Eu-Malaysia: a difficult but long-lasting relationship

Source: Pixabay

By Maria Carolina Nuzzo

Historical context 

Malaysia’s historical relations with the European Union (EU) have been shaped by a range of factors, including trade, politics, and culture.
One of the earliest contacts between Malaysia and Europe occurred during the colonial era, when Malaysia was under British rule. The British presence in Malaysia brought about significant economic and cultural ties to Europe, and this relationship has evolved over time.
Malaysia established diplomatic relations with the EU in 1975, and since then, the two have engaged in a number of trade agreements and partnerships. In 2010, the EU became Malaysia’s largest trading partner, and the two have continued to work together on a range of economic issues, including investment, intellectual property, and market access up to these days.
In addition to economic ties, Malaysia and the EU have cooperated on political and security matters. The EU has made a significant effort to resolve conflicts in Southeast Asia, including the Aceh conflict in Indonesia, and has also been supportive of Malaysia’s efforts to fight terrorism and extremism.
Culturally speaking, Malaysia and Europe have exchanged “ideas” and influences over the years. European cultural traditions have been incorporated into Malaysian society, particularly in the areas of cuisine and fashion; at the same time, Malaysian cultural influences have been felt in Europe, especially in the areas of music and art.
Both in past and recent years the relationship between the European Union (EU) and Malaysia has been strained over claims related to the colonial legacy of some European countries in Southeast Asia. Perhaps, Malaysia, like many other former colonies, has long struggled with the legacy of European imperialism and the injustices that it brought about.

Southeast Asia during the High Colonial Age, 1870-1914

A milestone in the EU-Malaysia relations: the PCA 

The signature of a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between Malaysia and the European Union (EU) is indeed a significant milestone in their bilateral relations. The PCA is a comprehensive framework that covers a wide range of areas of cooperation, such as trade, investment, sustainable development, human rights, and regional and international issues.
This agreement provides a solid foundation for the further strengthening of the already substantial economic ties between Malaysia and the EU. The EU is Malaysia’s third-largest trading partner, and the PCA is expected to enhance trade and investment flows between the two parties.
Furthermore, the PCA underscores the shared commitment of Malaysia and the EU to promoting sustainable development and protecting human rights. The agreement also creates a platform for increased dialogue and cooperation on regional and international issues of mutual interest, such as climate change and global security.
The signing of the PCA constitutes a significant step forward in the Malaysia-EU relationship, and has set the ground for deeper and more fruitful cooperation, but issues and misunderstandings are still there and cannot be overlooked.

Colonial legacy claims

One particular issue that has caused tension between Malaysia and the EU is the EU’s proposal of a ban on the use of palm oil as a biofuel. Malaysia is one of the world’s largest producers of palm oil, and the ban would have significant economic consequences for the country. Malaysia has accused the EU of using the ban as a way to protect its own biofuel producers, while ignoring the environmental damage caused by other crops such as soy and rapeseed.
Another issue that has caused tension is the EU’s decision to list Malaysia as a country at high risk of money laundering and terrorism financing. Malaysia has accused the EU of using this as a political tool to exert pressure on the country and has called for the decision to be reversed.  

At the heart of these tensions there is a broader debate about the legacy of European colonialism in Southeast Asia. Many Malaysians see the EU’s actions as an attempt to continue to exert influence over the country, and to maintain economic and political dominance. They argue that the EU should acknowledge the injustices of the colonial period and work to address the lingering effects of imperialism in the region.
The EU, for its part, has defended its actions as necessary measures to protect the environment and fight money laundering and terrorism financing. It has also pointed out that it has provided significant aid and support to Malaysia and other countries in the region, and that it remains committed to working with them on a range of issues.
The relationship between the EU and Malaysia remains complex and multifaceted. While there are certainly tensions related to the colonial legacy of some European countries in the region, there are also many areas of cooperation and mutual benefits that need to be accounted for. It is likely that the two sides will continue to work together, even though they will inevitably face hard times from time to time.