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Looking into the future of China-Malaysia relationship

keynote speech by Datuk Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, Secretary General of Ministry of International Trade and Industry

on the Symposium on the 40th Anniversary of China Malaysia Diplomatic Relations  

Panel Members,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning.

On 31 May 1974, in the Chinese People’s Great Hall, two leaders changed the course of history for Malaysia and China’s bilateral relationship. The late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, Malaysia’s second Prime Minister and father of current Prime Minister Datuk Sri Najib Tun Razak, and Premier Zhou (Chou), signed the communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic relationship between Malaysia and China. Thus began a new chapter in our bilateral relations. Malaysia became the first member country of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, to normalize relationship with China. We are ever grateful to Tun Razak and Premier Zhou for their foresight! Clichéd but true, “Take a look at us now!”

Four decades ago those two great men took that all important first step. Our leaders chose to see us as partners and not adversaries on the global stage. It is incumbent upon us, then, to take the gift that was given to us to the next level.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, before I proceed further allow me to thank Ambassador Huang and his team for the kind invitation to MITI to be here at this very significant symposium. This event precedes another even more important event that will take place at th end of this month. Our leaders are scheduled to meet in Beijing to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Malaysia-China diplomatic relations.

And well we should celebrate! So much has changed since that fateful day of 31 May 1974. And for the better. Today China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner. The ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement signed in 2002 was the first FTA for the region and Malaysia’s first FTA. Since then, Malaysia and China have built closer economic relations through various initiatives, whether bilaterally or regionally, through ASEAN, or through APEC and the WTO.

In 2012 we established the Qinzhou (Ching chou) Industrial Park (QIP) and subsequently the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park (MCKIP) in the following year. This is the first time a twin park model is introduced anywhere in the world, serving complementary roles with the same principles. The Chinese Central Government has approved a RMB 2.4billion development fund for QIP, over and above the RMB 1billion pledged by the Government of Guangxi, where QIP is located. The Malaysian Federal and State Government have allocated RM 700million to MCKIP.

In October 2013 we signed The Five Year Programme for Economic and Trade Cooperation. This is a broad agreement that provides for bilateral cooperation in agriculture, energy and mineral resources; information and telecommunications; manufacturing, infrastructure, and engineering; tourism, logistics and retailing. This forms the basis of our economic and trade cooperation with China for the next five years and provides the foundation of bilateral economic relations for decades to come.

The 5 year Programme reflects a commitment between our two governments to enhance our trade and investment environment, emphasizing business and investment opportunities, including in the area of sustainable development. This programme is a “rolling plan”, including an early harvest of low hanging fruits, namely, those that have been identified for immediate implementation, as well as those which require more time for execution. MITI and MOFCOM China are the respective focal points for tracking the implementation of the Programme. And as is our normal practice, the programmes are drawn up in collaboration with the members of our private sector.

The activities outlined in the 5 Year Programme draw on the economic reforms and liberalisation programmes undertaken by both countries. In the case of China, the urbanisation strategy to close the income gap among its population and move towards consumption-based economy, means a host of opportunities in the area of energy, including renewable energy, healthcare, retail and distribution, human capital development, sustainable development. Similarly, Malaysia’s Economic Transformation Programme unleashes opportunities in a host of areas and sectors. These are opportunities borne of synergies that we should capitalise on.

Besides this bilateral 5 Year Programme, Malaysia and China are partners in taking the ASEAN-China FTA, which has been in full implementation since 1 January 2010, to the next level. We are working to deepen further this relationship, even as we work to deliver the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, RCEP, in 2015. We can expect China’s support in this initiative to create an open, facilitative, competitive and inclusive Asia. Malaysia will be counting on China’s support in this as we take over the reins of ASEAN in 2015.

Likewise, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Malaysia stands ready to work closely with China as she Chairs APEC this year. At the multilateral level, we also look forward to collaborate as we implement the Bali Package of the WTO, specifically, the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

Yes, we have done much in the last four decades to build on the vision of Tun Razak and Premier Zhou. Our historical ties go even further than 40 years. At a very personal level, I am proud of my Straits-born Chinese roots. Malaysia-China bilateral relationship is on very firm foundation. We need to capitalise on this as we chart the course of our relationship for the years to come.

On that note, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like again to record my appreciation to Ambassador Huang and his team for this kind invitation and for taking this initiative.

I thank you for your attention.

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