Malaysia-China’s Asymmetrical Partnership

March 6, 2017

Malaysia-China’s Asymmetrical Partnership

by Dennis Ignatius

Image result for Najib in China

Even the most casual observer of our nation’s politics will not fail to notice the growing influence of China in our national affairs. Not a day goes by when reports of some new investment, some new deal, some new initiative by China doesn’t make headlines. Suddenly, China is everywhere and not in a small way.

Dominant economic partner

China is already Malaysia’s dominant economic partner – it is our second largest export market, is increasingly critical to the health of our tourism industry (4 million Chinese tourists expected this year), our education sector (10,000 Chinese students currently studying in Malaysia), and the sustainability of our oil palm industry.

It will soon come to dominate our ports and railways as well as our housing and construction sectors. With the purchase of 1MDB-related Edra Global Energy Bhd. assets, it also became the second largest independent power producer in the country.

In the next decade or so, it is estimated that China will invest, lend and spend at least half a trillion ringgit on infrastructure, property development and other projects across Malaysia. Never has our country seen this much money pouring in from a single source in such a relatively short space of time.

Manna from heaven

Many, particularly those who stand to profit most from this new relationship, welcome China’s growing involvement in our country. To them, it is, of course, a once-in-a lifetime bonanza, manna from heaven, an unparalleled opportunity to make millions. They assume that what is good for them is automatically good for the nation as a whole.

Consequently, many of our political leaders and business tycoons are falling over each other to sing China’s praises and highlight the benefits of the blossoming relationship. To them, China is a great friend, a powerful benefactor, a genuine economic partner, a benign political power. And they can’t seem to get enough of China.

The dangers of asymmetrical relationships

However, the sheer asymmetrical nature of the relationship as well as the enormous political and economic leverage that China now wields cannot but be cause for concern.

And yet, concern is the one word that is missing from the lexicon of our relations with China. In our rush to embrace China’s largesse, we are being wilfully negligent of the political, economic and security implications.

It is surely axiomatic that as China’s stake in Malaysia increases, China will be more proactive in our domestic politics if only to ensure the continuity of parties, personalities and policies that favour China.

Malaysia, is in fact, far too important to China now to be left to the vagaries of Malaysian politics and the caprices of the local electorate.

Open endorsement of UMNO-BN

 The clearest indication of this is China’s increasingly open and forthright endorsement and support of the UMNO-BN government, the most pro-China government we’ve ever had. In fact, it can be argued that China’s grand strategy vis-à-vis Malaysia is, in many respects, contingent on UMNO-BN remaining in office.

It should therefore come as no surprise that we are now seeing Chinese diplomats not only attending local party political gatherings but also accompanying UMNO-BN politicians to political events and on constituency visits.

Last year, for example, the Chinese Ambassador accompanied Defence Minister Hishamuddin Hussein, MCA Deputy President Wee Ka Siong, and MCA assemblyperson Teoh Yap Kun on visits to Hishamuddin’s Semborong parliamentary constituency and Teoh’s Paloh constituency.


Since then Chinese diplomats have been spotted with MCA Vice-President Chew Mei Fun in Raub (where she is rumoured to be the candidate in the next elections), with MCA Youth chief, Datuk Chong Sin Woon in Nilai, with MCA President Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai when he officiated the opening of a meeting of the Federation of Hakka Associations, and with Gerakan President Mah Siew Keong in Teluk Intan.

And this is likely only the tip of the iceberg as many other visits go unreported.

During these visits, Chinese diplomats routinely take the opportunity to praise the Najib Administration, stress the importance of the MCA and press the point that the Malaysian Chinese community has a lot to gain from the relationship with China that is now being developed.

The Chinese ambassador has also urged Malaysian Chinese to support the MCA because without the MCA, “Malaysian Chinese have no say in the government.”

Champion of Chinese education

Having cast himself as ‘lord protector’ of the Malaysian Chinese community during the Petaling Street affair in 2015 and knowing the great importance Malaysian Chinese attach to Chinese education, the Chinese ambassador has now positioned himself as a champion of Chinese education in Malaysia.

He has tirelessly criss-crossed the country, often accompanied by MCA and even UMNO politicians, visiting dozens of Chinese schools and distributing hundreds of thousands of ringgit in assistance and scholarships. He has also promised to initiate a teacher-training programme that could see PRC teachers in our schools.

