By Wang Fengjuan, Xia Hailin
Dato’ Abdul Majid Ahmad Khan is the former Malaysian Ambassador to China and is now President of Malaysia-China Friendship Association. As a senior diplomat with 34 years of experience, he has expert knowledge on the economy, culture and people of China. On Aug. 21, 2016, China Report ASEAN conducted an exclusive interview with Dato’ Abdul Majid Ahmad Khan, who was visiting China with a Malaysian delegation.
China Report ASEAN: Malaysia and China are friendly neighbors and have built a comprehensive strategic partnership over the last 42 years. As the President of the MalaysiaChina Friendship Association, what do you think of the development of Malaysia-China relations?
Majid Ahmad: I think all those who have followed Malaysia-China relations over the last 42 years would agree that the relations have grown from strength to strength. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s milestone state visit to Malaysia in 2013 upgraded our bilateral relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership.
We started from a very low base in terms of bilateral contact, though in historical terms, we had a lot of contact 500-600 years ago. Today, our two countries have built a very strong political and diplomatic foundation. Our leaders and officials have established mutual trust and confidence. Because of this, our bilateral relations have expanded in different aspects: politics, economics, trade and cultural and people-to-people exchanges. The relationship is the best it has ever been. Meanwhile, we have the potential to improve that relationship even further.
Our cultural and people-to-people exchanges have been strong. After the MH370 incident, there was a slowdown, but now, more and more tourists are coming back to Malaysia. We are happy to see their return. We’re also hosting the exchanges between leaders and officials, businesspeople and students. We’re having good cooperation in education. A Xiamen University branch campus will be established in Malaysia. This September, they will recruit their first 200 students.
China Report ASEAN: Close people-to-people exchanges between Malaysia and China are an important part of the friendly relations between the two countries. Within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, how will your association carry out non-governmental cooperation to contribute to friendship between the two peoples?
Majid Ahmad: As a non-governmental organization, our association has five pillars: cultural exchanges, education exchanges, youth and sports, tourism and economic collaboration. To achieve these objectives, we organize programs such as seminars, exhibitions and delegation exchanges.
In support of the Maritime Silk Road, we held a big exhibition in Beijing two months ago (in June). We had 15 artists from Malaysia who painted the history of Zheng He’s visit to Malacca. The paintings’ content included Zheng He’s arrival, trading and cultural exchanges. Today, the painting is displayed at the Malacca Museum for a one-month exhibition.
We have also participated in youth programs, including the ASEAN-China Youth Exchange Program, each year. This year, it was held in August in Xi’an. We also sent a delegation to the youth festival in Xinjiang, about two weeks ago, through the Chinese Embassy in Malaysia.
China Report ASEAN: What do you think are the similarities and differences between an ambassador and the president of a friendship association? Of your experiences as the President of the Malaysia-China Friendship Association, which is the most memorable?
Majid Ahmad: The similarity is that in both roles, I worked for stronger friendship between the two countries as neighbors. The difference is the way each role goes about developing this kind of friendship. At the government level, I worked with the government on projects. At the association level, we go to the grassroots to help people understand China better. The difference is the approach. As the ambassador, it’s from the top to the grassroots. As the president, it’s from the grassroots to the top. It works both ways. A strong government-to-government relationship between two countries will bring more exchanges among the people. A stronger people-to-people relationship can also influence government-to-government relations.
One of the things that I am very happy about and I keep in my heart is that I was selected by the Chinese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur as one of the Olympic torch bearers in 2008. Kuala Lumpur was one of the cities and I was one of the runners. I was chosen to reflect the people-to-people friendship in sports.
The other thing that I am proudest of came during the Sichuan earthquake, as our association and many other associations raised funds of RM7 million (US$1.74 million) for disaster relief. That was the first time Malaysia got all of its associations to support a relief effort. Our association was involved.
China Report ASEAN: The Malaysia-China Friendship Association has been in existence for 23 years, and has made great achievements in promoting bilateral relations. What is the focus of your future work?
Majid Ahmad: In the future, with the strengthening of our bilateral relations, we expect more exchange activities. We have expanded our association. We have our own building now, which helps us cater to more exchange activities. We’ll work to support the Maritime Silk Road initiative, to promote more economic links, more people-to-people and cultural exchanges. We’ll organize more seminars, exhibitions and other exchange projects.
One of the projects we are considering is the translation of President Xi’s speeches published two years ago into the Malay language. The speeches have been translated into many languages, but not yet into Malay. Our association would be happy to translate his speeches into our language.
Another project that we intend to work on is the production of a special film about the Silk Road in northwest China, including the cities of Kashgar, Urumqi and Dunhuang. These will not only include historical and cultural aspects, but also the modern development of the region. We also plan to translate these films into different languages, including Chinese, English and Arabic.
China Report ASEAN: This year is the 25th Anniversary of ChinaASEAN Dialogue Relations. What suggestions do you have for the future China-ASEAN relations?
Majid Ahmad: I’d like to make three points on this.
First, both ASEAN and China have recognized that this dialogue has been very positive for the whole region. Though China became a dialogue partner a bit late compared to other powers, it has been an extremely valuable partner since. I think China created two firsts. It was the first to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, and it was the first to create a free trade area between China and ASEAN.
We have a very good foundation for cooperation. The way forward now is to deepen and strengthen cooperation and understanding. But as you know, we also have challenges. We have to manage these challenges to build more trust and confidence, and to show to the world that both ASEAN and China are committed to a peaceful, stable Southeast Asia. There should be more communication between the two sides other than just leaders and officials. I know that the second track of professors and think tanks have hosted exchanges, but we can also work on some small programs to build mutual trust and confidence, including maritime cooperation and fishing.
I personally believe ASEANChina relations will become stronger because of mutual benefits. ASEAN needs China and China needs ASEAN. I believe we have a common Asian wisdom that will enable us to solve both challenges.