Malaysia clever at playing US-China game, says don

Dr Mahathir Mohamad said recently that Malaysia would use Huawei products ‘as much as possible’ after the US and other countries imposed a ban on Huawai technology.

SUBANG: Malaysia has been playing an astute balancing game in the big power rivalry between the United States and China, a political scientist said today.

“Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent statement about being strong on the US and strong on China – it is a game well played,” said Lynette Ong, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

Speaking at a forum here on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Ong said that Malaysia, like many Southeast Asian countries, was seen to be playing an astute balancing game between China and the US.

“It needs to engage with China for reasons of economic growth, for pragmatic reasons to create jobs. The American think tanks and people who know Asia clearly appreciate this,” she said.

Ong, who specialises in Chinese political economy of development and Chinese politics, was also asked about the effects of the US-China trade war on Malaysia.

She said it was unlikely that factories would be relocated from China to Malaysia, or other parts of Southeast Asia, as a result of the trade and tariff war.

There had been talk in Beijing circles about moving an entire industrial value chain out of China into various places, particularly Southeast Asia. However it was noted that the difficulty arose as these industries are tightly integrated: coordination among the various parts would be easier when all were located in one country.

“For instance, there are cheaper workers coming from western provinces in China. There are products manufactured in provinces such as Henan, and there is research and development done in cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen.

“The entire country, because of its sheer size, is a continent that specialises in different parts of the value chain.

“Malaysia, by comparison, is a much smaller country. It would be difficult to accommodate the entire value chain,” she said during a question and answer session at a forum on China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Ong said closer integration of regional economies was more apparent, of different countries within Southeast Asia specialising in different parts of the value.

“Malaysia needs to think about what it is good at, its comparative advantage. Then, they should work with countries complementary to them, and court China investments that way,” she said.