KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has maintained that the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea must remain unencumbered, says Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali.
"The region must remain a zone of peace, freedom and neutrality and must not be allowed to be militarised," he said in his closing remarks at the South China Morning Post's China Conference here on Thursday (Oct 11).
"South-East Asia is looking at China as the new economic behemoth with genuine admiration but also with some trepidation because of its military might. In this regard, China's commitment to peaceful development is absolutely crucial for the continued prosperity of the region," he said.
Azmin Ali said in the past, military might was used by certain powers to impose on weaker nations but China traded with Malacca for two centuries in peace.
"If there had been any imperialist intentions, China could have colonised Malacca then. But it was the Western powers that did that, instead," he noted.
"The bilateral relationship between China and Malaysia, therefore, must be seen from the prism of that long history, signified not by wars or colonisation, but by robust trade and cultural exchanges," the minister said.
"Today, we expect China to provide global leadership not just in the economic sphere but in soft power by advancing universal values such as freedom of conscience, mutual respect and justice," he said.
"Being close to China, geopolitical developments in South-East Asia are viewed as a bellwether on the effects on trade, diplomacy and security that China's rise is likely to have on the rest of the world," he added.
As Malaysia recalibrate its economy with the focus on balanced development and a re-prioritising of its projects and programmes, Azmin Ali said he needs to stress that notwithstanding the huge debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio, the government remains committed to doing all that is necessary to generate economic growth and to exploit all opportunities that would bring benefit to the people.
"I cannot overstress the importance of growth. I assure you the government will continue to invest in productive infrastructure, education and technology," he said, adding that this is crucial to continue creating value, generating job opportunities and taking the economic trajectory to a positive direction.
"Rather than viewing the 'New Malaysia' with anxiety, I urge Chinese businesses to view us through the prism of hope and opportunity. Now, more than ever before, Malaysia is one of the most attractive places in South-East Asia to do business," he added.
China remains as Malaysia's single biggest trading partner, contributing 16.4% to the country's combined total exports and imports in 2017.
Last year, the value of bilateral trade between the two countries rose by 20.6% to reach RM290.7bil.
On a separate matter, Azmin said Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad will table in Parliament the Mid-Term Review of the 11th Malaysia Plan with a blueprint for new directions and imperatives to steer the economy in the face of challenges ahead next week.