The PM noted that Vietnam has changed a lot, becoming more active and much greater effective than when he visited the last time in 1998.
“And in terms of economic growth, you have done extremely well, growing up to 7 percent per year,” Mahathir said, adding that he thought Vietnam has made much progress compared with other ASEAN countries and may overstep Malaysia.
On the Malaysia-Vietnam strategic partnership, the Malaysian PM said the two countries already have 33 partnership agreements, but they need to focus on various areas where each has got its own strength.
He noted that Vietnam certainly has a bigger population than Malaysia, and big population means big market.
“Although the per capita income is not high but we have noticed that big population with people hardworking, skillful, will contribute very much to the growth of the economy,” he said, noting that for Malaysia, to have a partner with a big population is important because it is a trading nation and the bigger the market, the bigger the opportunity to trade and also to invest.
Remarking that Malaysian companies have been very active in Vietnam, PM Mahathir said he believes that in the future there will be more investment in Vietnam.
“So we look forward to enhancing the strategic partnership in a very tangible way so that both countries will benefit,” he said.
He pointed to agriculture as a potential area. Malaysia is buying rice and a number of vegetable products from Vietnam, and is looking to importing more agricultural products, he said, adding that Malaysia is also interested in investing in agricultural sector in Vietnam so that the country can obtain regular supply from Vietnam.
Asked about what Malaysia and Vietnam could do together to contribute to maintaining peace and security in the region as well as strengthening ASEAN’s centrality, PM Mahathir said what happens in the East Sea affect both countries, and the movement of vessels through the East Sea is important to both Malaysia and Vietnam. He underlined the need to avoid confrontation, stressing that “if there are some problems, we need to sit down together, and discuss and try to solve the problem in a peaceful way.”
The PM emphasized that he hopes the sea will be free for navigation all the time.