MCA-BN – China alliance

 China’s unequivocal message to Malaysian Chinese, therefore, is that they must support the emerging MCA-BN-China alliance if they wish to safeguard their rights, preserve Chinese education, have a strong voice in government, profit from business with China and ensure that relations with their ancestral homeland remain strong.

It is, as well, an exhortation to Malaysian Chinese to put aside their resentment and distrust of both UMNO and MCA and vote BN for the greater good of both countries.

Clearly, if this shrewd political strategy succeeds, the main losers will be the DAP.


But such is the power and influence of China in our domestic affairs that even the DAP has now been forced to moderate its hitherto principled opposition to the sheer lunacy of some of the China-related projects and make peace with the Chinese Ambassador. All that this has accomplished, however, was to vindicate, in the eyes of DAP supporters, the MCA’s collaboration with China.

The MCA, for its part, increasingly behaves as if it is but an extension of the Chinese mbassy rather than a member of the ruling coalition. It recently established a PRC affairs committee as well as an OBOR centre and does more to promote OBOR than the Chinese Embassy itself. Some would argue that these actions make the MCA the main vehicle of PRC influence and propaganda in the country today.


Unchallenged and unchecked

And yet, these clear and troubling manifestations of foreign political interference in our domestic affairs, in contravention of established diplomatic practice, go unchallenged. That it is being done with the connivance of local political leaders does not make it any less troublesome.

One can only wonder how the UMNO-BN crowd would react if the Australian or American ambassador urged Malaysians to vote for the opposition if they wished to safeguard their democratic rights.

Once this door is open, there is no telling where it will lead to. UMNO-BN politicians make a big fuss over trivial things like the paltry sums given to a few NGOs to promote free and fair elections by the Open Society Foundation but think nothing of facilitating a far more insidious form of foreign interference that threatens to undermine what’s left of our democratic process.

Hijacked elections?

Image result for MCA and China


MCA playing the China Card to enhance credibility and isolate DAP

The question now is how far China will go to protect its interests in Malaysia. Will PRC money come into play in the next elections, taking money politics to new heights? Will the upcoming elections be the first elections in Malaysia when a foreign power will be actively working behind the scenes to influence its outcome?

The next general election is already shaping up to be one of the most critical we’ve ever had. The very future of our country is at stake – whether we will remain a secular democracy or not, whether corruption and cronyism will triumph over transparency and good governance, whether our constitution itself will survive in its present form.

Certainly, too much will be riding on these elections for us to allow a foreign power to hijack them for its own purposes.

And any political party which comes to power with China’s help will undoubtedly be subservient to China’s interests. What is at stake, therefore, is not just the sale of critical infrastructure assets but possibly the sale of the country itself.

A nation at its lowest ebb

The fact that China is knocking on our doors at a time when our nation is at its lowest ebb renders us particularly vulnerable.

We are today a nation more divided than ever before – not just Malay against non-Malay but Malay against Malay, Chinese against Chinese, Indian against Indian. It’s Muslim against non-Muslim, rural against urban, rich against poor.

Nearly 60 years after independence we are still arguing bitterly about language, citizenship, education, religion and race while decades of racial and religious manipulation have left us wary and suspicious of each other.

We are so suspicious of each other that we’d rather depend on foreigners than work together to find solutions to our pressing problems; we are so busy fighting each other that there’s literally no one to guard the front door.

In the meantime, corruption and abuse of power have rendered our national institutions and our political processes weak and dysfunctional, unable to provide the essential checks and balances, the steady hand, the careful and impartial analyses, the proper legal and regulatory framework that is a prerequisite for national resilience.

When we find ourselves in a situation, for instance, where suddenly almost every single port in the country needs to be massively expanded with Chinese money or that we suddenly need not one but three, and perhaps four, expensive railway systems built by China, we have to wonder whether projects are now being driven by economic necessity or pure greed and foreign pressure.

Malaysia First


Many will, of course, dismiss these concerns as alarmist or reject them as anti-China or anti-government rhetoric.

China’s growing influence in our domestic affairs cannot, however, be easily dismissed.It is alarming and Malaysians ought to be deeply, deeply concerned.

At the very least, we ought to have an informed discussion of what is going on so that we understand all the implications and consequences and ensure that policies and projects serve the national interests rather than undermine them. It is simply much too important an issue to be left to vested interests to decide behind closed doors.

It’s not about being anti-China but about being pro-Malaysia. It’s not about being opposed to good relations with China or being against Chinese investments; it’s about ensuring that relations with China do not come at the expense of our independence and sovereignty.

