The “inseparable” ties between Malaysia and Thailand are set to get even closer following the just-concluded sixth annual consultation of the prime ministers, Najib Tun Razak of Malaysia and Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha of Thailand.
Bilateral relations between the two countries, which share common air, sea and land borders, have come a long way since diplomatic ties were established 59 years ago.
Najib, at the joint media conference with Prayut at the end of the consultation, said the future of Malaysia and Thailand, as close neighbours, was intertwined.
“The future of our countries are inseparable,” he said, adding that Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok had agreed to put in more effort into implementing the agreements reached during the consultation.
Najib also quoted a description by Malaysia’s third prime minister, Hussein Onn, of the bilateral relationship – like two brothers drinking from the same well – much to the delight of the ministers and officials from both nations.
The prime ministers asked their respective ministers and government officials to join hands and work with each other to implement the decisions taken at the consultation.
The two leaders emphasised that agreements reached by both sides at the consultation must be implemented swiftly to achieve the desired results.
This year’s annual consultation, which was held at Thailand’s seat of power, the historic Government House, had two thrusts – security and economic issues.
The Malaysian delegation reaffirmed the country’s commitment to help Thailand achieve peace and stability in its restive south.
Kuala Lumpur, said Najib, would continue its role as a facilitator in the peace process between Bangkok and the militant groups or “people with different views from the government” as the Thais refer to them.
“I reaffirmed our (Malaysian) commitment,” Najib said, but was quick to add that the conflict in southern Thailand was Thailand’s domestic affair and Kuala Lumpur’s role in finding a solution to the problem was guided by Bangkok’s guidelines and framework.
Nevertheless, he said, it was important to establish more confidence- building measures in southern Thailand to build stronger trust between the parties concerned.
Malaysia will also provide vocational training for youths in the south and help Thailand set up religious schools which combine academic excellence as requested by Prayut, said Najib.
He said Prayut and he also agreed to work closer together to tackle the growing menace of global terrorism, human trafficking, transnational crime and violent extremism.
Security agencies in Malaysia and Thailand, he said, must work closely together because “some of the perpetrators (terrorists) move between our countries”.
He said intelligence-sharing by the two countries’ security apparatus had to be boosted so that the targeted individuals could be apprehended, extradited and deported.
On the economic front, besides calling for additional efforts to increase bilateral trade from the current US$22 billion annually to US$30 billion in 2018, the two countries also agreed to expedite projects to facilitate better people-to-people movement.
Najib and Prayut agreed that the construction of the Rantau Panjang-Sungai Golok and Pengkalan Kubor-Takbai bridges be expedited for completion by the middle of next year from the planned 2018 date.
The two leaders also agreed to speed up the expansion of the Sadao-Bukit Kayu Hitam Customs, Immigration and Quarantine complex, emphasising that it was an important gateway for border trade between the two countries.
Another important decision that could elevate Malaysia-Thailand people-to-people and economic ties to another level was the agreement to set in motion a feasibility study on a high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.
According to Najib, the link, should it receive the go-ahead, would bring people of the two countries closer as well as advance their economies to another level. It is seen as a complement of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail.