KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has called on China to put more effort into understanding its smaller Southeast Asian neighbours, saying it must dispel the perception of a “bully” as portrayed by the US in its current trade war with Beijing.
Deputy Defence Minister Liew Chin Tong said Beijing must also realise its sheer size when seeking support from smaller countries like Malaysia in the ongoing trade war.
“For China to emerge as a credible benign great power, China will need to treat Southeast Asian states exceedingly well to prove to the world that China’s rise is no threat to the region,” Liew said in a speech at an international forum to mark 45 years of Malaysia-China diplomatic ties.
The forum is jointly organised by Universiti Malaya and Xiamen University.
“Much as China believes that it is the victim of bullying by the West, particularly the US, China needs to do everything possible to prevent the perception of smaller states that China is a bully,” Liew said.
He said one pitfall that China would have to deal with is the fact that most of its academic resources when it comes to the research of Southeast Asian societies is still “devoted through Huaqiao studies, which will not lead anywhere”.
“China needs to do everything possible to avoid understanding Southeast Asian societies purely from the lenses of Huaqiao perspective,” he added.
However, he said Malaysia too would need to do more to gain a better understanding of contemporary China.
“If Malaysia plays its cards carefully yet boldly, we can be the trendsetter in regional public opinion, just like in the case of Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaking up for Huawei recently.
“Or in the case of the Belt and Road Initiative, the renegotiation of deals with Malaysia post-2018 election probably encouraged China to put more emphasis on financial transparency in future projects.
“But for Malaysia to play this activist middle power role through proactive diplomacy and advocacy, we will need to organise ourselves better as a nation to harness Malaysia’s potential. Malaysia needs to understand contemporary China better and in a much deeper way.”