Foreign Policy: Malaysia’s Najibian tilt towards China

November 4, 2016

Foreign Policy:  Malaysia’s Najibian tilt towards China

by Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin

“…while foreign policy is not usually a matter that excites the public, when so much of our infrastructure and everyday goods and services depend on the trade relations enabled by it, surely we deserve a clearer insight into the motives and long-term implications of significant changes in direction.” –Tunku Zain

Image result for Najib in China

China answered his prayers for Tolong Gua

I was glad China dominated the world the other day. Although the Americans covered a sizeable chunk of the planet, a combination of superior espionage, massive cultural output and, in the end, better technology and cunning diplomacy meant that China edged ahead.

I was playing as China in Civilisation VI, the latest instalment in a computer game series that began in 1991 in which the player chooses a leader from a civilisation from actual world history, starts with a mere villager and, by investing in expansion, military might, science, culture, trade and so on, advances through the ages.

Victory can be achieved in a number of ways depending on playing style and unique characteristics of the civilisation (a powerful early gunpowder unit and the Great Wall in the case of China). Regardless of which leader you choose, there are always compromises to make, some of which literally have impacts that can last hundreds of years.

In real world, the apparent dominance of China in recent times has produced a vast amount of geopolitical analyses and speculation about what the world will look like in decades to come.

Chinese investment and migration to Africa have led it being termed “China’s Second Continent”, and China’s relationship with ASEAN has always been a feature of regional forums ever since I started attending them a decade ago.

Image result for Najib in China

China lays the Red Carpet for Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak

This has taken the form of concerns about China’s influence in Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam (CLMV), its activities in the South China Sea, and more recently trade issues particularly with the emergence of the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) juxtaposed with China’s own Maritime Silk Road initiative, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

But the last two weeks have seen significant bilateral shifts between China and two ASEAN countries, at the expense of the United States. Speaking in Beijing on October 20, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced his “separation from the United States,” as China and the Philippines signed an estimated US$ 24 billion (RM100 billion) in funding and investment pledges and agreed to resume a dialogue on their dispute over the South China Sea. This after an arbitration tribunal in The Hague ruled overwhelmingly in the Philippines’ favour in July — quite a shift from previous assertions about the West Philippine Sea.

In the last few days Malaysia’s relationship with China has also seen a major upgrade: Perhaps the most significant since Tun Razak established diplomatic relations in 1974. We will buy at least four littoral ships (vessels typically used for coastal defence and rescue operations) at approximately RM300 million each, while an agreement has been signed setting the stage for China to build and finance the RM55 billion East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) project.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the four LMS ships purchased from China would be built by a joint venture between Boustead Naval Shipyard and China Shipbuilding & Offshore International. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Defence Minister Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the four LMS ships purchased from China would be built by a joint venture between Boustead Naval Shipyard and China Shipbuilding & Offshore International. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

A list of 14 further agreements and memoranda of understanding between Malaysian and Chinese companies worth RM144 billion were also signed.

Naturally there will be much scrutiny on the beneficiaries and the extent of public funds that will be used. But the underlying reasons for our major geopolitical shift have already been a cause of much speculation, with suggestions that it is not just about trade and investment.

The editorial written by the Prime Minister in the China Daily also gave a hint: “It is not (for former colonial powers) to lecture countries they once exploited on how to conduct their own internal affairs today.” Everyone would agree with that, just as everyone should understand that illegal activity committed in another country can trigger lawsuits in that country’s justice system, or that de facto transfers of sovereignty to other countries can occur in many ways.

Indeed, “threats to our sovereignty” have often been played up to mobilise criticism of policies in the past, and one wonders whether usually vocal ethno -nationalists will approve of all these deals, especially given some of their confrontational views on local inter – ethnic dynamics too.

After independence, Malaya’s stance on China was transparent and ideological. The Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman and External Affairs Minister Tun Dr Ismail were both utterly anti-communist — though they did have a spat when the former stated that Malaya would eventually have to recognise the People’s Republic of China. Of course, China itself has changed tremendously and the ideological backdrop of the Cold War no longer exists.

Still, while foreign policy is not usually a matter that excites the public, when so much of our infrastructure and everyday goods and services depend on the trade relations enabled by it, surely we deserve a clearer insight into the motives and long-term implications of significant changes in direction.

For in the real world, this geopolitical game won’t be played by the same person forever.

* Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin is founding president of Ideas.


