China & Malaysia: Co-Existing with Asia’s Leviathan

September 28, 2018

China & Malaysia: Co-Existing with Asia’s Leviathan

by Dennis Ignatius

Image result for China

China’s Dark Spots

Of course, China is far from perfect. Indeed, there is a dark and sinister side to the modern China of high-speed trains and gleaming skyscrapers.

For one thing, not everyone is enjoying the fruits of its progress. Forty million children, for example, still live in poverty. And each day, some part of China is rocked by angry, often violent protests as disaffected and marginalized groups rebel against injustice and governmental abuse of authority.

The lack of religious freedom, too, is appalling. According to UN reports, Xinjiang Province is home to vast gulags where thousands of Muslim Uighurs are incarcerated in “re-education” camps. Falun Gong followers are savagely repressed and yet another brutal crackdown on Christians is now underway.

The Communist Party of China is also entirely dismissive of  basic human rights in violation of its own constitution. Hundreds of human rights activists are routinely jailed, often tortured as well. The death of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo in a hospital prison last year was a potent reminder of Beijing’s utter contempt for basic human rights.

Thankfully, Malaysia has not seen the kind of brutal and repressive measures that are routine in China today. We can learn a lot of things from China but it is certainly not a country we want to emulate in everything.

China: Vision, Planning and Leadership equal rapid Progress

Perhaps the one lesson we can learn is that where there is vision, planning and leadership, countries can progress rapidly. Countries don’t have to get everything right; success in just a few critical areas can make a huge difference.

China did precisely that and in 33 years has become a behemoth that now challenges our own sovereignty. As I have noted elsewhere, few realize how close we came to compromising our sovereignty under former Prime Minister Najib. His reckless borrowing and lopsided infrastructure projects would have turned us into “a wholly-owned subsidiary” of China.

Whatever one may ascribe China’s rapid rise to, there’s no escaping the fact that we now have a leviathan  at our doorstep and we must, as a nation, rise to meet the challenge it poses.  China is going to cast a long shadow over Malaysia and the region. And we have to be ready for it.

Every Malaysian politician, certainly every Pakatan cabinet minister, would do well to spend time in China – to  learn, to see what’s possible and to understand what we are up against. Perhaps they may return home with a new realism and a fresh determination to prepare our nation for a future in which China is going to figure very significantly.

Preparing for the 4th Industrial Revolution

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The other great challenge that we face is the rapid technological advances – the Forth Industrial Revolution – that is already gathering pace.

As Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the Word Economic Forum (WEF) put it: “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”

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A recent WEF study estimates that some 65% of children entering primary school today will end up doing a job that does not even exist now. Artificial intelligence will make millions of existing jobs obsolete while many of the skills we now value will become redundant.

Naveen Menon, President of CISCO Southeast Asia, warns that those most at risk will be those “lacking IT skills and ‘interactive skills’ such as negotiation, persuasion and customer service skills….”

Are we ready for this new world? It’s going to require a massive effort on the part of government, business and educators to ensure that our workforce will have the skills to compete and prosper in the coming decades, not just against China (which is already making quantum leaps in technology)  but even against our immediate neighbours.

It is a sobering reminder that we can no longer afford to dissipate our energies in destructive and divisive arguments and policies that detract us from facing up to the real challenges we face.

Running out of time

Simply put, we are running out of time as a nation. We cannot continue to keep fighting old battles; we either fight amongst ourselves and be left behind or unite to compete with the rest of the world.

Whether we like it or not, we cannot turn back the clock of history:

Malaysia is a multicultural nation with a rich blend of ethnicities, languages, cultures and traditions. We can either make it our  greatest strength or allow it to become our greatest weakness.


Likewise, we can harness the power of our respective belief systems to inspire the kind of  unity, integrity and work ethic that is necessary to build a prosperous and peaceful nation or we can use it to justify exclusionary and extremist policies that diminish us all.

We are a nation of many that must become one to prosper, to face the challenges that confront us.

