Başak Türkoğlu: I felt very much at home from the very first moment I step foot in Malaysia and I am happy to see that the relations between the two countries is constantly developing.
Mohd Alsoofi- Kuala Lumpur
In recent years, senior officials from both countries have recalled their historical ties and have trumpeted the bilateral relationship’s potential, especially in the economic scene. Some envision Turkey serving as Malaysia’s diplomatic and economic gateway to Europe, with Malaysia becoming Turkey’s entry point to the Asia Pacific region.
One can also envision Malaysia and Turkey as both stable and successful moderate Muslim countries working together to promote global peace and understanding. Turkey and Malaysia have long been regarded as the most developed countries in the Muslim world. Through a historic commitment to modernization and development, they have not only achieved standards of infrastructure, education, health care, but also industrialization and economic progress that are comparable to many other developed countries.
The relations between Turkey and Malaysia have been strong since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1964. We currently enjoy very good political, economic and cultural relations. Turkey and Malaysia have similar positions on most global issues and we share deep historical and religious ties which further strengthen the bonds between Turkish and Malaysian people. Both countries also face similar opportunities and challenges for various reasons, such as their geographical location. Turkey being a country in Eurasia region and Malaysia having a similar important location in the South East Asia.
Asia-Pacific is considered as the rising power and ASEAN is one of the important regional organizations in this region. ASEAN, being the 8th largest economy in the world and the 4th biggest trade entity in the world with a dynamic population of almost 650 million people, is strategically located in the middle of major sea trade routes. Malaysia, a member of ASEAN and a major player in the region, is considered as a natural partner for Turkey. We look forward to further deepen our relations with ASEAN and I think that the opening door pass through Malaysia. There are many fields such as trade, tourism, aviation, maritime transport, education, culture, science and research which would yield mutually beneficial results for both countries.
The bilateral economic and trade relations are considered very well and at the same time they are also very promising. Over the last ten years the trade between the two countries has doubled, a free trade agreement was signed and came into effect last year in August. This has injected a new momentum to our bilateral trade. It is the first free trade agreement Turkey signed with an ASEAN member country.
Our export to Malaysia is mainly based on defense industry projects. Then comes the petroleum products, gold, carpets, minerals and food products. In terms of imports, Turkey mainly imports palm oil, synthetic yard, rubber, electronic circuits, coconut, telephones, raw aluminum and synthetic fibers. Mostly we import raw materials and intermediary products.
When we look at the figures in 2015, our exports to Malaysia increased 13.4% and our imports increased 15.3%. The overall trade volume increased 15%. So it’s gaining more momentum. In 2015, Turkey’s exports to Malaysia valued at USD 357 million, while Turkey imported USD 1.339 billion worth of products from Malaysia.
The Malaysian investments in Turkey could be categorized under three main areas: transportation, health and energy. Khazanah Nasional, the state investment fund, is one of the big investors in Turkey.
Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB), a portfolio company of Khazanah, was part of the consortium which built the second international airport in İstanbul, “Sabiha Gokcen Airport“. Now they also operate the airport.
Khazanah, through “Integrated Healthcare Holdings Berhad” (IHH), owns 75% of Acıbadem Group, a chain of hospitals in Turkey. In 2013, IHH also bought the insurance company of Acıbadem.
Very recently, Tenaga Nasional Berhad acquired 30% of the shares of Gama Energy, a very well-known Turkish company. They entered into Turkey’s expanding energy sector in a deal worth USD 255 million. It enables Tenaga Nasional to pursue its goals beyond Turkey, in the surrounding region such as Europe, Middle East, Caucasia-Central Asia etc.
The major Turkish investment in Malaysia is in palm oil sector. There is an oleo chemical factory, built by Evyap, a well-known Turkish company. It produces hygiene products such as soaps, toothpaste, etc. and they export to Europe and the Middle-East and other parts of the world.
FNSS, a Turkish company operating in defense industry, produces armored vehicles for the Malaysian army in collaboration with its Malaysian partner “DefTech”. There are also new agreements and deals in the defense industry sector.
Looking to other investments, there is a company which produces polyethylene pipes. There are also some chemical firms, in addition to small businesses in the clothing industry.
The latest development is BEKO, which is a very well-known Turkish company that produces electrical appliances for households and consumer electronics. They provide a wide range of world class products that are famous in Europe and other parts of the world. They opened an office here which I believe will be very competitive in the market due to the high quality of products.
Overall, both countries provide very good and lucrative investment opportunities. Khazanah for example has an office in Istanbul, which was its 4th regional office after Beijing, Mumbai and San Fransisco. This shows Turkey’s great potential for Malaysia as an investment partner.
In 2015, 15,000 Turkish people visited Malaysia, while 70,000 Malaysians visited Turkey. Tourism Malaysia has an office in Istanbul.
Turkey offers various options to people from different walks of life. You know that Turkey has a deep-rooted history. It is described as the cradle of civilizations. Historical tourism is one of the main attractions for many. The Islamic heritage and history in Turkey is also interesting to Malaysian tourists. Many Malaysians transit in Istanbul before performing their “Hajj and Umra“ duties. Furthermore, Turkey enjoys four seasons, which is also an interesting factor for Malaysian tourists.
Vacations in Turkey are quite affordable in terms of food and products where shopping is good due to the variety of options, good quality and reasonable prices. A shopping festival is held in Istanbul every year which lasts a month. Turkish cuisine is another attraction for tourists visiting Turkey from around the world.
There are direct flights by Turkish Airlines twice a day between Kuala Lumpur and Istanbul. Travelers not only prefer Turkish Airlines to go to Turkey, but also they take advantage of its good flight connections to Europe and Africa. We can say that Turkey has become an important transportation hub for the civil aviation sector.
There is a small Turkish community living in Malaysia, the number does not exceed 350. There are approximately 90 students who study in Malaysia, most of them receiving their education in International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). We also have Turkish professionals who work for oil and gas companies or international organizations such as IOM, UNHCR, WHO. There are some Turkish citizens who married Malaysians and live here. Overall, the number of Turks residing in Malaysia is quite small and the Embassy regularly organizes gatherings with Turkish community on special occasions and events, such as the National Day, Eid al Fitr, Eid al Adha etc. We also come together separately with students or businessmen. We share information through our social media accounts and they can reach us 24 hours, round the clock.
Everything is beautiful in Malaysia. People, culture, food, nature, greenery and landscape are amazing. You know that we, diplomats are travelling a lot and are living in many countries. I did not spend time in every continent but I can still say that I haven’t met people like Malaysians before in my life. The Malaysian people are very good hearted, friendly and welcoming. That is why I felt at home from the very first moment I step foot in Malaysia. I didn’t have to adjust myself. Furthermore, Malaysians have preserved their values and traditions. I really enjoy the human touch of their personality.
As for the food, I have tried quite a lot of local food. I also did enjoy quite a lot of fruits and I personally consider Mangosteen as the king of fruits. It is a piece of art with its color, shape and taste. I have visited many places in Kuala Lumpur and in Malaysia. I have travelled to Johor, Malacca, Kelantan, Perlis, Penang and Pahang and will continue to do so.