Aug 06, 2018
Ge Hongliang:Sino-Malaysian relations look to a fresh start
Ge Hongliang:Sino-Malaysian relations look to a fresh start

  Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Malay-sia and attended the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Singapore last week. His trip to Malaysia, the first by a top Chinese leader after the new Malaysian government was formed, has caught wide atten-tion. As Wang said, “China-Ma-laysia relations are standing at a new historical starting point.” At this point, the two countries attach high importance to each other and are willing to push forward cooperation. They are able to overcome challenges and jointly start a new chapter in bilateral relations.

In the 14th Malaysian gen-eral election in May, the op-position Pakatan Harapan defeated the Barisan Nasional coalition to become the ruling party, making the first change in the Malaysian politics since the country’s independence in 1957.

Mahathir Mohamad, 93, became the new prime minis-ter and formed a majority gov-ernment along with the Sabah Heritage Party. As Mahathir and his new government are keen to develop relations with China, the political shift in Malaysia indeed means a new starting point other than chal-lenges for Sino-Malaysian re-lations. The starting point can be interpreted in the following ways.

First, while maintaining co-operation, China and Malaysia will renegotiate problems in bilateral projects that cropped up during the course of their progress. Mahathir said before winning the election that he would review Chinese invest-ment projects once elected prime minister.

He has kept the promise, reiterating that his government was entitled to study the un-fair terms in the contracts and renegotiate some, if necessary. So far, Chinese-backed projects such as the East Coast Railway Link have been suspended as the new Malaysian government implements its election prom-ise.

Mahathir does not want co-operation contracts with other countries to contain unfair terms for Malaysia. He is eager to do something tangible for Malaysia’s development and socioeconomic progress. By re-viewing China-related projects and contracts, he intends to rectify the problems and get rid of the “unfair” parts. This may also be a chance for China and Malaysia to address differences.

Second, the new starting point means Sino-Malaysian ties will keep moving forward with adjustments. Being a firm nationalist, Mahathir has been attaching great importance to Malaysia’s national interests in cooperating with other coun-tries. He hates other countries interfering in Malaysia’s do-mestic affairs. The new Malay-sian government is bound to pursue a strategic and indepen-dent foreign policy, expanding the country’s influence both in the region and across the globe through balanced diplomacy and not taking sides.

As for Sino-Malaysian rela-tions, Mahathir once criticized his predecessor Najib Razak for being too close to China. That means the new government may strive to balance ties with Beijing.

The new starting point also refers to fresh goals in Sino- Malaysian regional and interna-tional collaboration. Apart from emphasizing pragmatism, Ma-hathir is also passionate about advocating “Asian values.” The two countries have enough rea-sons to come together for the Belt and Road initiative.

  Being located at the intersec-tion of land and sea, Malaysia can play a crucial role in the initiative. Mahathir has him-self said that he “supports” the initiative and wanted to “make best use” of it. In Mahathir’s eyes, the Belt and Road is an opportunity to achieve prosper-ity in Asia.

  Mahathir is for balance in cooperation with other nations. Sino-Malaysian consensus in regional cooperation outweighs divergences. During Wang’s visit, the two sides articulated their clear stance in support of multilateralism amid the emer-gence of forces of anti- global-ization and protectionism. The two countries believe that they should jointly promote the for-mation of the East Asia Eco-nomic Community, and safe-guard the unity and legitimate development rights of emerg-ing economies.

  There may be quite a few challenges ahead, but China and Malaysia are now stand-ing on a new starting point for continuing their friendly and cooperative journey. For both nations, it is an opportunity to take their relationship to a new level. Mahathir’s China visit is approaching. This is likely to become a preface to the new bilateral ties.   

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