Published: 12:34, June 19, 2024
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Visit's reaffirmation of friendly relations is positive marker for regional stability
By China Daily
Chinese Premier Li Qiang (right) shakes hands with Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during the ninth China-Australia Annual Leaders' Meeting, in Canberra, Australia, June 17, 2024. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Relations between China and Australia are "back on track after a period of twists and turns", visiting Chinese Premier Li Qiang declared upon his arrival in Canberra for a formal visit. Shared recognition that "mutual respect, seeking common ground while shelving differences, and mutually beneficial cooperation" are the cornerstones of healthy bilateral relations has been the enabler for the two countries to reboot what was becoming a problematic relationship, according to the Chinese premier.

If Beijing and Canberra could maneuver such an upturn, there is no reason the Chinese premier's visit to Malaysia, the third leg of his ongoing overseas trip that began in New Zealand, shouldn't be even more rewarding and fruitful. Because while Beijing has to overcome such geopolitical and ideological hurdles as convoluted security issues and concerns to improve relations with Wellington and Canberra, Beijing and Kuala Lumpur have a more conducive foundation for strengthening their cooperation thanks to the many years in which they have got along together. With his visit coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of China-Malaysia diplomatic relations, Li's itinerary will certainly be all about raising bilateral ties to a higher level.

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Praising the two countries as "neighbors across the sea of traditional friendship", a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry described their relations as that of "good friends, true friends who have always been candid with each other, trusted each other, watched out for each other, and helped each other" for all the vicissitudes in the international situation over the past five decades. What more can you ask of a friendship?

Echoing Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's latest expression of his government's interest in deepening and broadening cooperation with China, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman reiterated Beijing's keen interest in building a "community of shared future" with Malaysia, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Malaysia will be the chair next year.

Malaysia lays great stress on a community spirit within ASEAN for the grouping to realize its aspirations, and it has said that as chair it will seek to tap the potential of ASEAN's underutilized mechanisms, namely the ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN Plus meetings and the East Asia Summit, in order to reinforce ASEAN's position as the key platform for managing regional affairs.

Beijing has consistently and resolutely supported ASEAN's centrality in the region and strategic autonomy. That explains why, for all the efforts of the United States and other Western countries to press Kuala Lumpur to shun Beijing, the latter is in favor of closer ties with it.

Although Washington and its Western and "Indo-Pacific" allies have resorted to both carrots and sticks to make countries in the region pick sides, the leaders of Malaysia are well aware of what is in the best interests of their country and the region. Joining extra-regional and regional powers in their geopolitical game against China may serve those countries' purpose. But for ASEAN countries such as Malaysia, that is more about ruining the prospects of regional peace and prosperity than about delivering those two fundamental aspirations.

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This is not to say there are no issues between China and Malaysia. For example, the two countries have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea. And that is viewed by extra-regional powers as the leverage they need to get Kuala Lumpur to turn its back on China. But Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar made it clear in a recent interview that his government has no intention of picking sides in another's game. "It is no longer neocolonialism or colonial rule. We are an independent nation," he said. In contrast to the Western portrayal of China as a regional bully, the Chinese "have been most receptive and they collaborate well, and they are frank and[make] no display of arrogance," said the Malaysian leader.

Instead of the threat others have portrayed, Beijing, in his eyes, is a friendly partner whose investment capacity and technical expertise can significantly boost Kuala Lumpur's efforts for economic takeoff.

Premier Li's visit is set to provide further proof of that.