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M'sia PM Najib's China trip marks 40 years of ties

Publication Date : 29-05-2014


Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's visit to China kicked off with a tour to Xi'an city in north- west Shaanxi province, even as the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 cast a pall over the trip.

The six-day visit marks 40 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries. Najib will also travel to the port city of Tianjin and Chinese capital Beijing, where a number of bilateral and private sector agreements are expected to be inked in areas such as defence, tourism, culture and trade and investment.

Agreements to establish Chinese consulates in Kota Kinabalu and Penang, and a Malaysian consulate in Guangxi province's capital Nanning, will also be signed.

Najib's second official visit to China since becoming PM in 2009 began on Tuesday but he flew back to Malaysia yesterday night to pay his last respects to the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Shah, who died yesterday. He will resume his visit in Beijing today with a scheduled meeting with Premier Li Keqiang.

Najib will call on President Xi Jinping tomorrow. A meeting with the chairman of China's Parliament Zhang Dejiang is planned, and celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of bilateral ties will be held at the Great Hall of the People on Saturday.

Issues expected to be discussed include enhancing cooperation in trade, investments, financial services, education, regional security and Asean-China cooperation, a statement by Malaysia's Foreign Affairs Ministry said.

Both sides are set to outline the future direction of bilateral relations which were upgraded from strategic cooperation to comprehensive strategic partnership last October.

At his Xi'an meeting with Shaanxi governor Lou Qinjian on Tuesday, Najib reaffirmed the importance that Kuala Lumpur attaches to developing relations with Beijing, and said he is confident that the trip will promote cooperation and upgrade ties.

He also announced that Malaysia plans to establish a consulate office in Xi'an.

Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a daily press briefing yesterday that Najib's visit is "very important", as both countries are significant partners of the other.

"We hope PM Najib's visit can promote bilateral cooperation, and improve coordination in wide- ranging, in-depth discussions on major regional issues that can lead to greater consensus and better results, thus bringing Sino-Malaysian relations to a new level," he added.

But relations have been strained by the disappearance of MH370 on March 8, given that  153 out of the 239 people onboard were Chinese nationals.

The issue was raised at a Tuesday meeting in Beijing between General Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of China's Central Military Commission, and Malaysian Defence Minister Hishamuddin Hussein.

Gen Fan said China is highly concerned about the missing passengers and that search and investigations should not stop until the truth is out, said a Xinhua report.

Family members of the MH370 passengers said in a Wechat posting that they have asked to meet Najib in Beijing, but a Malaysian foreign ministry official told Reuters yesterday that there would be no meeting. The agency said a spokesman for Najib's delegation could not immediately comment on why he would not meet the families.

Their requests were made through the MH370 Family Support Centre where some families turned up yesterday to ask for help in analysing the raw satellite data released on Tuesday by Malaysia and the British satellite firm Inmarsat.

While the disappearance of MH370 has rocked the typically stable ties between the two states, analysts say it will not derail relations, as the backlash over Malaysia's handling of the incident fades.

Sino-Asean expert Sun Xiaoying of the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences told The Straits Times that Malaysia has enjoyed good relations with China historically and that is unlikely to change because of  a single incident, especially since the aircraft's disappearance remains a mystery.

But Beijing might also use Najib's visit to ensure that Malaysia keeps its "milder stance" in maritime disputes, even as ties between China and the Philippines and Vietnam rapidly deteriorate over conflicting claims in the South China Sea.

"Tensions are high now and the Philippines hopes Malaysia will similarly bring its dispute with China to the international courts," said Professor Li Jinming of Xiamen University.

"But China has always called for bilateral negotiations and with Malaysia's position on this still unclear, this will be an issue addressed."


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