PM Anwar’s visit to boost KL-Beijing strategic ties

Koon Yew Yin 31 March 2023

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim arrived here yesterday, 30 March to continue his official visit to China to advance the strategic partnerships between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing.

The special aircraft carrying Anwar from Hainan landed at the Beijing Capital International Airport at 4.30pm local time.

He was accompanied by Transport Minister Anthony Loke and Local Government Development Minister Nga Kor Ming and they were met on arrival by China’s Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong.

Present to welcome him were China’s Ambassador to Malaysia Ouyang Yujing and Malaysia’s Deputy Chief of Mission to China Sanmugan Subramaniam.

Anwar will meet China’s President Xi Jinping today, where they are expected to discuss the strategic elements of the bilateral relationship and chart the course for reinvigorated relations in the post-pandemic era taking into a more challenging international environment.

He is also scheduled to meet with the Chairman of the National People’s Congress Zhao Leji.

On Saturday, Anwar will be accorded an official welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People by the newly appointed Chinese Premier Li Qiang, followed by a bilateral meeting. Both leaders will also witness the signing of three MoUs to deepen economic ties between the two governments.

As part of the visit, the prime minister will have engagement sessions with high-profile investors and Chinese captains of industry, and will also be delivering a keynote address at a Malaysia-China business forum.

Anwar’s maiden official visit here, since assuming the office in November last year also coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Malaysia-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) this year and the two countries will also mark their 50th year of diplomatic relations in 2024.

The visit is historic, according to the Foreign Ministry, as it is expected to fortify economic relations with China, which will surely result in greater trade and investment flows.

Apart from Loke and Nga, the Malaysian delegates also comprised Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir, International Trade and Industry Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Chang Lih Kang and Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing.

China has been Malaysia’s largest trading partner since 2009. In 2022, the total bilateral trade was valued at RM487.13 billion, an increase of 15.6 per cent from 2021.

Prior to the visit to the Chinese capital city, the prime minister had attended the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2023 (BFA 2023) in Hainan where he delivered a speech stressing the need for issues related to the technological competition to be a principal agenda item to discuss at the highest levels, along with security and general economic matters.

The Boao Forum for Asia (BFA; Chinese: 鳌亚论坛; pinyin: Bó’áo Yàzhōu Lùntán), initiated by 25 Asian countries and Australia (increased to 28 in 2006), is a non-profit organisation that hosts high-level forums for leaders from government, business and academia in Asia and other continents to share their vision.

Analysts are optimistic that Anwar’s visit to China, the first by a Malaysian prime minister since 2019 and after the Covid-19 pandemic, will pave the way for greater trade and political cooperation between the two countries.

Centre of Asean Regionalism Universiti Malaya (CARUM) director, Dr Rahul Mishra said Anwar’s participation in the BFA 2023 which was considered as “Asian Davos” and being one of the first foreign leaders to visit China and meet with Xi after his reelection as China’s President for the third term early this month, is of great importance.

“This is particularly so in view of the ongoing US-China trade war, Russia-Ukraine conflict, and growing disruptions in international trade and upheavals in international politics. Since several Heads of Government and State were also present at the forum, it helped to get a better sense of regional and international pulse,” he said.

Dr Hoo Chiew Ping, a senior lecturer in Strategic Studies and International Relations at the National University of Malaysia (UKM) said as Malaysia and China celebrate a significant milestone in their relationship, Anwar’s visit is opportune to set out the direction to propel the longstanding ties to greater heights.

She expects both sides to take stock of the progress made in the key joint co-operations including the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and seek to accelerate the completion of the RM74.96 billion mega project, which spans 665km across four states in Peninsula Malaysia.

Hoo said Anwar should also seize the opportunity to leverage China’s Global Development Initiative to bring in more Chinese investors to invest in the future-oriented industry in Malaysia, such as in technology, cyberspace, and artificial intelligence.

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