Editor's Note: This article is an updated version correcting an erroreous statement that 150 persons were involved in the Malaysian delegation.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammad Najib Abdul Razak arrived in Burma's capital Naypyidaw on Wednesday leading four diplomats and at least 50 businesspeople on a two-day visit to the country.
“It is widely expected that the visit will focus on economic issues,” Malaysian ambassador to Burma Ahmad Faisal Mohamed told Malaysian journalists on Tuesday. “Everybody is interested in Myanmar. If you are late, all the opportunities will be gone.”
Bilateral trade between Malaysia and Burma stood at US $795 million in 2011, an increase of nearly 27 percent from the previous year, according to Malaysian government figures. Roughly 258,000 Burmese nationals are registered as working in Malaysia.
|Malaysia's Prime Minister Mohammad Najib Abdul Razak |
Malaysia’s state-owned oil and gas giant Petronas and the hotel group Micasa have investments in Burma. In January, the Burmese government awarded two out of 18 new onshore oil and gas blocks to Petronas in its biggest energy tender in years. Petronas said in December that it was looking to expand its onshore presence in Burma. Six additional onshore oil and gas blocks are expected to be tendered soon.
Malaysia is ranked third as country of origin of tourists in Burma, overtaking South Korea and Japan last year, according to figures by the Burmese Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. 23,287 tourist visas were issued to Malaysians in 2011, up 44 percent on the previous year.
“In trade and investment, we are not doing that badly, but we can take these opportunities to talk about areas we can further develop. There is huge potential,” Ambassador Mohamed said.
A business delegation of more than 50 representatives of Malaysian companies has travelled with Najib to Naypyidaw to explore investments in telecommunications, construction, timber and agriculture, according to Malaysia’s state news agency Bernama.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is temporarily home to a total of 88,500 Burmese refugees as of the end of January. 34,400 Chins and 23,000 Rohingyas are the two biggest ethnic groups of asylum seekers in Malaysia.
The ministers for human resources and home affairs, whose portfolios deal with foreign workers and asylum seekers, are part of the prime ministers’ delegation along with Foreign Minister Anifah Aman.
Opposition parliamentarian Mujahid Yusof Rawa expressed hope that Najib will raise the issue of the Rohingya refugees in Naypyidaw.
“I hope that the prime minister’s visit will open a new chapter in how we handle the Rohingya refugees,” the MP for the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday. “I hope there will be a new approach.”
“I call for the Burmese government to treat Rohingyas as Burmese,” he said. “Do not treat them as aliens.”
Najib’s visit was preceded by a preparatory visit by Foreign Minister Aman two weeks ago. This is his first prime ministerial visit to Burma and the first of a Malaysian prime minister since his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s visit in 2004.