By Liao Bowen
On February 20, the opening ceremony of the 2019 China-ASEAN Year of Media Exchanges took place in Beijing. In a congratulatory message to the event, Chinese President Xi Jinping said: “I hope the media from both sides can serve as messengers of friendly exchanges, facilitators of pragmatic cooperation, guardians of harmonious coexistence and good story tellers on topics of peace and development to make great contributions to construction of a closer China-ASEAN community with a shared future.”
The event was held on the third day of the ASEAN Elites China Tour 2019, which took place from February 18 to 27. Among the 11 ASEAN participants in this China Tour, the first China-ASEAN media journey of this year, were five journalists from media outlets of Malaysia including Bernama (Malaysia National News Agency), Sin Chew Daily, Star, Sinar Harian (The Sun, Malaysia’s national newspaper) and BeritaHarian (a Malay-language newspaper), who got the chance to witness and experience the achievements of China’s reform and openingup and the country’s unique traditional culture.
Beautiful Memories on Niujie Street
It was a first trip to China for most of the participating journalists. They took quick pictures of everything that impressed them from traditional culture to modern development. Halal food was one particularly impressive sight.
Some have argued that the best way tounderstand the development of Islam in a region is to visit local restaurants and mosques. Describing her impression of the trip to Beijing, Mansor recalled an unforgettable scene of a long queue in front of a restaurant on Niujie Street (literally “Ox Street”).
She came upon the scene while traveling to the China Islamic Association. She was very curious. Her Chinese guide explained that the street is famous for halal restaurants and the queue was for halal food takeout. “Although I don’t understand why a food street was named ‘Ox Street,’ I am pleased to see Muslims in China living a good life,” she declared.
Fatin Hafizah Binti Mohd Shahar, a journalist from Berita Harian, was also impressed with the halal food in Bejing. In the restaurants there, she consumed considerable beef and lamb (sometimes too much) with naan (baked bread) as the base. “In Malaysia, we have more chicken and fish than beef and lamb,” she noted. “It was an unforgettable experience to have delicious halal food in China.”
Xinjiang’s Economic Development and Folk Culture
In Xinjiang, the journalists visited the autonomous region’s capital Urumqi as well as Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture in northern Xinjiang, Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture in southern Xinjiang and Kashgar and Hotan, two important hubs on the ancient SilkRoad. The mosques in the autonomous region combine Uyghur style with Islamic architectural art, and the residential houses retain the traditional features of different ethnic groups. The journalists were impressed with the high-quality fruits and nuts and the fascinating song and dance performances found there.
Hafizah had learned Chinese and had some understanding about China. She thinks the journey expanded her knowledge. “This is my first visit to Xinjiang,” she said. “Previously, I was informed about Xinjiang by foreign media reports. I saw a different Xinjiang on this journey, including its diversity in culture, food and harmonious life. In the future, we have to see more on the ground to keep our readers well-informed.”
After her visit to Id Kah Mosque in Hotan, Mansor exclaimed in her report: “A trip to Xinjiang cannot be perfect without a visit to the magnificent mosque in Kashgar!…Id Kah Mosque, the largest of its kind in China, was built in 1422 and covers 16,800 square meters. Nearly 10,000 Muslims perform Jumah prayer there on Fridays. The mosque has been well maintained and features a library for people to use before and after prayers.” Mansor visited other mosques including Juma Mosque in Hotan, which incorporates traditional Uygur style. She declared that the harmonious combination of religious culture with traditional styles of different ethnic groups in China makes the country unique globally.
During her visit to Xinjiang, Chong Ling Fang focused on the economic development of the region, especially tourism.
Although the schedule was tight, Fang managed to experience Xinjiang’s unique folk culture and delicious food of the Hui, Kirgiz and Uygur ethnic groups. Her most unforgettable experiences were the Uygur classical music genre 12 Muqam, the Kirgiz epic Manas, the maze-like Kashgar Old City and the brick carving of Uygur residential houses.
In her report, she wrote: “Xinjiang, an autonomous region in northwestern China, is ‘a land of melon and fruit’ as well as ‘a land of song and dance.’ It is famous for its beautiful scenery and alluring tourist attractions. However, due to terrorist attacks years ago, the region’s tourism industry suffered a serious setback. In recent years, with the improvement of the security situation, tourism in the region has gradually recovered. In 2018, a record number of 150 million tourists visited Xinjiang, and the figure is expected to grow to 200 million this year.” She also noted, “Xinjiang is a hub on the Silk Road Economic Belt. In recent years, the Chinese government has invested a tremendous amount in infrastructure, people’s wellbeing and poverty alleviation in the region. At the same time, the government has encouraged enterprises in other parts of the country to invest in the region to help its development.”
Focusing on Malaysia-China Relations
The year of 2019 marks the 45th anniversary of Malaysia-China diplomatic relations, so the development of this set of relations drew the focus of the Malaysian journalists.
At a meeting with Jiang Jianguo, vice minister of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, a question was raised on this topic.
“China has always attached great importance to its relations with Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries,” said Jiang. “At the beginning of reform and opening-up, China sent many delegations overseas to learn advanced technology and experienc. ‘Xinmatai’ (Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand) used to be the most popular destinations.” “Since the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Malaysia in 1974, the Chinese government has always maintained exchange and cooperation with successive Malaysian governments in various fields such as culture, education, economics and trade, which has contributed to the ever-growingfriendship between the two peoples,” he added.
Bernama reported that “Malaysia and China are important economic and trade partners of each other… China has vowed to maintain friendly ties with Malaysia.”
Rahim wrote this in his report: “The old saying ‘one step at a time’ stresses that it is possible to make progress by moving forward in a steady manner. I think it’s a good phrase to describe the 45-year-old relations between Malaysia and China. Since 2009, China has been Malaysia’s largest trading partner. In 2018, our bilateral trade reached US$108.6 billion. Malaysia has been actively attracting Chinese investment. The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) has organized many trade and investment delegations to visit China seeking to reinvigorate potential Chinese investors’ confidence in Malaysia.”
Rahim is optimistic about the future of Malaysia-China relations. In a WeChat (social media app) interview the other day, he said: “Prime Minister Mahathir has attached great importance to relations with China. Within his first year in office, he visited China twice. Work on the suspended East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) will resume. Malaysia-China relations will become more solid.”
At the end of the journey, Mansor commented: “I’ve been impressed with all I’ve seen and all the friends that I’ve got to know along this journey. In the future, I’d definitely come back to China as a reporter with a more open mind.”