Canada – Malaysia Relations

Canada and Malaysia share 60 years of friendly bilateral ties that stretch back to the founding of modern Malaysia. Canada was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the newly-independent Federation of Malaya in 1957, with Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker sharing a congratulatory radio address to the people of Malaya on that occasion. Canada was also represented at the celebrations marking the formation of Malaysia in 1963. Since that time, many high-level visits have taken place in both directions, including by prime ministers of both countries and both the Malaysian and Canadian heads of state. Most recently, in April 2017, Canada’s Minister for National Defence, the Honourable Harjit Sajjan visited Malaysia to highlight Canada’s military and strategic engagement in Malaysia and Southeast Asia.

Though in some ways quite different, Malaysia and Canada have much in common and are natural partners in several areas. Both are former British territories and current members of The Commonwealth of Nations. Canada has been, since 1977, a formal Dialogue Partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Malaysia was a founding member. The relationship between the two countries is further fostered through cooperation in other international organisations such as the United Nations, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the World Trade Organization. Both countries are rich in raw materials, are maritime nations with extensive coastlines, and have similar population sizes, despite a vast difference in geographic dimensions. In Malaysia, Canada is represented by the High Commission of Canada in Kuala Lumpur, and by a Consulate headed by an Honorary Consul in Penang. Malaysia is represented in Canada by a High Commission in Ottawa, a Trade Office in Toronto and a Consulate in Vancouver.

People to people ties

Bolstering inter-government relations are strong people-to-people ties between Malaysians and Canadians, enhanced through education and tourism. A number of Canadian universities maintain exchange and study programs with Malaysia. It is estimated that close to 80,000 Malaysians have studied in Canada since the 1950s, with over 1,300 studying in Canada in 2015. More than 70,000 Canadians visited Malaysia in 2016. In the 2006 census, just over 12,000 Canadians claimed Malaysian origins while some 3,000-4,000 Canadians live in Malaysia.

Economic ties

Malaysia was Canada’s third largest bilateral merchandise trading partner in the ASEAN region in 2016, with trade amounting to CAD$3.3 billion. Canadian merchandise exports to Malaysia were valued at more than CAD$705 million. Top Canadian exports included fertilizers, soybeans, canola oil, electrical machinery and equipment, machinery and mechanical appliances (taps, valves, gas turbines), railway cars (for Kuala Lumpur’s light rail lines), and wheat. Canada’s merchandise imports from Malaysia, which were valued at almost CAD$2.6 billion, consisted primarily of electronic machinery and equipment, printing machinery, technical and precision instruments, and rubber.

According to Statistics Canada, stocks of Canadian direct investment in Malaysia was valued at CAD$666 million in 2015, while Malaysian direct investment was valued at CAD$10 million for the same year.

Canadian companies have invested in Malaysia’s financial services, consumer goods, transportation and manufacturing sectors, among others. Canadian companies in Malaysia employ thousands of Malaysians.

Security cooperation

Canada and Malaysia enjoy a robust and still expanding defence and security relationship. The two nations signed a Memorandum of Understanding on security cooperation in October 2013 and regularly collaborate in areas including military capacity building, counter-terrorism, and Weapons of Mass Destruction threat reduction (particularly Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear threat response). Through such programs, Canada has trained over 1000 Malaysian first responders in how to respond safely to various threats, incidents, and attacks. Canada has also contributed equipment to Malaysian security partners, including two rigid hull fender boats which were delivered to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency in June, 2014.

Additionally, Malaysia is a beneficiary of the many Canadian regional counter-terrorism and anti-crime initiatives in Southeast Asia. These initiatives, with ongoing programs worth over CAD$15 million, are addressing, among other things, cyber security, foreign terrorist fighters, terrorist finance, strengthening border security, and improving information sharing among ASEAN members.

Members of the Malaysian Armed Forces have also benefitted from Canada’s Military Training Cooperation Program since 1966. Since that time, more than 500 officers have received training in areas including language courses, peace support operations, and military professional development.

Additional cooperation

Through Canada’s High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, Canada engages in strategic advocacy and supports programming to promote Canadian values. Partnering with Malaysian civil society organisations, areas of focus include strengthening democratic values, supporting marginalized groups (LGBT, women, indigenous peoples and victims of sexual violence), and promoting religious freedom, diversity and pluralism. 

As a member of ASEAN, Malaysia also benefits from Canadian development funding for ASEAN. Canada’s ASEAN regional development program aims to strengthen the empowerment of the poor and most vulnerable people in ASEAN countries with a particular focus on women and girls.

Canada and Malaysia will continue to seek new opportunities to expand on our long history of close and friendly bilateral relations, reinforced by an increasingly sophisticated range of political, economic, trade, and social cooperation.

June 2017

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