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Malaysia continues to treat Qatar as valued partner despite siege

Malaysia continues to treat Qatar as valued partner despite siege


The new government in Malaysia is sending a clear message to Saudi Arabia and the UAE that Kuala Lumpur places a high value on maintaining neutrality in conflicts and diplomatic crises plaguing the Gulf region in line with Kuala Lumpur's traditionally non-aligned foreign policy.
"Both the June announcement of a review of Malaysia's military presence in Saudi Arabia and the August closure of an anti-terror centre set up in Kuala Lumpur in the name of King Salman in 2017 suggest a profound reorientation of policy under the new government of veteran political leader Mahathir Mohamad that could cause ripple effects right across the Gulf," Kristian Coates Ulrichsen and Giorgio Cafie wrote in a report in the Middle East Institute.
For Kuala Lumpur, which has traditionally maintained solid ties with all Gulf Arab states and Iran, the 15-month-old Qatar crisis has been unfortunate. Keen on remaining neutral, Malaysia has fully supported Kuwaiti efforts to resolve the dispute, the report said.
According to a Malaysian diplomat posted to one of the GCC members, Kuala Lumpur's position since the beginning of the row was that it was most in the interest of Gulf security for the dispute to be resolved within the Council.
Malaysia, like most Asian powers, supports a unified GCC and the ability to pursue deeper ties with all six members, thereby aiming to capitalise on the benefits that a more economically integrated Arabian Peninsula offers Malaysia and Southeast Asia as a region.
"The potential for the Gulf dispute to break out into a military confrontation is a concern that Malaysia cannot ignore. With vested interests in Gulf energy supplies and in continuing coordination with all GCC states on security issues, any instability in the Arabian Peninsula constitutes a grave threat to Kuala Lumpur's vital interests from the Malaysian perspective," the report said.
It said even if the GCC crisis does not escalate into a military confrontation, the persistence of the dispute will harm Kuala Lumpur economically. The dispute is likely to further delay the implementation of the Malaysia-GCC Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which, since the framework accord was signed in 2011, has been on the back burner due to the post-Arab Spring political volatility in the region and plummeting of oil prices.
In fact, unless and until the Saudi/UAE-led bloc and Qatar can reconcile, the Malaysia-GCC FTA will simply not come to fruition, the report pointed out.
Far from condemning or isolating Qatar, Malaysian officials have continued to treat their Qatari counterparts as valued partners, including in the struggle against violent extremism.
Along with Indonesia and Singapore, Malaysia was one of the stops on the Amir HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani's Asian tour in the fall of 2017.
With the then Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, the Amir signed bilateral memoranda of understanding in domains such as judicial cooperation, diplomacy, and education in October 2017, four months into the crisis. The Malaysian Prime Minister praised Qatar's contribution to international efforts to defeat the forces of violent Islamic extremism and radicalisation.

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