KUALA LUMPUR: MALAYSIA'S standing as a loyal "family friend" will be further accentuated when China does away with its protocol norms as its leaders host Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's six-day visit from today.
That president Xi Jinping has agreed to hold celebrations at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 31 (a public holiday there), to mark the 40th anniversary of Malaysia-China bilateral ties, reaffirms Malaysia's status in China.
It was the same day 40 years ago that both countries issued a joint communique signed by former prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and his then counterpart, Zhou En-lai, on the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
A government spokesman said Xi would also break convention when he hosts a private dinner for Najib and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor.
"The norm is for the president to just hold bilateral talks while the prime minister would hold the private dinner. This time around, the president will welcome Najib as well as hold a private dinner. It is a very significant gesture as the relationship between the two countries is more of that of a family."
This point was diligently emphasised by China's ambassador to Malaysia, Dr Huang Huikang, who had described the ties as "true friends" in a recent interview
"The history of our relationship for the last 40 years has proved that a friend in need is a friend indeed. China and Malaysia are such friends. So, we are going to promote a better understanding and build a more comprehensive strategic partnership. We will share common goals and interests. Politically, we have mutual trust. We are going to exchange high-level visits frequently, like relatives and family," he had said.
The official said the significance of Najib's visit to China, coming 40 years after Razak's bold stance to link up Malaysia and China, would be further demonstrated by the decision by its top three leaders, namely Xi, Premier Li Keqiang and Chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, Zhang Dejiang, to meet Najib.
China and Malaysia, he said, would explore every opportunity to enhance their comprehensive strategic partnership, covering all sectors.
"Bilateral relations have grown across the whole spectrum. It is a very strong, very solid, promising relationship that is all encompassing," said the official, adding that the two countries would further enhance cooperation in trade and investment, education, financial services, infrastructure, tourism, education, security, defence, agriculture and people to people contact during Najib's visit.
Indeed, the relationship has proven to be fruitful with China having been Malaysia’s largest trading partner since 2009. Malaysia, on the other hand, has been China’s eight largest business partner globally.
Both countries had set a target of annual trade of US$160 billion by 2017. “Malaysia is confident that this can be achieved,” said the official.
Najib’s visit will also be on a mission to attract a larger portion of China’s projected outbound investments worth US$500 billion over the next five years. As at 2012, Malaysia’s accummulated foreign direct investment (FDI) in China was US$6.3 billion while China’s FDI in Malaysia in the first half of 2013 was US$72 million.
Islamic finance will also feature prominently during Najib’s visit. “We are already trading in remminbi and ringgit but have yet to establish a clearing bank. We are trying to persuade China (for this purpose).
“In his last visit, the Chinese president was also keen on establishing an Asian investment bank, and on Malaysia being a partner in establishing one.”
The official said two projects that epitomised the strategic partnership of the two countries were the China-Malaysia Qinzhou Industrial Park and Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park.
Five entreprises have signed with a total investment of RMB4.426 billion to set up factories in the former, while the latter has received the commitment of Alliance Steel Sdn Bhd for a steel mill project with an estimated investment of US$3.5 billion.
Education will also be in Najib’s list of discussions, with the Xiamen University set to have its first overseas campus inb Malaysia. “They have requested for the launch to take place in June or July.”
Cooperation in agriculture, namely following the Chinese government’s decision to allow the export of raw edible bird nests since early this year. Malaysia, he said, would also continue to promote the use of palm oil.
On tourism, the official said Malaysia was hopeful that Najib’s visit would induce a turn around in Chinese tourist numbers that had taken a dip after the MH370 incident.
“We want to put the incident behind us as we have so much more to benefit from in terms of the bigger picture. This, however, doesn’t mean we are forgetting the next-of-kin, The search will continue with participation from China and Australia.”
The official said Malaysia was hopeful for an improvement “one or two months” from now.
He said both countries would also work on enhancing defence and military cooperation.
On the overlapping disputes with China in the South China Sea, Malaysia, which will chair ASEAN next year, the official said while this was a delicate issue, Malaysia would proceed with its commitment to expand relations with China “across the board”.
On China’s request for an upgrade of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement pact with China, the spokesman said Malaysia was open to such a proposal.
“The deeper the economic intergration with China, the better it will be in finding political solutions. When the stakes are higher in protecting business, trade and investment, then there is every reason to ensure that peace and stability are continued.”