PETALING JAYA: Malaysia can play a greater role in advocacy and become a trendsetter in regional public opinion instead of just taking a neutral stance in the midst of the trade war between the United States and China, says Senator Liew Chin Tong (pic).
The Deputy Defence Minister said some have called this "hedging" but he said he was of the opinion that we are less transactional.
"If Malaysia plays its cards carefully yet boldly, we can be the trendsetter in regional public opinion, just like in the case of (Prime Minister) Tun Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) speaking up for Huawei recently.
"Or, in the case of the Belt and Road Initiative, the renegotiation of deals with Malaysia post-GE14 probably encourages China to put more emphasis on financial transparency in future projects," he said.
Liew said this at the "Forum on Malaysia-China relations - Cherishing the past and working towards the future - in conjunction with the 45th anniversary of Malaysia-China diplomatic relations" opening ceremony on Monday (June 17).
However, he said that for Malaysia to play this "activist middle power role" through proactive diplomacy and advocacy, it needed to organise itself better as a nation.
"Malaysia needs to understand contemporary China better and in a much deeper way," he said, adding that Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik and himself had talked on the need to strengthen Malaysia's research on China, the Middle East, South Asia and South-East Asia.
"It is my hope that we can actively nurture at least 100 PhD holders of all ethnic backgrounds researching contemporary China's politics, economics and societies through public, private and community coordination as a nation over a period of 10 years," he said.
Liew added that they will eventually play a role in shaping public policy in Malaysia's politics, civil service, academia, think tanks, and corporations in the years to come.
He said this could also be replicated in 10 years for the studies of contemporary Middle Eastern, South Asian, South-East Asian issues and to look at their politics, economies and societies.
Liew added that this will make Malaysia a significant regional or world leader in understanding the complex world that we are dealing with.
Meanwhile, Liew said that China needed to radically change its approach to understand South-East Asia better.
He said that if China is to emerge as a credible great power, it will need to treat South-East Asian states exceedingly well to prove to the world that China's rise is no threat to the region
China's Minister Counselor Chen Chen who read out China Ambassador to Malaysia Bai Tian's speech said following the government change in Malaysia last May and some ups and downs in China-Malaysia cooperation, its bilateral relations are now on track.
"People were once uncertain about the prospect of China-Malaysia relations. But now, more than one year has passed and instead of sinking into the mire, the friendship and cooperation between China and Malaysia has soared through the roof," said the deputy Chief of Mission.
He said Dr Mahathir visited China twice in less than a year after his assumption of office.
On the trade war with the US, he said that China was pulled into the trade war, "with its back to the wall."
"China does not want a trade war, but it is not afraid and it will fight one if necessary," he said, calling the US President Donald Trump self-centred and selfish.