MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Najib Razak recent visit to China has attracted undue interest because it took place immediately after Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit where he announced the Philippines “separation” from the United States (US).
The western media clearly failed to recognize the fact that Duterte has his own reasons in interpreting and approaching Manila’s relation with China and the US the way he does which has no consequence on Malaysia’s relations with the two powers, hence it is inaccurate to expect Malaysia to imitate his actions.
Malaysia also has been perceived having a high dependency towards China especially on economy. In addition, there also has been a lot of misguided commentary especially from western media about how this visit represents a Malaysian pivot towards China, that somehow this is a blow to US influence in this region.
But they were proven to be wrong as Malaysia, as reflected in the PM Najib’s visit, has given importance to its relations with China without discriminating its ties with the US.
As an independent and sovereign state, Malaysia certainly want to be at liberty to establish relations with any country. With regards to Malaysia-China close relationship, historically, Malaysia is the first Southeast Asian country in 1974 to establish diplomatic relations with China. Though, PM Najib, never try to play China and the US off each other. He never threatened to shift allegiance, which is unnecessary, since Malaysia is never an ally to neither China nor the US militarily.
Malaysia’s special relation with China as showed in the latest visit by PM Najib also does not mean it is moving away from the US. The US is still one of the top sources of foreign direct investment (FDI) for Malaysia. The Malaysian Armed Forces conducts exercises far more regularly with the US than with any other country. While there may be “hiccups” in the Malaysia-US relationship, this was expected of diplomatic ties.
However, in recent years, China is increasing its influence in the Asia Pacific by boosting both its military and economic might. This has led the US to react accordingly to regain the support from the countries in this region. Therefore, Malaysia has been at the center of an intense tug of war between China and the US due to Malaysia’s strategic location in the South China Sea.
This is where Malaysia comes in and that has put the country in a spot where it is definitely to choose whether to join China or the US. However, Malaysia has been playing it carefully and has once again reaffirmed to continue relationship with both US and China.
In this regards, the western media and critics should have concentrated their efforts on forecasting and highlighting the main positive impact of both visits to the socioeconomic developments as well as peace and stability of the Southeast Asian region instead of trying to reintroduce a cold war era fallacy.
Casius Junut is an independent political and economic analyst and Malaysian Access reader.