THE timing of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s visit to China was no accident. Coming as it does 35 years after his late father Tun Abdul Razak Hussein arrived in Beijing to establish diplomatic relations between Malaysia and China, it obviously means a lot to him personally to call on his Chinese counterpart at such a symbolically significant moment. But such was the historic import of Malaysia being the first Asean nation to forge ties with China during the Cold War era that the absence of a personal element may not have led to a different destination for his first overseas trip outside Asean. That was certainly the case when on assuming the premiership Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi chose China as the first non- Asean country to travel to in May 2004, 30 years after the landmark communique between Razak and Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in the Chinese capital in May 1974.
But the truth is that, for all the symbolic meanings attached to the commemoration of that milestone, it is the substantive consequences from that groundbreaking journey 35 years ago that have been responsible for the frequency of the high-level visits to China by our prime ministers and and cabinet ministers. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad made seven such visits during his tenure as prime minister, and Najib has made several visits as education minister, defence minister and deputy prime minister. In return, Chinese leaders have visited Malaysia, including former prime ministers Li Peng, Zhu Rongji and Wen Jiabao. With Malaysia becoming an important destination for Chinese tourists and students and more Malaysians visiting and studying in China, people-to-people exchanges have also increased.
What this exchange of high-level visits underscores is the rapport and closeness between the leaders, the importance of the bonds of friendship, and the convergence of interests between the two countries. Bilateral trade has risen by leaps and bounds from less than US$100 million in 1974 to US$39 billion (RM137 billion) last year. China has become Malaysia’s fourth largest trading partner and Malaysia has become China’s largest trading partner in Asean. Indeed, there are more than enough reasons in trade and tourism, economy and education, to be satisfied with the results of the close and cordial relationship that has been forged. But as Najib has pointed out, there is still potential for the two countries to develop trade, investment and other opportunities further. Malaysia and China must work together to strengthen the economic ties as well as on issues ranging from the disputed islands in the South China Sea to the global downturn.
Source : Straits Times