KUALA LUMPUR: Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali today dismissed the notion of China being an imperialist nation, pointing out that western countries, not China, had colonised Malaysia in the past.
Azmin said, in the past, military might was used by certain powers to impose themselves on weaker nations.
“On the other hand, China traded with Melaka for two centuries in peace. If there had been any imperialist intention, China could have colonised Melaka then.
“But it was the western powers that did that instead,” he said in his closing speech at the “China Conference” organised by the South China Morning Post.
Azmin said the bilateral relationship between China and Malaysia should, therefore, be seen from the prism of that long history, signified not by wars or colonisation, but by robust trade and cultural exchanges.
He said China was also expected to provide global leadership not just in the economic sphere, but in soft power by advancing universal values such as freedom of conscience, mutual respect and justice.
Azmin said China remained Malaysia’s single biggest trading partner.
“Due to its domestic scale and rapid growth, China now accounts for 13.7% of Malaysian exports, overtaking our exports to the United States, at 9.1%,” he said.
Last year, the value of bilateral trade between the two countries rose by 20.6% to reach RM290.7 billion, he said.
“Over the past 30 years, Malaysia has benefitted tremendously from the rise and integration of China into the global economy.”
Azmin further noted Malaysia and China’s significant trade in palm oil, with trade in Malaysian palm oil recording 1.1 million tonnes, valued at RM2.68 billion, between January and August this year.
“Demand for palm oil in China is projected to grow further. The robust trade in palm oil with China is particularly important, bearing in mind the double standards taken by the West against this commodity,” he said.
He also stated that China’s rapid rise from a low-income nation to a level of income comparable with Malaysia had added a layer of complexity into how Malaysia traded, invested and competed with China, and redefined Malaysia’s role in the global supply chain.
Azmin said Asean was looking at China as the new economic behemoth with genuine admiration, but also with some trepidation because of its military might.
“In this regard, China’s commitment to peaceful development is absolutely crucial for the continued prosperity of the region,” he said.
Azmin maintained freedom of navigation in the South China Sea must remain “unencumbered”.
“The region must remain a region of peace, freedom and neutrality, and must not be allowed to be militarised.”
He also urged Malaysian companies to continue to explore all possibilities to tap into opportunities in China.
He said Khazanah Nasional Berhad was one of the leaders in Malaysian investments in China, along with other Malaysian private corporations and business ventures that had operated successfully for many years.
“I cannot over-stress the importance of growth. I assure you the government will continue to invest in productive infrastructure, education and technology.
“This is crucial to continue to create value, generate job opportunities and take the economic trajectory towards a positive direction,” he said.
Azmin also singled out China as a country “for us to learn from” as the new Malaysia looked to bring back the Look East Policy on a bigger scale.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had, during his first stint as prime minister many years ago, announced this policy of learning from the practices of East Asian countries such as South Korea and Japan.
Azmin also called on Chinese businesses to view the new Malaysia through the prism of hope and opportunity, rather than with anxiety.
“Now, more than ever before, Malaysia is one of the most attractive places in Southeast Asia to do business.
Meanwhile, he said, the idea that there was a “level playing field” for all was “sheer fantasy”.
“We need a new egalitarian model for globalisation. Free trade is fine but it must also be fair,” he said.