Bilateral relations between countries, especially neighboring ones are essential to economic growth and peaceful co-existence and are mostly mutually beneficial especially in the areas of commerce and tourism. Seeing as China and Malaysia are both Asian countries they both stand to benefit from good neighborly relations.
Relations between China and Malaysia formally began in 1974 this was in a bid to increase trade ties between both countries that were mutually beneficial. This article seeks to examine the changing faces of Malaysia’s policy towards China from the cold war era, through the post cold war and up to 2004 these relations have mainly been characterized by suspicion on the part of Malaysia especially in the cold war era as China was thought to be funding the communist party in Malaysia whose membership mainly consisted of Chinese Malays. Even after the cold war the Malays are still suspicious about the Chinese and the author feels that the cooperation between China and Malaysia is as a result of Malaysia’s economic pragmatism policy seeing as China is on the way towards becoming a major global player especially economically. It is therefore in the best interests of Malaysia to cooperate with china if it is to remain relevant in the region. Malaysia has increased trade with china with volumes at 2004 standing at 19.3 billion USD making China Malaysia’s fourth largest trade partner. Malaysia has also been instrumental in bringing together China and other ASEAN countries and has always supported China’s Quest for regional integration that lead to the convention of the first East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2004. (Chwee, 1-9)
The years 2000 to 2008 were marked with the unprecedented rise of China to a global economic power house, this was not received very well by the existing super power USA and its allies like Japan who are China’s arch rivals.in a bid to create a conducive environment for its ascension to super power status, china has sought to allay fears that it is a threat to the neighboring South Asian nations such as Malaysia through strengthening foreign relations and bilateral trade. This is because most of these countries felt like they were being held hostage by China’s immense powers. Despite these efforts by China, pockets of anti- Chinese demonstrations were still being reported in Malaysia and Taiwan. (Xia, 1)
According to Kent, Malaysia is termed as a Chinese diaspora due to the large number of Chinese people living in Malaysia. This is because of the historical migration of the Chinese people into Malaysia. However life for the Chinese in Malaysia has not been a rosy affair ever since the eruption of ethnic wars in 1969. This sense of insecurity has led to the Chinese Malays feeling that they will be much safer in Malaysia if China attains the super power status as they felt that this status will enable China to defend them more easily. The Chinese in Malaysia have been able to preserve the Chinese culture very well and they even celebrate Chinese festivals in Malaysia. They also frequently visit China so as to trace their ancestry and also as tourists. This is as compared to Chinese people in say Thailand who seem to have lost large portions of their Chinese Culture though this is attributed to the Assimilation policy in Thailand. (1)
In 2008 Sino phobic tensions started simmering in Malaysia due to the perceived domination of businesses by the Chinese who are termed as opportunistic and fickle. This was after inflammatory comments were issues by a senior official of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) that incited the Malays against the Chinese living in Malaysia. The Chinese were warned not to be like the American Jews who tried to gain control of both the economic and political power in America, this is now commonly referred to as the ‘Chinese problem.’ Some Malays consider the Chinese in Malaysia as squatters who do not deserve similar rights as native Malaysians; this Sino phobia may have led to strained relations between China and Malaysia causing the Malaysian Prime Minister himself to apologize about those comments after the official adamantly refused to apologize for them. Sino phobia is also prevalent in other south Asian countries such as Indonesia. (Foong, 1)
Trade between China and Malaysia increased exponentially between 2000 and 2008 soaring from an annual turnover of 50 million USD to 80 billion USD. This though was mainly because of Malaysian invest in China which stood at 1.36 billion USD putting China as Malaysia’s fourth largest trader as compared to Chinese investment in Malaysia that was at 134 million USD for the same period of time. The Malaysian imports from China consisted mainly of electronics and machinery while Chinese imports from Malaysia consisted of also electronic goods and palm oil. Trade also increased because of the Chinese reaction to the Asian financial crisis in 1997 of maintaining the value of its currency during the crisis. (Seng, 5 &7)
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Xia, Ming."China Threat" or a "Peaceful Rise of China"?. New York Times. 2006. Web
Kent, Jonathan. “Chinese diaspora: Malaysia” BBC News March 3, 2005.Web
Foong, Hui. “Sinophobia smolders in Malaysia”. Asia Times. October 2, 2008.
Liow, Joseph.“Malaysia’s Post-Cold War China Policy: A Reassessment” nids.org 2000. Web
Sem, Ling. “RENEWING 35 YEARS OFMALAYSIA-CHINA RELATIONS:
NAJIB’S VISIT TO CHINA” National University of Singapore. June 29,2009