Malaysia, China mark 50 years diplomatic ties in 2024, pivotal to expand linkages in new areas

KUALA LUMPUR — The year 2024 marks the golden jubilee of Malaysia-China diplomatic ties — a bond that will be made all the more significant with Chinese Premier Li Qiang expected to visit Malaysia to commemorate the occasion.

The two countries have forged linkages in numerous areas, notably in railway infrastructure and technology, the automotive sector, manufacturing, trading and financial technology or fintech.

Of significance is the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) linking the east and west coast of Peninsular Malaysia or connecting Kota Bharu to Port Klang via a massive rail network that is destined to open up new areas of growth and development.

Also included are the strategic partnership between Malaysia’s first national car brand, Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Sdn Bhd (Proton) and China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co Ltd, in which the Chinese auto giant acquired a 49.9 per cent stake in Proton from DRB-Hicom Bhd for RM460 million in June 2017 to rejuvenate Proton’s performance.

The partnership successfully bore fruit when Proton achieved its fifth consecutive year of sales growth in 2023 with 154,611 units being sold, registering its strongest performance since 2012.

Three of Proton’s SUV model lineup — the Proton X50, Proton X70 and Proton X90 — are now popular models which are raking in more than 200,000 units in total sales since December 2018.

With that, it is clear that the roots planted in 1974 have grown into a deep camaraderie, thanks to visionary Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak and his Chinese counterpart Premier Zhou Enlai, sharing a common quest to better their nations for the common good.

Reinforcing linkages in new areas pivotal to carrying ties to a higher plane

Vagaries in the international marketplace call for reinforcing linkages in new areas such as energy transition, high-technology electronics, 5G, artificial intelligence, green investment, advancement in electrical vehicles, renewable energy, smart agriculture as well as the healthcare industry are pivotal to carry ties to a significantly higher plane.

A joint communique they signed on May 31, 1974 was historic as it made Malaysia the first ASEAN country to establish diplomatic relations with China before Beijing kicked off its reform and opening-up policy in 1978.

It was indeed a triumph and a scoop for Malaysia and the first for any Southeast Asian nation to establish ties with China which then was largely isolated from the international community.

Nothing less than trailblazing and the envy of many, the move has since paved the way for a fruitful relationship, with China retaining its position as Malaysia’s largest trading partner for 15 consecutive years since 2009.

Cordial ties with Asia’s superpower have paid off, with two-way trade surging to RM450.84 billion — ballooning by over 481 times compared with the trade of less than US$200 million (about RM937 million) in 1974.

Even amid the economic slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, bilateral trade reached a historic high of US$203.6 billion in 2022, clearly demonstrating the resilience and dynamism of Malaysia’s partnership with the world’s second-largest economy.

Bilateral trade will continue on a positive trajectory

 “Bilateral trade will continue on a positive trajectory,” Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Huazong) president Tan Sri Goh Tian Chuan told Bernama.

Goh said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s fruitful visits to China of late — twice last year alone, is expected to propel Malaysia’s trade and economic growth, following the signing of 21 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) for estimated investments of nearly RM190 billion.

“This, coupled with projects like the Tanjung Malim Automotive High-Tech Valley (AHTV) for development and assembly of electric vehicles (EVs), and the ongoing ECRL project, as well as the twin industrial parks project — Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park (MCKPI) in Pahang and China-Malaysia Qinzhou Industrial Park (CMQIP) — are definitely promising for post-pandemic economic recovery of Malaysia,” he said.

Anwar’s first official visit to China as Prime Minister in April 2023 saw Malaysia securing a record RM170 billion worth of investment commitments from China from 19 MoUs sealed between businesses in China and Malaysia in various fields, especially green technology and the digital economy.

For his second visit to Nanning in September 2023, Anwar witnessed the exchange of three MoUs worth a total of RM19.84 billion between Malaysian and Chinese companies, including a deal between Sime Darby Oils International Ltd and GuangXi Beibu Gulf International Port Group worth a potential export value of RM2.5 billion.

The Sime Darby-GuangXi Beibu MoU will see China doubling its imports of Malaysian refined palm oil to 500,000 tonnes a year from the current 250,000 tonnes.

Going forward — new sectors of cooperation 

It is abundantly clear that Malaysia and China are continuing to prioritise their economic partnership for shared prosperity.

Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) president Tan Sri Low Kian Chuan said Malaysia would undoubtedly continue prioritising a stable and enduring partnership with China for shared prosperity. 

“This is especially after Malaysia and China signed the First Protocol to amend the Agreement on Expanding and Deepening Economic and Trade Cooperation in April 2023 during Anwar’s first official visit to China, whereby the deal will lay the policy foundation for further cooperation between both countries,” he said.

Low said Malaysia must continue to engage China in trade, investment, connectivity-building, regional integration and security collaboration, and both countries can deepen their constructive engagements and exchanges, and bilateral economic and diplomatic efforts to benefit from new progress and development in the future.  

“Malaysia is on the path of economic and industrial transformation as outlined in the New Industrial Master Plan (NIMP) 2030 and National Energy Transition Roadmap, which presents a promising avenue for future collaboration and investment in the high-tech electronics sector, 5G, artificial intelligence, green investment, EVs, renewable energy; smart agriculture as well as the healthcare industry,” he said.

He noted that both countries should also continue enhancing cultural exchanges and educational programmes to boost mutual understanding, especially among youths to expand inter-generational friendship and opportunities in Malaysia and promote solid progress in the China-Malaysia community of a shared future. 

Meanwhile, Universiti Malaya economics senior lecturer Dr Goh Lim Thye said the evolving dynamics between Malaysia and China, particularly in the context of tourism and economic cooperation, point towards a promising future for bilateral relations.

“Educational and cultural exchanges, alongside tourism, could serve as additional bridges, fostering mutual understanding and respect,” he said. 

Overall, he concluded that the past 50 years represented a strategic opportunity for Malaysia to reinforce its economic and cultural ties with China, potentially leading to long-term benefits for both countries in terms of economic growth, cultural exchanges and international cooperation. — BERNAMA