Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to build on already strong bilateral ties, pledging yesterday to resolve outstanding border issues, enhance protection and welfare for migrant workers and, possibly, revive an old Asean car project.
"I hope the friendship between us can be improved and maintained because there are mutual benefits if Indonesia and Malaysia work together in all areas, including politics, economy and bilateral relations," Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said after he held talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo at Istana Bogor in West Java.
Referring to Indonesia as Malaysia's closest neighbour, Tun Dr Mahathir added that both countries faced similar challenges, such as the plan by the European Union to phase out the use of palm oil in transport fuels from 2030.
Indonesia and Malaysia are two of the world's largest producers and exporters of palm oil.
"Now this is threatened by the European Union, and we need to work together against their campaign that (our) palm oil is obtained from deforestation... This is not true at all," said Dr Mahathir.
"We all can remember when Europe was once covered by forests as well, but they have all been cut down, and we have never protested against them," he said in a display of his usual acerbic wit.
"But when we need more land for oil palm, they accuse us of damaging the environment."
Mr Joko said he and Dr Mahathir were committed to the fight against corruption, and saw the importance of connectivity as well as solutions to issues concerning their shared land and sea borders.
He said they also discussed how more could be done to protect the Indonesian workforce in Malaysia, the development of schools for Indonesian children in the country and the ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea where Malaysia is a party to conflicting claims, including with China.
"We are equally committed to settling (the dispute) through dialogue based on international law," said Mr Joko.
Dr Mahathir arrived in Jakarta on Thursday for a two-day visit to Indonesia, his second overseas trip since taking office following his surprise victory in the general election on May 9.
He was in Japan earlier this month to attend the 24th Nikkei conference. But his trip to Indonesia was his first to a fellow Asean member-state, which shares close historical, cultural and economic ties with Malaysia.
Total bilateral trade between the two last year was US$17.2 billion (S$23.5 billion), making Malaysia the seventh-largest trading partner of Indonesia and its third-largest among Asean member-states, after Singapore and Thailand.
Dr Mahathir yesterday also raised the possibility of reviving a joint car project for the Asean market, saying the effort was agreed on in 2015 but did not take off due to unforeseen circumstances.
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