2015 marks the 58th anniversary of Malaysia's independence from colonial Britain and the 55th anniversary of diplomacy between Kuala Lumpur and Seoul. Last week, the two countries celebrated their evolving partnership, while taking stock of unexplored opportunities.
Malaysia and Korea established official ties in February 1960 following Malaysia's independence on Aug. 31, 1957. Another national day ― Malaysia Day on Sept. 16 ― marks the federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore in 1963.
Under the motto "Our people, our community and our vision," Malaysia chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, along with its nonpermanent membership in the United Nations Security Council until the end of next year, representing the Asia-Pacific region.
"This year's theme for our National Day is 'Sehati Sejiwa,' meaning 'One heart, one soul,'" Malaysian Ambassador Rohana Ramli said in a speech at a reception at Lotte Hotel in Seoul on Thursday. "It reflects our spirit of unity, brotherhood and humanity among the various races and religions of Malaysia. Our spirit will continue to strengthen our society across different ethnicities, beliefs and cultures."
Malaysia consists of diverse ethnic groups ― the Bumiputera majority of ethnic Malays, Thais, Khmers, Chams and Sabah and Sarawak natives, as well as the non-Bumiputera minority of ethnic Chinese, Indians and others.
On bilateral relations, Ramli underscored the comparative advantages in natural and human resources and knowledge-based services and advanced technologies, stressing that Malaysia continues to search for a "niche" in its relationship with Korea.
The ambassador also noted Malaysia's "Look East Policy" ― launched in 1982 to emulate the nation-building experiences of Japan and Korea ― adding that numerous Malaysian students have studied at Korea's top universities and been hired by Korean companies.
"Nevertheless, there remain enormous untapped potentials in trade and investment, tourism, education, finance, defence, social development, infrastructure and agriculture," she highlighted.
Over the years, Malaysia and Korea have advanced co-operation through ASEAN, the United Nations, commerce and culture. People-to-people relations have become closer through tourism, marriage and Korean TV dramas, songs and fashion that have become sensational across much of Asia.
Shin Dong-ik, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Deputy Minister for Multilateral and Global Affairs, said: "Malaysia holds a special place in my heart because it was my second post abroad in the early 1990s, a time when Malaysia announced its 'Vision 2020' to become an advanced industrialized nation."
Shin added, "Since then, Malaysia has transformed itself as a financial and economic hub of Southeast Asia. Endowed with excellent human and natural resources, Malaysia is set to become a major regional powerhouse with a vibrant multiracial, multiethnic and multicultural society."
Malaysia this year was ranked the 18th top country in the world by the World Bank Group for ease of doing business. Bloomberg rated Malaysia the world's fifth-most promising emerging market, the only ASEAN country included in the top 10 list.
Malaysia is Korea's fourth-largest trade partner and third-largest investment partner from ASEAN. The two-way trade, currently over $20 billion, is expected to grow, bolstered by the ASEAN-Korea free trade agreement that entered into force in September 2009 and the ASEAN Economic Community scheduled to be launched in December this year.
Korean President Park Geun-hye and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Rajak met at the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit in Busan last year.
The deputy minister pointed to the "second wave" of the Look East Policy launched by the government of Prime Minister Najib last year, which seeks to boost trade and industrial co-operation with Korea in information and communications technology, green technology, health sciences, automotive and research and development.
Concerning the disappearance and shoot-down of Malaysian airlines MH370 and MH17 last year, Shin also conveyed the "great sympathy and sorrow" felt by the Korean government and people, as Korea had experienced similar calamities in the past.
Malaysia is a major international travel destination with tourism making up the third largest source of foreign exchange. Malaysia offers sun-drenched beaches, tropical weather and abundant wildlife, as well as shopping, gastronomy and modern attractions in bustling megalopolises.
According to the World Tourism Organisation, Malaysia had 27.4 million tourists last year, making it the 12th most visited nation in the world. It was also chosen as one of the world's top retirement destinations, thanks to generous visas granting up to 10 years of residence to foreigners, kind local culture and year-round sunshine.