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Of Sovereignty, Alibaba And Durian Diplomacy

BEIJING – San ren yi tiao xin, huang tu bian cheng jin. This is a Chinese proverb which says that if people are of one heart, even the yellow earth can become gold.

Making Malaysians a people of one heart — a united and confident society — is one of the biggest challenges for Malaysia to achieve the dream of becoming a fully-developed nation by 2020.

But there is hope. Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak believes that China’s “Belt and Road” Initiative provides an enormous opportunity for Malaysia to achieve the status of a developed nation, particularly with the implementation of game-changing infrastructure projects resulting from the initiative.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to advance the Malaysian economy together with the Chinese economy,” he said to Malaysian journalists after attending the two-day Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation here.

Najib, however, is perturbed by the claims of some opposition politicians back home that the government is selling the country’s sovereignty by agreeing to projects mooted under the initiative.

“I make no apologies for wanting to build world-class infrastructure for Malaysia that will, with local ownership being preserved, open up huge swathes of our country, bringing more trade and opportunity to our people, thousands of new jobs, improved living standards and prosperity,” the Prime Minister wrote in his article titled ‘Why Malaysia Supports China’s Belt and Road’ that was published by the South China Morning Post on Thursday.

Malaysian Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said he was involved in the Kunming- Singapore railroad project many years ago but it could not take off as there was insufficient funding.

But with the low-cost funding from China, the project has been given a new lifeline.

Liow said there were no arm-twisting tactics or elements of coercion by the Chinese for participating countries to agree to certain proposals.

“It is just a loose arrangement, not rigid. It’s easy and many are comfortable with this kind of joint venture,” he said.

But the key element that helped create the trust and confidence of the Chinese business community was the close relationship between Najib and President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Leqiang.

President Xi told Najib that Malaysia is not just a neighbour but a trusted friend.

Najib said many Malaysian businessmen he met during his visit confided in him that it was much easier now to talk business with their Chinese counterparts.

It was Najib who visited China nine times since 2009 to secure the keys and now the doors are wide open for Malaysian businessmen to negotiate with their potential partners.

During the visit, Najib witnessed the signing of nine memorandums of understanding between Malaysian and Chinese companies with a total investment valued at RM30 billion.

It was all smiles during the signing ceremony, but one person was really beaming — none other than AirAsia Group CEO Tan Sri Tony Fernandes.

AirAsia signed a joint-venture agreement with Everbright Group and the Henan government to establish a low-cost carrier (LCC) with a base in the east-central city of Zhengzhou.

“This is a dream come true to have an opportunity to look at China with a very strong partner in Everbright.

“I’d never believed this would happen. We are all very excited as it is a big step forward for the AirAsia brand,” said Tony.

AirAsia (China) will also invest in aviation infrastructure, including a dedicated LCC terminal at Zhengzhou airport as well as an aviation academy to train pilots, crew and engineers.

AirAsia currently flies to 15 destinations in China.

While Tony Fernandes looks to China, Alibaba Group founder and executive chairman Jack Ma is expected to be in Malaysia again in early October for the launch of the e-fulfillment hub of the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ).

DFTZ will begin operations using the Alibaba Cloud as an e-commerce platform.

Najib said DFTZ was expected to provide a double-digit growth which would contribute to the overall growth of Malaysia’s economy.

“Jack Ma wants to do a lot of things in Malaysia. He has designated Malaysia as the hub for his involvement in the digital economy for the Asean region,” he said.

Before arriving in Beijing on Thursday, Najib made a brief visit to Hangzhou where he met Jack Ma and went on a tour of the Alibaba headquarters.

Najib’s China visit is also bringing investments for Sabah and Sarawak.

Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg witnessed the exchange of an MoU between Yayasan Hartanah Bumiputera Sarawak (YHBS) and a Chinese engineering consortium to develop a methanol and derivatives complex in Tanjung Kidurong, Bintulu.

The proposed plant, estimated to cost US$2 billion (RM8.6 billion), is expected to be completed by 2021.

Sabah will receive an investment of about US$132.5 million (RM572 million) to develop a mixed development project, The Shore, in Kota Kinabalu.

The Malaysian pineapple is also set to penetrate the China market.

And, that’s not all. Malaysian Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek said efforts are being made to export the jackfruit and durian, especially the ‘musang king’ variety, to China.

One musang king is sold for about RM800 in Hong Kong while one kilogramme of the fruit can fetch RM200 in China.

Ahmad Shabery said he was striving to ensure that the musang king meets the requirements set by the Chinese authorities.

“Perhaps, it may be apt to refer to Malaysia-China relations as the durian diplomacy,” he said in jest.

Najib described the Belt and Road Initiative as a game-changer for the entire region and beyond.

Expanding the Kuantan port and connecting it with Port Klang via the East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) will mean exports from China, particularly Shenzhen, will bypass the busy Singapore port to get to the Straits of Melaka.

In other words, once completed, the ECRL will become an alternative route for goods passing through the South China Sea and the Straits of Melaka.

The opportunities are abundant. Now is the time to “dig the well before we get thirsty”.

— BERNAMA