Eldeen Husaini Mohd Hashim, the Malaysian Ambassador to Cambodia, was the honourable guest on the Cross-Talk programme this week. In an exclusive interview with Khmer Times’ COO, Kay Kimsong, the ambassador gives insight and the latest update on economic and commercial ties between Cambodia and Malaysia, as well as how these connections can strengthen the two countries’ relationship and bargaining power.
KT: Can you give us a brief update on Cambodian-Malaysian relations since the official state visit of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia, to Cambodia last year?
Mr Eldeen Husaini: The cooperation in Cambodia, which has always been great, has become greater and stronger in everything. We have seen many new corporations coming to invest in Cambodia. Before, there were roughly 400 Malaysian businessmen in Cambodia but after the visit, we have seen this increase by 20 percent thanks to new companies [investing]. That is very good news, and we, the embassy and myself, try to engage as much as we can and help open businesses. I think the embassy should not be [separated] from businesses. The embassy should be the focus point that bridges the Malaysian and Cambodian governments and the people. Number two is the other corporations besides the ones already existing here. In terms of infrastructure, we are looking into other areas, such as agriculture, SMEs, services and solar energy. The most exciting [thing] is the automotive [industry] that we are trying to bring into Cambodia. These are areas that in 2020 we want to encourage being established further.
KT: What is the major mission that you want to accomplish as the Ambassador to Cambodia?
Mr Eldeen Husaini: My greatest ambition as ambassador is to make sure Malaysia ranks number one in terms of trade and investment. From 1994 to 2006, we had always been number one here. We are now number four, behind China, South Korea and the United Kingdom because companies from many countries have been coming to Cambodia. Despite that, we are happy for Cambodia, [in terms of] the influx of investments into the region, especially from China. But, my greatest ambition is to make Malaysia number one again.
KT: What are the actions that you need to take in order to achieve this ambition?
Mr Eldeen Husaini: One of the obstacles that we are facing is the fact that businessmen came to Cambodia alone; there is no further backing from the embassy. When that happened, they could only go halfway or force themselves to go back due to many procedures and problems faced by Malaysian businessmen. What we are doing now is to facilitate. I am proud to say that since I came here in April 2019, we have managed to solve quite a number of cases concerning Malaysian business in Cambodia. That’s why we are now very enthusiastic about representing Malaysian businessmen in Cambodia. I deal personally with the issues facing Malaysian companies coming here and go directly to the ministers.
KT: During Tun Dr Mahathir’s visit to Cambodia, the two countries signed an agreement on the avoidance of double taxation. How important is it to the Malaysian business community here?
Mr Eldeen Husaini: Regarding this agreement, I am proud to say that Cambodia is the last country which helps us complete the circle. It is important because double taxation is one of the biggest obstacles faced by Malaysian businessmen. Double taxation is very high and can discourage Malaysian businessmen from coming. We are blessed that we managed to ink this agreement during the prime minister’s visit after two years of discussion. The agreement is good for both countries and it also proves that they understand each other’s concerns. Thanks to this agreement, December saw the opening of many doors for Malaysian businessmen to come to Cambodia, as well as for Cambodians to go to Malaysia. This is a big achievement in 2019. […] but we have to ensure that this will continue.
KT: Many businesses have cited part of the governance, including the court and legal systems and complicated bureaucratic procedures as their business obstacles. Is it a challenge for Malaysian investors?
Mr Eldeen Husaini: For sure, it is the main challenge for our investors here. But, as I have already mentioned, if the investors are walking alone, it is not going to be successful. They need us, and we need them. We want them to be successful because they are Malaysians and can therefore bring out the Malaysian identity in Cambodia. There is bureaucracy and lack of communication. The investors need to talk and work with many authorities over many procedures. These could be a positive challenge if they didn’t because they could run into trouble. But, the only problem that we’ve had before is the understanding of laws. The laws are too strict and difficult. With enough understanding, our businessmen can manoeuvre and the problems will be solved.
KT: How has Cambodia and Malaysia been helping one another in dealing with the super powers such as the EU and the US?
Mr Eldeen Husaini: Cambodia and Malaysia have similar interests in terms of promoting togetherness in voicing concerns over many things. The two nations stand together and support each other, especially when we talk about the engagement with the Europeans. Prime Minister Hun Sen always talks about EBA, and of course Malaysia is facing the same thing regarding our palm oil. Before, we were alone in trying to fight whatever the Europeans did to us, but now we have decided to move along together. So Cambodia is also representing Malaysia in fighting, especially over the EBA. We are united as one. There is no need for you to look beyond Asean because the Asean community itself is very strong. If we do our trading within Asean, we could do better than any continent or region. We are strong in terms of economy if we stand together. Cambodia and Malaysia are working together to promote that. In the past 10 years, we have been promoting each other, which is an achievement I think we need to highlight again and again.