Malaysia's strong support to Bangladesh in the Rohingya crisis was lauded at a webinar that focused on shared heritage and extremely good relations between the two Muslim-majority countries.

The webinar titled "Bangladesh-Malaysia Relations: Prognosis for the Future" was hosted by Cosmos Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Cosmos Group.

The opening remarks were delivered by Cosmos Foundation Executive Director Nahar Khan.

The session was chaired by Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, a renowned scholar-diplomat and former adviser on foreign affairs to the last caretaker government.

Malaysian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Haznah Md Hashim was the keynote speaker at the dialogue that will premiere on Thursday evening.

Ambassador (retd) Farooq Sobhan, Yanitha Meena, a researcher in the Foreign Policy and Security Studies programme of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS), Dhaka University Professor Imtiaz Ahmed and Dhaka University Professor Dr Rashed Al Mahmud Titumiir were panel discussants.

The Chair, Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury , described the excellent bilateral relations as "unsurprising", given the commonalities of values between the two Muslim-majority nations.

"We look to Malaysia to keep up the sharp focus on the Rohingya issue in ASEAN, as well as in other regional fora" he said.

Dr Chowdhury commended the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for describing the atrocities perpetrated by Myanmar authorities' as "genocide".

He reflected on the possibility of the events of ethnic cleansing and other crimes triggering the principle of "the responsibly to protect" in line with the relevant United Nations resolutions.

Highlighting the Bangladesh-Malaysia relations, he said the two countries will need to work closely together, to ensure the survival of a rule-based global community, after the" double whammy" of Covid and the crisis in Europe.

High Commissioner Haznah, in her key-note address, stressed that Malaysia and Bangladesh should capitalise on the existing strong relations between the two countries.

She recalled her country's long relations with Bangladesh in trade and investment, education, culture, tourism as well as technical assistance.

Bangladesh, the high commissioner noted, was currently Malaysia's 30th largest trading partner, and ranked second among South Asian countries.

Haznah hoped that the bilateral trade value between Malaysia and Bangladesh would reach the figure of up to USD 4 billion in five years.

The ultimate goal, she believed, should be the establishment of a Free Trade Agreement to strengthen and diversify bilateral economic relations between the two nations.

The high commissioner listed the areas like defence, aero-space and food security where bilateral cooperation could also be enhanced.

About the Rohingya issue, she assured that Malaysia will remain one of the strongest supporters of Bangladesh in raising it in multilateral forums.

In his remarks Farooq Sobhan said Bangladesh needs to focus much more on its Look East policy.

"The centrepiece of this Look East policy, in my view, is our relations with ASEAN in particular," he observed.

Recalling significant landmark bilateral visits in the past, Farooq Sobhan stressed the continued need for such interactions.

Dr Imtiaz proposed floating a new platform between the two States, similar to the "Bangladesh-India Foundation, for consolidating mutual cooperation further.

He said it can be a public-private partnership. "We can invite some private entrepreneurs as well to build the foundation."

Dr Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir highlighted the issue of FTA and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP to deepen the bilateral cooperation between the two nations.

Currently, he said most of the important Asian state-players have joined RCEP and it was expected that these growing economies of Asia will dominate the global market in the next decade.

He focused on transparent, fair and safe migration that complied with the provisions of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Malaysian researcher Yanitha Meena said Malaysia and Bangladesh had signed an agreement on labour recruitment which is a very important part of the relationship between the two friendly nations.

"It's the right step and a highly appreciated part of our relations. This does not come without challenges, as we have seen that there are several challenges to actually come to labour relations," she added.

Cosmos Foundation Executive Director Nahar Khan said it is notable how Dhaka and Kuala Lumpur have remained truly 'all-weather' friends and allies for half a century.

She lauded Malaysia's role in providing aid and services to the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh hopes that Malaysia would continue its political pressure on Myanmar, to make them see the wisdom in creating a suitable environment in their Northern Rakhine state for full repatriation of the community, at the earliest, Khan said.

"On the economic front, the time is truly right for Bangladesh-Malaysia to step up their engagement as they strive to move up the economic ladder within this decade," she observed.

With the growing focus on the Blue Economy, Khan said it was now opportune moment for Dhaka and Putrajaya to explore maritime engagement, as additional dimension of Bangladesh-Malaysia relations.

"For this, the obvious arena for maritime engagement to commence would be the Bay of Bengal, and other regional waters, which have grown in importance as a critical maritime theatre in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean," she added.

The speakers were agreed that this important deliberation and exchange of ideas organised by the Cosmos Foundation will enormously assist the widening and deepening of bilateral relations.

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