Reaching new heights amid pandemic


Sealing the deal: Nushirwan (centre) touring the Malaysia Pavilion at the 17th China-Asean Expo in Nanning city in November last year.

Bilateral trade between Malaysia and China achieved a new high in 2020 even with the challenges brought on by Covid-19.

THE Year of the Rat was very challenging for China and Malaysia, no thanks to the threats of a new virus, the Covid-19.

But both countries have shown their true friendship, be it at the state- or the people-level.

It started with Malaysians coming together, sending personal protective equipment along with their moral support to the Chinese in their battle against the coronavirus early last year.

When the pandemic spread to Malaysia, the Chinese showed their goodwill in return.

“Our relationship has grown stronger, ” said Malaysian Ambassador to China, Raja Datuk Nushirwan Zainal Abidin.

Citing a Malay proverb cited by Chinese president Xi Jinping before – Gunung sama didaki, Lurah sama dituruni (climbing the hill and going down the ravine together) – the senior diplomat described Malaysia-China relations as fundamentally strong.

Despite the challenges brought on by Covid-19, bilateral trade between the two countries has climbed to a new high at US$131.16bil (RM526bil) in 2020, some 6% increase compared to the previous year.

China has continued to be Malaysia’s largest trading partner for the 12th consecutive year while Malaysia became the dragon nation’s second largest trading partner in Asean, after Vietnam.

Nushirwan said foreign direct investment from China has also grown from RM15.3bil in 2019 to RM16.8bil last year.

At a recent webinar organised by the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) and China’s Lanzhou Bureau of Commerce, it was revealed that China remained Malaysia’s largest export destination, with exports expanding by 4.35% year-on-year to RM300bil.

And vice-versa, it was Malaysia’s largest import source, recording a total value of RM226bil.

Matrade’s trade commissioner in Chengdu, Nur Azni Aziz, said agricultural produce such as tropical fruits, palm oil and its products were getting popular in the Middle Kingdom, particularly among the inland provinces.

“Malaysia’s agriculture trade with China stood at US$4.02bil (RM16.14) last year, an increase of 16.3% compared to 2019.

“Of the total, more than 60% (RM10.72bil) was from exports, ” she added at the Malaysia-China (Lanzhou) Agricultural Products Trading webinar.

Malaysia’s main agriculture exports to China included rubber, seafood, timber and logs, coffee, pepper, birds’ nest and vegetable oil, while its major imports were vegetables and fruits.

“We have a lot more to offer, ranging from cooking oil, frying fats, margarine, ice-cream, confectionery to emulsifiers, Vitamin E supplements, biodiesel, animal feed and organic fertiliser, ” added Nur Azni.

She also promoted Malaysia’s jackfruit, star fruit, banana, guava, rambutan and papaya, as well as an assortment of fisheries products, vegetables and flowers at the event.

As for now, fresh fruits that had gained access to the Chinese market include papaya, rambutan, watermelon, longan and mangosteen, apart from cut flowers, frozen durian and frozen coconut.

“We are in negotiations for jackfruit, star fruit, dragon fruit and several others, ” she revealed.

Apart from trade, Nushirwan said both countries could bring the comprehensive strategic partnership to the next level via cultural linkages.

He revealed there were 16 Chinese universities offering Bahasa Melayu as a foreign language course.

Nushirwan noted that language reflects the culture and values of the people and by learning each other’s language it could forge better understanding while promoting people-to-people exchange between the two countries.

He encouraged Malaysians to learn Mandarin, which is growing in importance with China being the world’s second largest economy.

Citing an achievement scored by the deepening cooperation, Nushirwan said the success of inscribing the Wangchuan ceremony into Unesco’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on Dec 17,2020, was a testament to the bilateral relationship.

The ritual ceremony, also known as Ong Chun – which was jointly put forward for Unesco status by Malaysia and China – is a folk custom to worship the Ong Yah deity and honour the ocean.

Originiating in China’s southeastern Fujian province between the 15th and 17th centuries, the culture was brought to Malaysia by the Hokkien community around the 19th century.

Today, it is centred in the southern coastal region of Fujian and among the Chinese descendants in Melaka.

It was reported that the idea of a joint nomination arose when a cultural society from Fujian’s Xiamen city visited Melaka in 2015 to find the ceremony still in existence.

Since then, governments and more than 30 societies from both countries have been actively working on the nomination process and establishing platforms for academic exchanges.

Nushirwan noted that there is also growing interest in Peranakan culture among the Chinese following the broadcast of Chinese-production drama The Little Nyonya in mid-last year.

Although tourism was greatly affected, with a drop in the number of Chinese entries from 3.1 million to some 400,000 last year, Nushirwan said efforts to promote Malaysia as a tourist heaven would be continued and be ready to set sail again once the borders reopen.

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