It is most assuredly not about the loyalty and commitment of any of our own citizens or about marginalizing the very real concerns they have but about ensuring that a foreign power does not exploit our internal divisions to its own advantage.

As well, this isn’t about being pro-West or pro-China but about ensuring that no country – east or west – dominates us to the point where we lose our ability to chart our own destiny.

And if standing up against corruption, mismanagement, the abuse of power, the lack of transparency and the deliberate neglect of vital national interests makes one anti-government, than so be it.

The greatest challenge

If China turns out to be unique among the big powers for its beneficence, munificence, generosity and respect for smaller states, well and good; but if not, then at least we’ll be better prepared to face the challenges ahead.

Our nation now faces one of the greatest external challenges it has ever faced. The dangers are real. The stakes are high. There will be no winners save the corrupt, and a foreign power, if we fail to successfully manage this great challenge that lies before us.

15 thoughts on “Malaysia-China’s Asymmetrical Partnership

  1. For more than half a century the foreign policy of the People’s Republic of China has been predicated on non-interference, respect for the sovereignty of others, non-aggression and peaceful co-existence. These were the principles set down by Premier Zhou Enlai at the Bandung Peace Conference in 1955. Over the last six decades, China has never strayed from those principles.

    Malaysia is a very important part of China’s OBOR Initiative strategy. China’s aggressive investments in ports and rail links in Malaysia under its belt-road regional economic expansion program is going to change the outlook for Malaysia and Singapore. This game changer will bring vast economic benefits and opportunities to Malaysia but will most likely exert negative impact on Singapore and force it to make adjustments to its future plans.

    China’s current mega belt-road projects in Malaysia, once completed, will alter trade routes in the region and will divert hundreds of billions worth of trade from Singapore to Malaysia. Cargoes and goods within the region heading for China or vice versa could bypass the Port of Singapore, when China-funded ports and East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) in Peninsular Malaysia are completed within five to 10 years. The ECRL will connect ports on the east and west coasts of Peninsular Malaysia and will alter current regional trade routes, which ply between the busy Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea via Singapore.

    The ECRL acts as a land bridge between Port Klang and Kuantan Port and other ports along the East Coast of the peninsula. It will enable China-bound goods from Port Klang to be moved inland to Kuantan Port, without having to go south to Singapore. And taking the reverse of the same route, Malaysia-bound goods from China could stop at Kuantan Port, now being deepened and expanded. In the ASEAN region, hundreds of billions of China-bound goods from Thailand, India, Middle East and Indonesia may stop at Port Klang and move overland to Kuantan. The reverse is true. For Malaysia, the Port Klang-ECRL-Kuantan route will not only boost trade volume for the peninsula but will improve the economic and tourism landscape for the East Coast.

    China’s interest in Malaysia is all about its OBOR Initiative. Whoever comes into power in Malaysia, I believe, will not pass up this opportunity, and China would careless about it.

    • //in Malaysia, I believe, will not pass up this opportunity, and China would careless about it.
      The Ambassador is not very well informed on this. There was a 三州府论坛, i.e. a forum of Straits settlement that took place a few days before lunar New Year. Penang CM LGE spoke. So did the Chinese Penang ambassador.
      PRC is well hedged. DAP is not losing out also. Forgive Ambassador Ignatius. He merely didn’t get to read the Chinese Press. I am quite sure PutraJaya knows the forum took place. But, of course, I am just not sure 1PM ever check with MCA on the content of the forum.

  2. What they do not understand is China is NOT EASILY DEFINED. It is NOT A DEMOCRACY, ITS LEGALLY COMMUNIST BUT DOES NOT BELIEVE IN EQUALITY. It is driven in fact by pillars of Growth, Social Stability and Nationalistic Pride. In short, its seeks to be a BEHEMOTH. It does not stand for ideals that can be depended on.

    China is not a simple aggressor, it will not go to war unless its March is threatened and that March is not neanderthal, simple aggression and over-entitlement. BUT IF YOU GIVE IT THE OPPORTUNITY, IT WILL STEP ON YOU.

  3. Assymetrical relations with China? Yes, maybe the writer is right. From what I see, it’s heavily one sided & leaned towards Malaysia. Better to monetise our strategic stranglehold on Straits of Melaka. ‘Tuan Melaka, tangannya bagaikan mencekak tengkok Venice (dan sekarang Beijing)’.

