At the core of this steadfast bilateral relationship lies a powerful and ever-evolving economic alliance. This economic partnership serves as a foundation upon which both nations have built a harmonious and mutually beneficial connection. As this economic alliance continues to thrive and adapt, it brings about a tangible enhancement in the quality of life for the citizens of both Indonesia and Malaysia.
The bilateral relationship between Malaysia and Indonesia is rooted in shared history, cultural ties, and a history of colonial rule. While they faced tensions during the Konfrontasi period over the formation of Malaysia, both nations have since fostered cooperation. They were instrumental in founding the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and their economic relations have thrived. Occasional disputes, including territorial issues and concerns over Indonesian migrant workers, have arisen but haven't overshadowed their commitment to maintaining a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship. These nations share more than just geographical proximity; they share a rich cultural tapestry that transcends borders. This shared heritage and proximity have laid the foundation for economic collaboration that has thrived over the years.
The present state of economic relations between Indonesia and Malaysia is marked by a continued commitment to enhance cooperation across various sectors, creating a positive impact on both nations. This economic partnership, characterized by trade, investment, and collaborative projects, continues to strengthen their ties. In 2022, Indonesia and Malaysia sustained a strong trade partnership, surpassing $27 billion in bilateral trade. This underscores their economic interdependence, with key commodities including palm oil, electronics, machinery, and petroleum products. Additionally, both nations express a willingness to enhance trade, illustrated by initiatives like the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT), fostering economic growth and integration along their borders.
Recent projects in the realm of infrastructure development highlight the commitment of both nations to elevate their economic relations. One such project is the Kuala Tanjung Industrial Park in North Sumatra, Indonesia. This industrial complex, developed with Malaysian investment, aims to bolster trade and economic growth in the region by enhancing transportation and logistics capabilities.
Indonesia and Malaysia, renowned as significant palm oil producers, have taken proactive steps towards promoting sustainable palm oil practices. Noteworthy among these efforts are the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) and the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification programmes. These initiatives underscore the commitment of both countries to align their palm oil production with rigorous international sustainability standards, a move aimed at elevating their global competitiveness in the palm oil industry.
The economic partnership between Indonesia and Malaysia faces challenges stemming from trade disputes, especially in the palm oil sector. These disputes can strain relations and impact economic cooperation. Labor migration issues have also caused disagreements, necessitating solutions that safeguard the rights of Indonesian workers in Malaysia. Both nations grapple with infrastructure gaps and environmental concerns in the palm oil industry.
The bilateral relationship between Malaysia and Indonesia encounters challenges, including territorial and maritime disputes, trade tensions, labor migration issues, historical sensitivities, and political differences. While these challenges can create periodic tensions, both countries recognize the importance of their relationship and continue to engage in diplomatic efforts to find common ground and foster cooperation in various sectors. In 2020, both nations successfully settled a longstanding border dispute in the Ambalat region, ultimately leading to increased collaboration in offshore resource exploration. Additionally, maritime boundary conflicts in the Sulawesi Sea were addressed through diplomatic negotiations in 2021, allowing for more harmonious interactions in the shared waters. Recently, in early 2023, during President Joko Widodo's visit to Malaysia, two significant agreements were reached regarding the delineation of their territorial waters in specific sections of the Straits of Malacca and the Sulawesi Sea. Furthermore, both nations committed to addressing additional land boundary disputes with the goal of resolution by June 2024. These instances underscore the positive outcomes achievable when disputes are amicably resolved, ultimately creating a conducive environment for enhanced cooperation and shared prosperity between Indonesia and Malaysia.
The potential for expansion can be found in broadening trade horizons, extending beyond the palm oil sector, and venturing into collaborative infrastructure ventures. Focusing on sustainability measures and complying with certification norms in the palm oil industry can help address environmental apprehensions while ensuring continued market reach. Concurrently, shared efforts in research and development and an influential role within the ASEAN region offer room for innovation and economic amalgamation, thereby reinforcing the economic alliance between Indonesia and Malaysia.
Their enduring partnership, rooted in a robust and dynamic economic alliance, highlights their exceptional ability to align their interests and translate them into meaningful actions that not only benefit both nations but also hold far-reaching implications. As they continue to fortify their trade networks, invest in each other's economies, and engage in transformative infrastructure projects, Indonesia and Malaysia are not only poised for remarkable economic growth but also positioned as drivers of regional stability and progress in Southeast Asia. Their unwavering commitment to nurturing economic interdependence and fostering innovation not only assures their collective success but also offers an inspiring model for other nations aspiring to build enduring and mutually enriching relationships in the intricate realm of international diplomacy. With economic cooperation as their cornerstone, the future of Indonesia-Malaysia bilateral relations shines with the promise of even greater economic prosperity and shared well-being.
This article is authored by Ananya Raj Kakoti and Gunwant Singh, scholars, international relations,Jawaharlal Nehru University.