The Challenge of Leadership

Of course, the challenges are enormous. How do you change the mindset of a nation that has long been conditioned to think and act in racial terms, that has long been taught to view each other with suspicion and distrust? How do you even promote much-needed policies that, in the short-term at least, might be deeply unpopular?

How does the government persuade the nation to rise to its greatness when the opposition is trying to drag it down into the gutter of bigotry?

Image result for mahathir mohamad

But that is the true challenge of political leadership: to take a nation where it must go, not where it necessarily wants to go. If anyone can do it, it is surely Dr Mahathir and this government.

Dr Mahathir has shown that he is not afraid to do what is unpopular if it’s good for the nation. And, at 93, he knows he doesn’t have the luxury of time to wait for evolutionary or incremental change; there must be a drastic reordering of the way we do things or nothing will change.

The greatest legacy he can give to our nation is to leave behind a nation with sound national institutions, a grand vision for the future and a reformatted mindset that pulls us together rather than drives us apart. It is perhaps no coincidence that circumstance has brought back the very man who dared to dream of “a Bangsa Malaysia” to lead us again when national unity is most needed.

We have perhaps a five-year window of opportunity (till the next election) to dramatically change our nation for the better. Fate has given us another chance to reinvent ourselves, learn from our mistakes and build that better nation we all long for. If China can do it, so can we.

Let us be that transformational generation  – the generation that makes the transition from the old Malaysia to the new Malaysia.


4 thoughts on “China & Malaysia: Co-Existing with Asia’s Leviathan

  1. yoked in with our politicians in the majority thinking in their singled-minded assumptions and habit of paying attention to cliches, bigotry, it is a deep rut we fell in. to re-start getting free of which demands people of far more calibre. even likened to a war, everyone gives utmost capable of to an endeavor, still it cannot be sure of achieving anything at all. too bad, with people who look beyond not even own eye-brows!

  2. I read this article in the Malaysia Chronicle under a long title “A behemoth at Malaysia’s door Mahathir would be a fool to turn away: China’s dark side exposed by Najib deals – yet per capita, Malaysia may be much more corrupt & racist”. I believe Dennis Ignatius has not only put in his time and effort but his heart and soul to write this article for Mahathir’s reading.

    Unlike Phar Kambing who believes it’s “better to be honest than diplomatic,” Ignatius is a seasoned and pragmatic diplomat who knows it’s inevitable to deal with countries you don’t like. Donald Trump can go around babbling because he is the President of the United States, the strongest country in the world. Before you do that, weigh what kind of power your country has.

    Despite of what Mahathir and his men said about the “success” of his trip to China, in fact, it was a failure. Mahathir has crossed China during and after his trip.

    During his official visit to Beijing, Mahathir was accorded the highest honor by China, due mainly to respect for “China’s old friend” and strong Malaysia-China relations built since 1975. Mahathir was chauffeured in Hongqi L5 limousine, reserved for the most honorable leaders, and greeted in an official welcome ceremony by Premier Li Keqiang. He was also guest-of-honor at a banquet at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse hosted by President Xi Jinping. But beneath these glamorous receptions, there were reservations exuded by the Chinese for this leader whose premiership is scheduled to end in two years. There were no exciting business deals signed in Beijing. There was absence of high diplomatic rhetoric.

    Since his five-day official visit to China that ended on Aug 21, the 93-year-old Malaysian leader has caused anxiety to all by making shocking announcements. While summing up his China trip on Aug 21, Mahathir declared he would cancel the ECRL and two gas pipelines being built by Chinese firms. As the ECRL is of strategic importance to China’s Belt and Road Initiative – the policy which Dr Mahathir has repeatedly voiced his support for, Beijing would expect a renegotiation of the contract terms rather than an outright cancellation. China sees his cancellation of the ECRL as undermining their BRI. The ECRL that connects Port Klang and Kuantan Port was intended to marginalize Singapore for hosting an American naval base to chokehold the Straits of Malacca, where 80% of the Chinese trade goes through, especially their energy import.