  4. “China is already Malaysia’a dominant economic partner”

    That is the way it should be…but we ought to get in India and Russia too…

  5. Soon the leaders in UMNO Baru, (and therefore the leaders of Malaysia, including the PM), will not be chosen by UMNO Baru members but by Beijing who can skew party elections by manipulating the money-politics game; you know, like fixing a football match?

  6. Hold your horses, camels or whatever..!

    The Kuantan Port is in limbo. Why? Cuz it’s in a valley! Act of geography and sheer stupidity. And Port Klang is silting up while the remediable works are being carried out by a pokkai monopolistic slo-mo contractor. Penang and Tanjung Pelepas are in even ‘shallower’ shit! Forget about anything north of Kuantan cuz the ragheads can’t seem to figure out basic stevedore, much less container handling, storage and logistics.The Ports in East Malaysia are totally inefficient and ‘roadless’. Their connectivity to the hinterland is zilch.

    Anyway, i doubt the HSR will be handed over to PRC SOE’s. More likely the Japs or an European consortium. They are only now doing the alignments and haven’t got a clue on the exact path but there are 6 stations from JB to KL.

    As for roads and highways, UMNOb Goons need the dedak toll in perpetuity, so the SOE’s can build but can’t collect. Want ah?

    As for PRC manufacturing investments, don’t expect professional, technical enablement and employment, like what the Western MNCs’ did with the E&E industry all those years ago. Their bottom line is to bleed off excess capacity of their obese SOEs’ and tie up strategic national resources.

    Anything else you guys wanna contribute to OBOR ports – which to my estimation may end up like Eunuch Cheng Hoe’s mega-junks? They were junked as soon as the next emperor took over. Expensive lah.. Like mistaking the giraffe for the mythical Qilin.

    Btw Dennis, MCA has to be the chief interface between the Kleptos and PRC. That’s their only saving grace. Or do you prefer the fei-chai J-Low? DAP can’t even hang on to their 30+ year veteran MP and assemblymen, so how to talk to taikor, who can differentiate the ladle from the pot? Don’t hentam for the sake of hentam, cuz some of us here are actually better ‘informed’ about the here and now..

    • C’mon mate, aren’t you a little skeptical? What you mentioned are technical problems and managerial know-how. Engineering problems can be solved and managerial know-how can be learned.

      I remember when China said they were going to build a HSR from Beijing across Tibet, all the engineers in the United States and Japan were laughing and said it was impossible. The tracks have to run on top of frozen soil, those ice accumulated over millions of years and simply very unstable to lay tracks and have trains run over it. Russia, with large part of the land with frozen soil, couldn’t do it, and they believed China would fail, too. They were waiting to see China failed so they could laugh at them. But Chinese engineers solved the technical problems and they did it.

      As to the container handling, storage and logistics know-how, if Malaysia were smart enough, they should get Singapore involved. You do not want to control the Malacca Straits to kill off Singapore. Malaysia can learn a lot from Singapore in port management. And this fits Singapore’s future plan.

      I remember an investment banker friend in Hong Kong once told me that China’s first preference for business partnership in Malaysia is with government-linked companies. Next with the Malay entrepreneurs because the Chinese felt Chinese-Malaysian, especially those western educated ones, were arrogant and “looked down” on them as “nouveau riche and low class people”. You are obviously one. Sorry for my bluntness. I’ve read enough of your posts to realize you have a very strong bias against China.

      Re the HSR in Malaysia I dare raise a little wager with you that most of the project will go to the Chinese. The reason is simple: Who supplies the money? May be the Singapore part of the project will go to the Japanese, as Singapore sees this Sino-Malaysian project as China’s “punishment” against them for taking the American’s side in the South China Sea disputes. In reality, China has this planned long before their disputes with Singapore. Frankly, I do not believe any of the European consortium will get involved at all.

  7. If it is not China, it would be America. If it is neither, there would be another.
    But, our national discourse is never about our own fault, and concrete steps we could do. An inconvenient truth that our layu-layu Melayu led nation refused to admit and correct? Melayu has hundreds of years to realize the advantage of owning the Malacca Straits, and the possibility to manufacture and trade with all. Yet, we don’t work on taking those advantage. Instead, we like to blame others. First blame the colonists, then the Japanese, later the Communists. When that is not enough, blame the ‘other’ Malaysians. Now, blame the ‘other’ Melayus, and the rest of the world. Layu-layu it would be, if we don’t just want to take steps to stop being layu-layu.

