Malaysia: Changing partners


Despite the fawning news reports of great breakthroughs and big achievements, the new deal with China has the all the makings of an unequal relationship. It makes us too dependent on a single nation whose intentions we have yet to fully comprehend.

Dennis Ignatius, Free Malaysia Today

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s visit to China this week marked a major turning point not just in Malaysia-China relations but in China’s rise to regional supremacy.

During the visit 14 major agreements covering infrastructure, commerce, education and manufacturing worth RM143 billion were signed. Malaysia also signed an agreement to purchase four “Littoral Defence Ships” from China, a first for Malaysia.

That both sides were clearly elated by the outcome of the visit could be seen in the effusive and glowing descriptions of the new relationship. President Xi Jinping said China’s relations with Malaysia were akin to “being as close as lips are to teeth” while Najib declared China a “true friend and strategic partner.”

As well, Najib also alluded to some sort of new agreement under which China would protect and defend Malaysia’s sovereignty.

Coming so soon after President Rodrigo Duterte’s “separation from the US,” Malaysia’s realignment with China could well sound the death knell of President Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia.’ Though Washington is playing it down, it is quite clearly a major setback for America.

Feting and fretting about Najib

The US and other Western nations must now be wondering how Najib went from being feted in Western capitals as a staunch American ally, a model Muslim democrat and “reformer” (to use President Obama’s words) to breaking ranks with them and moving his nation into China’s orbit.

Malaysians too must wonder how we went from a carefully crafted equidistant approach in foreign policy to almost overnight alignment with China.

Good relations but on what terms?

Good relations with China is, of course, a no-brainer. China is, after all, Asia’s pre-eminent political and economic power. Few doubt that it will, in the not too distant future, overtake the US as a global superpower. It is also Malaysia’s largest trading partner and its second biggest foreign investor. Without doubt, China has become indispensible to Malaysia’s development and prosperity.

The real issue, however, has always been about the kind of political relationship with China that would best serve Malaysia’s overall interests, one that would facilitate economic cooperation without compromising the nation’s independence and sovereignty.

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