22 thoughts on “Foreign Policy: Malaysia’s Najibian tilt towards China

  1. While in Washington DC MO1 sing praises of the US and how Malaysia bilateral relations with the Us has improved tremendously benefitting both countries. At the same time MO1 courts the industrial leaders to invest in Malaysia.
    Now in Beijing Comrade Ah Jib Gor sing praises of the People’s Republic of China and send subtle messages to former colonial masters to stop dictating Malaysia in local affairs. Apart from extending invitation to invest in Malaysia, Comrade Ah Jib Gor presented contracts on a silver platter to Chinese government owned companies to build infrastructures and defense procurement and in one swoop acknowledge that Malaysia is not capable of developing its own roads and railways and lack technical knowledge to built patrol vessels. So what happen to the local engineering companies and road builders who have over the years build highways and toll roads all over the country? Are these companies not capable of building a highway and a railway line? Why can’t EPF finance these projects instead of buying properties in London and Australia?

    What is the capability of PSC Shipyard that were given billions to build fast patrol crafts and also what is the capability of Boustead Shipyard? Are they just capable of building junks and sampans?

  2. I don’t think China’s leaders are taking Duterte’s rhetoric of “separation from the United States” very seriously. China, knowing the constraints imposed on the Filipino leadership and the political mess of the Malaysian leadership, assesses realistically to take advantage of the situation: You want trade and investment, let’s talk business. After all, you never know in which direction the regional conquest will develop.

  3. “14 agreements worth Rm144 billion were signed in China.”

    Why was it that we didn’t negotiate to have at least seven of the agreements signed in Malaysia?

    Good form, at the very least, demands that these agreements, which by definition will benefit both countries, should therefore at least be seen to be even-handedly concluded — half at your place, half at mine since we are both sovereign states.

    If it had nothing to do with security issues that compelled us to shift everything to Beijing, then why even allow a hint that we have turned out to be the junior partner at the very outset of a series of engagements which will take years to conclude, and crucially one in which we are the ultimate paymasters?

    I am sad, but not surprised.

  4. Hardest decision to make & must have been months in deep thoughts. Be brave, look ahead & seize the opportunity that lies ahead of us. Instead of dreaming the Asian Century, let’s realise it. Let us prosper together.

  5. The Chinese deals are RIDDLED with questions but policy wise the biggest question is MO1 stealing again with the Chinese help?

    It’s a matter of security because if MO1 is stealing again, then he is hostage to China and Malaysia become a fief or outpost of China.

  6. YM Tunku of Ideas has presented a fantastic write-up, lucid and in clear language, but Idiots in Malaysia pretend not to understand…….they all are pretenders , as if that the One Malaysia Debacle (MDB) as a way of ‘escapism’ to divert attention , does not exist , and that deals with China , will bring billions into Malaysia……?

    Yes Semper Fi, as if Malaysians experts and Engineers locally have not been doing all the Infrastructure works for the past ten decades …..? –

  7. Semper fi:
    My golf partner’s son works as an engineer for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, in the San Francisco to San Jose project section. I was told that high speed rail, using integrated system of specialized rolling stock and dedicated tracks, is significantly different from traditional rail. Malaysia may or may not have this technology. That, I do not know. I was told by the same friend that the countries that possess the best technology in high speed rail today are China, Japan, and Germany. Even the United States has a lot to catch up.

    In foreign relations and trade negotiations, we all know that the one providing the financing has the bigger voice. Out of the four Littoral Marine Ships (LMS), Najib at least got half to be produced in Malaysia. And since these are Chinese designed ships, to ensure the smooth transferring of technology, it is not unreasonable to have a Chinese company that is familiar in making the ship to co-venture with a Malaysian company in the making of the two ships in Malaysia.

    How much of the Chinese money is going into the pockets of Najib and his cabal, that is a different story.

  8. @Bigjoe: you got me curious. here is a simple enough answer for me.

    As for California, we are still waiting for Elon Musk’s hyperloop in the next century … 😛

    what is that about Chinese viaduct high speed rail that other nations are not doing? Californias are copying that also.. yet it is still so ..

  9. @bigjoe or is China doing the cheap labor export business themselves now like Philippines selling their girls to Chinese in HKG/Singapore/Malaysia, instead of getting nothing from the previous century of kuli? Or is it me thinking like Trump/Xi like this WSJ article? @CLF how much tylenol do you take to be like you? 😛

    Think about Malaysia getting nothing out from me, although they paid nothing next to nothing for my ‘anak sakai’ guinea pig experience 😛

    It is so confusing when you thinking about cost structure and economics cents.

  10. There is a lot of hot air and flatus floating around here parts, ya?

    No one is talking about HSR, when it comes to ERCL. This is a standard goods-cargo plus passenger diesel/electric locomotives. The HSR line is only from the Lil Dot to K.L., and thence perhaps further north, after the electric rail passenger service is proven successful.

    We certainly need the railway connectivity from Port Klang, Tanjung Pelepas, upcoming Malacca, Penang on the West to the East Coast ports of Kuantan and Kemaman. Without it, our logistics remain infantile and inadequate.