    Imagine if the South Koreans live in this Semenanjung. How different it would be?
    LaMoy is right in correcting my own twisted mind of not appreciating the greater good. His personal life speaks volume about the meaning of doing one’s best effort. When life gives one lemons, one makes lemon juice out from it. That is the wisdom of ‘pendatang’ that the ‘Ketuanan’ culture refused to appreciate.

    Speaking about thankfulness on the parts of Malaysians, the Chinese government is doing all of this through the blood and sweat from the legions of PRC citizens who have nothing to gain from this. Like what bigjoe shared, the Chinese is not an easily defined entity. Change itself is part of the DNA. As far as I can see, there is no hatred from the Chinese towards the Melayu. It is not there to destroy or conquer the Tanah Melayu. Just stop being layu-layu, Malaysia.

  8. This is considered more happily ever after..the grab by China is no fool…the future of this country is closely watched by China..economically or safeguard Chinese investment..they will make sure the current government stay on..najiby and gang will sleep soundly this coming election..the Rakyat will suffer..almost like Greece.

  9. There is no such thing as a free lunch . Malaysia needs Chinese money and has to give something back. Don’t blame China. Rather blame Najib and gang for getting Malaysia into debts. Assuming the opposition forms the next government, will they ask China to leave and repay the loans given . Will the government have the money. I suspect it will be business as usual.

  10. Already stop barking & foaming at the mouth? No more shouting that MO1 sell Malaysia to China? Instead, now trying to self glorify the Cina & claim credit for China INVESTMENT? So the word INVESTMENT do exist in your vocabulary? Although unnecessary, we are grateful to China for that investment, except for some Cina led by the corrupt & myopic sei ngan cai of PO1. China, Malaysia, Melayu & Cina, actually they all are easily defined. Money talks, bullshit walks. Is the word racist stamped on your forehead?

  11. Yup, i’m a skeptic when it comes to PRC’s OBOR thingamajig, LaMoy.
    There a few factual errors in your rejoinder:

    1. The Qinghai-Tibet (Qinzang) Railway ain’t no HSR. Although it is an engineering marvel in construction terms, the diesel locomotive engines are from GE and high altitude coaches are from Bombardier Transportation. The operational speed at high altitude (permafrost) is 100 kmh.

    2. Your investment banker in HK is only partially right. PRC SOEs prefer to deal with State Governments, M’sian GLC and local Chinese led PLCs in that order. The reason being besides the poverty of funding, the Malay ‘entrepreneurs’ are absolutely reliant on Ali-Baba’ism – as they have no technical know how and remain rent-seekers. Many a SOE have found to their horror, that their projects mired in a web of corruption, indecision, deceit and duplicity. MOUs’ are just that -“Understandings”! Witness the recent debacle between Geely and Proton..?

    3. The local Chinese PLCs are wary of committing to JVs with PRC SOEs’ for the simple reason that although the former may have the financial heft, the locals are sometimes more advanced know how and have a different perspective to tech, business ethics and managerial capacity. You would notice that most of the successful projects (including the MRT and ongoing Pan-Bornean Highway) are actually with local led Chinapek PLCs, and not the fumbling bureaucratic rent seekers.

    4. The local Chinese mega-conglomerates are not interested in collaboration, not because of looking down on PRC, but because their priorities have shifted to projects outside Malusia, like in UK, Europe, Middle East, Central Asia, South America and Oz – exactly where PRC SOE’s are trying to get a foothold. They are competitors! The reason for that shift is mainly because of the FUBAR political environment and rampant corruption. That is one of the reasons why Malusia remains among the highest in terms of capital outflows.

    5. I like many Malusians, welcome all sorts of Credible and Symbiotic FDI and financial cooperation, but only if they are Transparent and rooted in Goodwill. Not like our dear leader blithely declaring that we managed to ‘secure’ RM 144 billion investments from PRC, without divulging whether they are potential or realized, and for what. Opacity and irresponsibility are the modus operandi of Klepto Beggars world over and that’s, that.

    6. All of us are patriots in our own fashion and we worry about the fruit of our loins – whether they will become just a mere colony (physically or economically) of hegemonic entities beyond our ken. It has nothing to do with being racist, parochial or elitist.

  12. Btw, can any of you guess how the Pan-Bornean highway is being funded?
    It’s by PRC’s (partial) monopoly of future O&G produced by East Malaysia! Yea.., future contracts at it’s best!!

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