World / Asia-Pacific

Malaysia to work for regional unity with ASEAN platform, visiting leader says

By Zhao Shengnan (China Daily) Updated: 2014-05-28 07:09

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak started a six-day visit to China on Tuesday in the aftermath of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and amid simmering tensions in the South China Sea.

Analysts said Malaysia is under some pressure when seeking a closer relationship with China, but as next year's chair of ASEAN, the country is expected to play a constructive role in maintaining ties and regional stability.

Luo Yongkun, a researcher of Southeast Asian studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the countries are sending a signal that their ties are too mature to be affected by the airline incident or provocations from others.

Malaysia to work for regional unity with ASEAN platform, visiting leader says

Members of the media scramble to speak with Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of Malaysia's Civil Aviation Department, at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday. Malaysia's aviation authority released satellite data on Flight MH370 on Tuesday. Mohd Rasfan / Agence France-Presse

Najib's visit comes as tension escalates between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea. China, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam have competing claims over parts of the sea area.

The trip also follows US President Barack Obama's visit to Malaysia and Najib's visit to Japan. Najib distanced himself from the territorial disputes in Asia, telling a Japanese newspaper they should not jeopardize the "strategic importance" of his country's ties with China.

With economic diplomacy a priority, Kuala Lumpur would not like to aggravate tensions by taking sides, said Luo.

Instead, as next year's chair of ASEAN, Malaysia will work for the group's unity, he said.

Describing Malaysia as a "loyal family friend", Malaysia's New Straits Times reported that Malaysia and China will hold celebrations at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Saturday - a public holiday in China - to mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, which "reaffirms Malaysia's status in China".

President Xi Jinping will also set aside normal protocol by hosting a private dinner for Najib after their talks, the newspaper said.

According to Malaysian Ambassador to China Datuk Iskandar Sarudin, five inter-governmental memorandums of understanding involving trade and political cooperation are expected to be signed during the visit.

Chai Xi, China's former ambassador to Malaysia, said Malaysian leaders view China's development as an opportunity, not a threat.

The countries' complementary economies bring huge potential for cooperation, he said.

Malaysia has been China's biggest trade partner in ASEAN for six years, with bilateral trade amounting to $106 billion in 2013.

The countries set an annual trade target of $160 billion by 2017, and Malaysia aims to attract a larger portion of China's projected outbound investments worth $500 billion over the next five years.

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