    The problem is not addressing the needs – but managing the rip-off, leakages, corruption, monopolies and sheer nepotism. PRC businesses have the transparency of granite and the ethics of turds.

    Ali Baba’ism is indeed an apt description of what Malusia is all about with this bunch of kleptocratic goons in charge.

    Btw, a word of caution about our resident Marine, Semper Fi – he certainly knows what he’s talking about and then a bit more..

  11. LaMoy, California is ripe for a High Speed Rail as it has the population, the land mass and the distance between cities. Between the Bay Area, LA Metro and San Diego lives the whole population of Malaysia. Yet the high speed rail has met lots of opposition and even at the ballot box.
    The ECRL I believe is more of a goods and passenger type train to link the interior with the port of Kuantan and Port Klang. The High Speed Rail is between Singapore and KL. If you take the train out of KL Sentral you will see 4 different tracks, the ERL, the KTMB, the Commuter and the LRT. The ERL was supposed to be a High Speed Rail taking only 22 mins from KLIA to KL Sentral. Yet often times the trains have been slowed down around Cheras and Bukit Jalil. ERL has been around for quite a while and should be a model to build upon for the High Speed Rail.
    KTMB has been around for ages and have managed the aging lines for years on end. Recently it introduced the ETS electric train service which has cut down travel time between KL and towns up north. Perhaps KTMB should be given the task for ECRL. Most important for efficiency is double tracking which is taking a long time to complete. If you notice in the US the tracks are shared by Amtrak, Burlington Northern and AT&SFe.
    However in ECRL it’s more the issue of what’s in it for Ah Jib Gor since he needs the Dedak to spread around and the CCRC provides him the opportunity.

  12. The biggest mistake Najib makes or is about to make is to assume the PRC Chinese shares the same cultural-political DNA as the Malaysian Chinese.

  13. Ha ha CLF, what do I know? Even the country of my birth, tanah tumpahnya darah Ku don’t want me and even my ‘untuk bangsa dan agama’ fellows reject me and even put sand in my rice bowl cause I don’t sing their song or dance to their tune.

    Guess that’s the curse for telling it as it is. Fortunately my adopted country gave me the opportunity to be what I can be and some more. Bless the land of the free and home of the brave, warts and all. One cannot appreciate freedom till one has left behind the excess baggage and nonsense in the mother country.

  14. LaMoy, Royal Malaysian Navy is not a ‘Blue Water” navy, rather a cross between a ‘Green Water’ and ‘Brown Water’ leaning more towards ‘Brown Water’ navy.nthe needs are different and they would do better with smaller fast patrol boats to patrol the Straits of Malacca and the seas between Sabah and Philippines. The seas around these areas are porous and a fast speed boat can make easily make the crossing and be in international waters within 20 minutes.
    Right now there are extensive intrusions in Sabah from the Sulu sea and the navy is not ale to keep up and ensure security of the waterways resulting in hijacking of boats and kidnap ping of fishermen. 2 or 4 Littoral warship is not going to make an impact. For the price of the 4 littoral ship the navy could acquire about 20 fast patrol boats that can run rings around the littoral warship. Malaysia needs more of a Coast Guard than a Navy to patrol its seas.

  15. semper fi, laMoy: I am really not sure about CA HSR, although I did vote yes for it. All I see daily of what I have voted for is that it is going to be a very beautiful bus-stop 😛 Doubt it is of much use for commute between LA and San Francisco. Hopefully, it will get to benefit local metropolitan first.

  16. Semper fi:
    I see your points, my friend, but I do believe Malaysia needs the Littoral Marine Ships. They are not “blue waters” ships. In fact, they are designed to operate close to the shore. Nowadays almost every country in Southeast Asia has submarines, and LMS is equipped with anti-submarine functions.

    I totally agree with Semper fi that time for California to build the High Speed Rail is ripe. You will be amazed how many people commute from the Bay Area to metro Los Angeles every morning, and vice versa. Before my retirement, I used to travel to LA quite a bit, for meetings. Most of the passengers I met on the plane were mostly from the movie industry or bankers travelling on business. In order not to be late or miss an important appointment, I often had to get to LA a night before and checking into a hotel. The High Speed Rail will be a great convenience for a lot of Californians, and saving them quite a bit of money.

  17. LaMoy, what happen to the 2 subs Malaysia bought, they remain submerged and never seen or heard anymore. Malaysia will not be involved in a naval conflict with its neighbors but have to ensure the safe passage of its waterways from piracy and smugglers and illegal entries. They should buy assets fit for purpose instead of keeping up with the Joneses.
    Yes the HSR is overdue. Have you noticed how many flight SouthWest Airlines have from the Bay area to Metro area, on the hour every hour. Then theres the other airlines too.

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