August is an auspicious month for Malaysia and Hungary, when both countries celebrate their national days. Hungary has just celebrated the founding of the nation state, as it does every 20 August, and Malaysia will celebrate the 56th anniversary of the country’s independence this Saturday 31 August. Malaysian Ambassador to Hungary Dato’ Kamilan Maksom talks about bilateral relations and other points of interest, including the chance to retire to a tropical paradise with all-year sunshine, an extremely diverse culture and great golf, diving and cuisine.
Only a few thousand Hungarians a year visit Malaysia but the brochures show natural beauty such as lovely beaches with palm trees everywhere, rainforest, highland tea plantations… why so few?
The low number is largely because there are no direct flights between the two countries. With Hungarians having easy access to the rest of Europe, there is a general perception that it is quite cumbersome and costly to travel all the way to Malaysia. But it is a popular destination for Europeans, with about 550,000 tourists from the UK and 350,000 from Germany a year. Good routes for Hungarians are via Doha with Qatar Airways, via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines and via Cairo with EgyptAir.
What are Hungarians missing out on?
Malaysia is blessed with sunshine all year, with an average 28-33 Celsius. It has nice beaches and islands to explore and is known for its glorious gastronomy, with delights from Malay, Chinese, Indian and cross-culture cuisine. Visitors can also enjoy international cooking such as Italian, Japanese and Korean. Plus we are a multicultural country of 28.3 million people with 47 ethnic groups including Malays, Chinese, Indians, Iban, Kadazan. It is one of the most advanced Muslim countries and allows religious and cultural practices of other ethnic groups. Many religious holidays and celebrations are declared public holidays. Hungarians will recall Sandokan (Szandokán), Tiger of Malaysia, a hugely popular, long-running miniseries screened here in the 1980s-1990s.
And some of the attractions for visitors?
Gunung Mulu National Park is one of Malaysia’s five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with the world’s largest cave chamber. It can hold 40 Boeing 747s and has a huge cave passage that could hold five cathedrals the size of St Paul’s in London. Wat Photivihan is the second-largest sleeping Buddha in South-East Asia at 40 metres long and Malaysia houses the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, about 130 million years old. Sipadan Island has been voted one of the top five dive sites in the world, and Malaysia is the first Asian country after Japan to host a Formula One in modern times. Do you know we have about 325 golf courses?
It sounds like a pleasant place to retire to. There is a scheme for foreigners, apparently.
Yes, the Malaysia My Second Home programme (MM2H) is one of the government’s success stories in attracting foreigners who fulfil certain criteria, to stay as long as possible on a multiple-entry social visit pass. This is initially for 10 years then renewable, for citizens from all countries recognised by Malaysia, regardless of age, gender, race or religion. Applicants may bring their spouses and unmarried children below the age of 21 as dependants. Since its inception in 2012 and up until April 2013, 21,429 participants from 121 countries have been approved, led by China, Japan, Bangladesh, UK and Iran. Malaysia has one of the highest standards of living in the region, at a relatively low cost, and this attracts foreigners. It has excellent low-cost flights with neighbouring ASEAN capitals and further afield to China, Australia, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Nepal and Saudi Arabia.
So how does Hungary rate as a difficult or as an enjoyable posting for Malaysia’s ambassadors?
On a professional level, every ambassadorial post always carries responsibilities, expectations and challenges. I am quite fortunate to have been assigned to Hungary, with which we have a very cordial relationship. The challenge for me is to bring the relations to a higher level, particularly economic cooperation, trade and investment, and people-to-people contacts, especially in business circles. On a personal level, Hungary is an enjoyable post due to its conducive environment, such as its central location in the region, connectivity to Europe, very friendly people and good quality of life.
The language is a bit difficult though…
Since I arrived on 22 February 2007 my Hungarian has become sufficient for haggling in the Esceri Market, where you can find a lot of interesting antiques. And I know now if people are swearing at each other or being affectionate!
How are Malaysia-Hungary relations politically?
