IN two weeks’ time we will step into a brand new year. Let’s take a look back at 2015 and count the notable moments of Malaysia-China relations.
1. Xiamen University’s Malaysia campus
The Malaysian campus of Xiamen University, located at Salak Tinggi in Selangor, holds a special place in the bilateral ties of both countries. It was the first time a Chinese university was allowed by the Chinese Government to branch out of China and set up a campus overseas.
Back in 1921, the original Xiamen University was founded in Fujian province by the late Tan Kah Kee, a rubber tycoon in Malaya and Singapore. And now, some 90 years later, the university is establishing its presence in Malaysia.
“This is a historic reciprocation,” the campus website said. The first intake of the Malaysian campus of Xiamen University in February will offer 12 foundation and degree programmes to 500 students.
2. Air connectivity between Malaysia and China
To spur tourist arrivals from China, the Transport Ministry, Tourism and Culture Ministry and Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd have worked hard to woo Chinese airlines to fly to Malaysia.
China Eastern Airlines introduced a thrice-weekly direct flight between Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and Shanghai in July. In October, Air China resumed its Beijing-Kuala Lumpur route after cancelling the flight three years ago.
In the same month, Chinese budget airline Spring Airlines also resumed its service to Malaysia by plying the Shanghai-Kota Kinabalu route four times a week.
3. Belt and Road
Malaysia has been a staunch supporter of China’s Belt and Road initiatives. A collective term for Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st century Maritime Silk Road, the Belt and Road are China’s strategies to enhance connectivity and cooperation with countries around the world.
In July, a “One Belt, One Road, China-Malaysia Industry and Commerce Dialogue” co-organised by MCA and the China Economic Cooperation Centre was held in Beijing. Similar forums were also held in Malaysia for industry players to gain a better understanding of this concept and identify the economic opportunities it brings.
4. Malacca-Guangdong link
Malacca has a stellar spot in the arena of Malaysia-China relations, because it was where it all started some 600 years ago.
Admiral Cheng Ho of the Ming Dynasty led a delegation to Malacca five times during his seven sea voyages. This historical link received a rejuvenation this year with the establishment of a “friendly state and province” status between south China’s Guangdong province and Malacca, the first such status approved by the Cabinet, in September.
The special ties will translate into financial commitment from the Guangdong Government to spur development in Malacca, including airport and port.
5. Military exercise at Strait of Malacca
With regional maritime security in mind, Malaysia and China had a joint military exercise at the Strait of Malacca in September. The first ever between the armed forces of two countries, the five-day joint naval drill at the critical waterway was coded “Peace and Friendship 2015”. Themed Managing Non-Traditional Threats and Humanitarian and Disaster Relief, the exercise focused on joint escort, joint search and rescue, hijacked vessel rescue, weapon use, humanitarian rescue and disaster relief. It was the largest joint drill between China and an Asean country.
6. South China Sea Row
Malaysia and China are both claimants of the South China Sea in a territorial dispute that also involves Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam. Malaysia’s stance on this issue has always been a peaceful resolution through a multilateral platform, including the implementation of the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the yet-to-be-agreed-upon Code of Conduct.
Malaysia is determined not to let the differences over the contested waters affect bilateral cooperation with China. The drill at the Strait of Malacca mentioned above is a clear example.
7. Li Keqiang visits Malaysia
In conjunction with the Asean-related summits in Kuala Lumpur, China’s Li Keqiang paid an official visit to Malaysia in November. This was his first visit to Malaysia in his capacity as the Chinese premier.
Among the significant outcomes of Li’s visit were Beijing’s promise to buy up Malaysian government bonds and the sale of 1Malaysia Development Bhd’s power assets to state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corporation for RM9.83bil. Li also made a detour to Malacca, where he was treated to durian-flavoured cendol.
China is eager to export its rail network to the world as part of its Belt and Road initiatives. It has expressed keen interest in the railway project in Malaysia, too. Malaysia has awarded the Gemas-Johor Baru electrified double tracking project to China Railway.
The next project is the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail, which will reduce travelling time between the two cities to just 90 minutes.
Out of the 98 shortlisted companies, 14, including China Railway, have been approached to present their ideas, according to latest reports.
9. Visa waiver
China’s outbound tourists are expected to reach 234 million in 2020 with a total overseas spending of US$422bil (RM1.8tril), according to a report by Fung Business Intelligence Centre and China Luxury Advisors.
To tap into China’s outbound market, Malaysia has planned to relax visa requirements for Chinese tourists. The present visa exemption for Chinese tourists in a group of 20 and more has been reviewed to a group of two and more but with certain conditions applied. However, this visa waiver has yet to be implemented, much to the dismay and confusion of tour operators.
10. Bilateral trade
Malaysia and China want to expand bilateral trade to US$160bil (RM694bil) by 2017.
According to statistics from China customs, two-way trade between Malaysia and China from January to November this year fell 3.7% to US$88.2bil (RM382.6bil).
Malaysia remains China’s biggest trading partner in Asean, while China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner.