By Yuan Yanan, Wang Fengjuan
Dato Mohamed Abdul Majid Ahmad Khan, president of the Malaysia-China Friendship Association (Persatuan Persahabatan Malaysia-China, PPMC), began working as a diplomat at the Malaysian Embassy in China in the 1980s and served as Malaysian Ambassador to China from 1998 to 2005. He witnessed a significant portion of China’s reform and opening-up and contributed extensively to the development of Malaysia-China relations.
In late April, China Report ASEAN conducted an exclusive interview with him on China Malaysia relations, bilateral economic and trade cooperation and more.
China Report ASEAN: How would you summarize the development of China-Malaysia relationship over the last 45 years and its current status?
Majid: In 1974, when Malaysia-China diplomatic relations were first established, there was a meager foundation and little contact. But today, China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner, and annual volume of bilateral trade exceeds US$100 billion, almost 600 times that of 1974. Chinese investment in Malaysia has increased tremendously over the last five years. China has been the largest investor in Malaysia’s manufacturing industry for three consecutive years. In people-to-people exchange, Malaysia attracted 3 million Chinese tourists last year, and we are expecting more in the future.
Over the last 45 years, despite changes in the governments of both countries, leaders on both sides have remained steadfastly committed to this good relationship. Top officials have exchanged visits regularly. For example, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has visited China twice in the first year of his secend tenure. The four and a half decades of relations have been successful and mutually beneficial. We have laid a solid foundation in fields of politics, economics, culture and people to-people exchange. We have good reasons to celebrate the 45th anniversary considering all the impressive results so far.
China Report ASEAN: Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is scheduled to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in late April. What achievements have China and Malaysia made within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?
Majid: Malaysia was one of the first countries to join China in the BRI. Malaysia’s understanding of the BRI is that it is beneficial for us in terms of what we want, including infrastructure, trade and development.
Three weeks ago, Mahathir reconfirmed the revival of some bilateral cooperation projects including the East Coast Railway Link (ECRL) and Banda Malaysia. Collectively, they would be among the largest BRI projects in ASEAN. The BRI is not about infrastructure only—it also involves other sectors including cultural and people-to-people exchange. For example, in education, China has opened its first overseas campus, Xiamen University Malaysia campus.
Moving forward, we would also like to benefit within the BRI framework from China’s success in technology. Prime Minister Mahathir is very interested in this. He’s going to visit Huawei’s R&D center in Beijing tomorrow. A few days ago, he visited its 5G pilot autonomous car project in Malaysia. Before that, the Malaysian deputy minister of trade visited Huawei’s global training center in Malaysia. Huawei has been criticized by the West. The Prime Minister’s visit to Huawei clearly shows that we have a different position from the West.
China Report ASEAN: What role has your association played in promoting China- Malaysia relations? What is the significance of people-to-people exchange for our bilateral relations?
Majid: Our association was established in 1982, heralding the beginning of an extensive people-to-people relationship without obstruction on Malaysians visiting China or working with Chinese people. We concentrated on promoting better understanding and awareness between peoples. We also act as a bridge for economic cooperation. Through exchange programs, we have welcomed many delegations from China at the central, provincial and prefectural levels, including business people and media. Our central focus now is how this good relationship will be handed down to the next generation. Malaysia is multiracial, so we would like to help more multiracial delegations from Malaysia visit China to witness its economic development and culture.
In terms of cultural exchange, we have established two Malaysia-China friendship gardens, a Chinese garden in Kuala Lumpur built to celebrate the 40th anniversary and a Malaysian garden in Dongguan Botanical Garden in Guangdong Province. Through these projects, we hope to enhance the two peoples’ understanding of each other’s cultures and histories and promote tourism.
We also help business communities of both sides get to know each other better. Over the last 15 years, we have consistently participated in the Nanning Expo (China-ASEAN Expo). Our association is also a member of the ASEAN-China (10+1) Friendship Association chaired by Gu Xiulian, which promotes cultural and youth exchanges. Every year, we send delegates to the youth event organized by Madame Gu’s association. The latest one was in Chengdu.
China Report ASEAN: You have been appointed chairman of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. What are the priority areas in which you would like to introduce Chinese investment?
Majid: We want Chinese investment to bring three things to Malaysia: technology, employment and benefits to small businesses in the supply chain. We also hope Chinese companies can help introduce Malaysian products into the global market. For example, Xinyi Group, a Chinese glass manufacturer, built a factory in Malacca, which has changed Malaysia from a net importer of glass into a net exporter. CRRC Zhuzhou Locomotive built a factory in Malaysia to manufacture railway equipment which employs 90 percent locals. These projects are also having a spillover effect for the local economic and social development. For example, construction of the ECRL will help connect remote towns and villages along the east coast with fiber cables to provide better access to the internet and easier communication.
For the future, alongside traditional areas such as infrastructure and telecommunications, the Malaysian government has identified technologies such asdigital production, e-commerce, AI and big data as well as services, medical equipment and a more cutting-edge industrial park as priority areas for investment.
China Report ASEAN: Malaysia is working to build a “New Malaysia,” while China is striving to achieve the “Two Centenary Goals.” What are your expectations for the future of China-Malaysia relations?
Majid: Both Malaysia and China are having visionary goals. China has the “Chinese Dream” and the BRI. Malaysia would like to become a fully developed country by 2020 or Our two countries have plentiful opportunities to enhance bilateral cooperation. The relationship has a very long history of cultural and trade ties. Twenty-five percent of the Malaysian population are of Chinese descent. Economically, we depend on each other and benefit from the development of each other. Prime Minister Mahathir knows China verywell. Based on these factors, I’m very optimistic that the relations between our two countries will become even stronger and deeper.