    Although Mahathir said Chinese leaders understood Malaysia’s situation, reactions of Chinese nationals on social media were unforgiving with many suspecting Dr Mahathir “has other motives”. Once back home Mahathir further add gasoline to the fire. He ordered a wall surrounding Alliance Steel, which is investing US$1.4 billion for a massive steel complex, to be demolished. This was seen as unreasonably targeting a genuine Chinese FDI. Although the foreign ministry later clarified that the leader had mistaken the wall to be built around the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park, the anger of Chinese nationals lingers on.

    While the “wall” statement might be seen as a minor mistake, Mahathir’s flawed announcement on August 27 that foreigners would be barred from buying residential units in the US$100 billion Forest City stirred another uproar. Whatever feud Mahathir has with the Sultan of Johor, Mahathir is taking it out on Chinese investment.

    Unlike Alliance Steel that has stayed silent, Country Garden fought back by seeking clarifications from the Prime Minister’s Office. The major Chinese developer said all its property transactions had complied with Malaysian laws, citing Section 433B of the National Land Code that a foreign citizen or a foreign company may acquire land in Malaysia subject to the prior approval of the State Authority.

    Investments and mega contracts linked to China will have to brace for rocky times ahead if Mahathir continues unchecked with his incessant tirade against Chinese endeavors in Malaysia. The future of FDI from China is now seen as unpredictable – at least for the next three to five years.

    In the mean time, China is planning to direct more of their commercial ships to bypass the chokehold in the Straits of Malacca. On September 9, Chinese cargo ship Tian En successfully made its maiden voyage across the Arctic Ocean to Europe. Mahathir cancelled the ECRL? No problem. On September 10, China and Myanmar signed a MOU on the construction of a China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), a 1,700 kilometer-long corridor of roads and railroads connecting the Chinese city of Kunming, the capital of China’s southern Yunnan province, with three Myanmar commercial centers, namely Mandalay, Yangon and the Kyaukpyu port and economic zone that lets out on the Indian Ocean.

    China has already constructed oil and gas pipelines that run the length of Myanmar into southwestern China. Now the CMEC will provide China an alternative way to transfer oil from the Indian Ocean, meaning China will bypass the Straits of Malacca chokehold through which 80% of its energy imports pass, and is a further sign of Myanmar’s willingness to integrate and benefit from the Chinese BRI. There will be a huge deep-sea port built at Kyaukpyu – and a high-speed railroad connecting it with Ruili in Yunnan – both with Chinese majority stakes.In other words, Xi Jinping is telling Mahathir that China doesn’t need Malaysia. And if China also help Thailand to construct the Kra Canal, the Malacca Strait is rendered almost useless.

    In early this month, Anwar Ibrahim did rush to the CLSA forum in Hong Kong trying to do some damage-control. I was in attendance. He used his nearly 80 minutes appearance to underline assurances from Malaysia’s new government that it is open to business from China even as big-ticket Beijing-linked infrastructure projects are cancelled. Anwar told investors in Hong Kong that Malaysia’s ties with China, Japan and South Korea are its top diplomatic priorities. It will be up to Anwar, if he becomes Prime Minister, to mend fences with China.

  3. I think Mahathir might be showing he’s no longer anti-west by imitating western attacks on Chinese policy, and that as time goes by he’ll convince China to invest more in Malaysia. Right now China is the only country with considerable spare cash and there’s no other option unless he goes for the IMF/World Bank institutions that’d in the past brought down countries from Indonesia to Argentina. He’s old but not foolish.

  4. My wife often asked me why do I spend so much time on this blog, cared so much for Malaysia. I don’t believe it is a convincing answer for her. But, my answer to her is genuine in that … if not Malaysia .. where else?

    ”We are a nation of many that must become one to prosper, to face the challenges that confront us.”

    The us is the world. I do feel for this generation of Muslims. So, my rakan-rakan, if not Malaysia, where else? Tun Dr.. after you, there is none, just like Tun Perak. Your time is numbered. Melayu could diminish from the face of the world.
    He is Tun Mahathir–the one and only and we will always be Malaysian. We cannot change our country of birth.Thanks,katasayang.–Din Merican

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