We enjoy excellent, close bilateral relations. We have had diplomatic relations since 1969 and since 1993 Malaysia has had an embassy here. Despite the closure of the Hungarian Embassy in Malaysia in 2009 due to the economic crisis, ties are maintained via the Hungarian Embassy in Indonesia. We hope that Hungary will eventually reopen its embassy in Malaysia. Malaysia values its relations with Hungary. Both countries share similar views on issues of mutual benefit and our Foreign Ministers have excellent relations. Hungary’s, Dr. János Martonyi, visited Malaysia in 2011 and 2012. His counterpart, Dato’ Sri Anifah Aman, was here in June 2011 and has been invited to return.
What are the trade/business links between Hungary and Malaysia? The main companies, exports and imports, trade balance, investment and so on?
Currently the main link is through bilateral trade rather than investments. Previously two major investments were the IC Bank, which was consequently sold to Banco Popolare, and DRB Hicom’s ten per cent share in Raba, which was purchased by the Hungarian government last year. Dato’ Gabor Faskerty runs FASTRON Electronics both in Hungary and in Malaysia. This company produces inductive and machine parts, accessories and electro mechanic mantling. FASTRON Kft. in Tolna, Hungary, employs 560 people with HUF 6 billion turnover supplying the European market, while FASTRON Sdn Bhd in Malaysia employs 550 people with RM 35 million [Malaysian ringgits] turnover, supplying the worldwide market. Looking at GDP, the Malaysian economy is stable and growing continuously. In 2012 GDP growth was 5.6 per cent, GDP per capita USD 16,900, the inflation rate 1.6 per cent and unemployment a low 3.2 per cent. In 2012, Hungary was the 50th export market and 31st import source for Malaysia.
The Malaysian Embassy is ably assisted by the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) Budapest office, responsible for promoting Malaysian products and services, helping to realise the phrase “Made-in-Malaysia for the World”. The office has regular contacts with Hungarian importers, major and regional chambers and local associations to achieve this. Among its many promotional activities, it organises Incoming Buying Mission (IBM) programmes where Hungarian importers can participate at tailor-made Business-to Business (B2B) meetings with Malaysian suppliers and have a chance to visit a given trade fair. MATRADE supports the participation of Hungarian importers and provides accommodation, translators and airport transfer for participating buyers. The upcoming programme is IBM INTRADE 2013 in November. International Trade Malaysia (INTRADE) is the annual international trade and export exhibition to enhance networking, business matching, exchange of ideas and knowledge among the business communities from different countries, especially those seeking to venture into the global market. Interested companies can register in September at the MATRADE Budapest office.
Are there any business guidelines that Hungarian companies wishing to trade in Malaysia should know?
The Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA) is the government’s principal agency for the promotion, development and coordination of the manufacturing and services sectors in Malaysia. MIDA is the first point of contact for investors who intend to set up projects in these sectors. Investors are “hand held” all the way from fact-finding missions until they begin operations in Malaysia. The wide range of services provided by MIDA includes providing information on the opportunities for investments, as well as facilitating companies that are seeking joint-venture partners. Interested investors can come to the Malaysian Embassy for further information and we will facilitate contact with MIDA.
To sum up, how then are you promoting Malaysia politically, economically and culturally, to strengthen its image in this country?
We engage with senior officials from the Hungarian government and have programmes with the Hungarian media and academia. The embassy and MATRADE Budapest office organised two business seminars in April and June, focusing on Malaysia’s top commodities of rubber and palm oil-related products. This aimed to develop closer ties between Hungarian companies and Malaysian exporters, and enabled us to offer the assistance of Malaysian government agencies operating in Europe. We were very pleased with the attendance and positive feedback.
So it’s a pretty easy job, then, being ambassador…
Ha! Currently I am deputising for the Dean of the Diplomatic Corp, the Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See, because he is on leave. I am the Dean of the ASEAN Ambassadors in Hungary as well as Dean of the Islamic Group Ambassadors. I am also the Ambassador for Malaysia to the Republic of Slovenia and Macedonia.
Dato’ Kamilan Maksom
Served in various diplomatic postings in The Hague, Netherlands; Pontianak, Indonesia; and New Delhi, India; then Ambassador to Papua New Guinea 2003-2007 before arriving to Hungary on 22 February 2007.