Malaysian Prime Minister to Strengthen Already Strong Relations with China

Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, has been making headlines for his continued efforts to strengthen ties with China. As the two nations work to rebound from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Yassin is exploring new ways to boost trade and investment between Malaysia and the world’s second-largest economy. While some see these close ties as a potential threat to Malaysia’s national sovereignty, others believe they offer valuable opportunities for growth and development. In this article, we will explore the latest developments in Malaysia-China relations and evaluate the potential benefits and challenges of this partnership for Malaysia’s future.

Malaysia’s new Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, recently visited China in March 2023 to explore ways to expand the longstanding economic ties between Malaysia and China. This visit marks his first as Prime Minister and demonstrates his commitment to strengthening Malaysia’s relationship with China.

Anwar’s visit to China was met with great anticipation, as it had been customary for Malaysia’s prime ministers to visit China for over 50 years. Diplomatic officials noted that this was a good opportunity for Anwar to have constructive and meaningful dialogue with President Xi Jinping, who recently secured an unprecedented third term as he leads his nation out of the Covid-19 slump.

This visit came at an opportune time, with both nations commemorating an important milestone and preparing for another: the 10th anniversary of the comprehensive strategic partnership signed during Xi’s visit to Malaysia in 2013, and the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties to be marked in 2024.

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The fact that China is now fully reopening from its pandemic-related restrictions means that Malaysia will expect a return of Chinese tourists, students, and investors. Thus, Anwar’s visit is expected to bring significant business opportunities to Malaysia, showcasing the country’s recovery from the recent economic crisis.

The economic foundation between the two countries has been well-built and solid, with bilateral trade amassing its highest volume at the end of 2022 at US$203.6bil (RM910.8bil), making China Malaysia’s largest trading partner for the 13th year running. Anwar’s China policy will thus heavily rely on this economic platform, with a large trade delegation accompanying him on the trip.

To promote Malaysia as an ideal business destination, the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) plans to hold a Malaysia-China Business Forum. The forum will be attended by the leaders of both countries and over 150 members of the ACCCIM. The aim is to convey a positive message to the Chinese business world that Malaysia is ready to be a business hub for Asean and Asia-Pacific.

As Malaysia aims to improve its investment infrastructure through high-speed rail and ports, the priority for the visit is to nail down all possible mega-projects.

Honorary president of the Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce (MCCC) Datuk Tan Yew Sing stated that even during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, trade between the two countries continued to grow in double digits. He went on to add that, with the ongoing US-China trade war, it has become an inevitable trend for Chinese capital to go abroad. Malaysia’s Prime Minister’s visit to China can thus present several opportunities to claim its position as an alternative friendly destination, as Anwar can market business and investment opportunities to China’s investors.

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Tai Teik Hing, secretary-general of the One Belt One Road Malaysia Association, emphasized that Anwar is expected to look beyond everything explored before during previous Prime Ministers’ visits, such as infrastructure development. China is now moving to a higher level of its Belt & Road Initiative, and there are other scientific, technological, and innovative advancements being made. He added that Anwar has great networking skills and can build on the momentum gained with China at the moment.

Overall, Anwar’s visit to China represents a significant step in strengthening the longstanding economic ties between Malaysia and China. With numerous business opportunities available, it is expected to cement Malaysia’s position as an alternative friendly destination, and a strategic partner for China in the Asia-Pacific and Asean regions.

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