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China, Malaysia usher in new cooperation phase

By Zhu Zhenming | China Daily | Updated: 2018-08-25 09:31
Premier Li Keqiang shakes hands with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Beijing, Aug 20, 2018. [Photo/gov.cn]

Thanks to his in-depth talks with China's top leaders during his just-concluded five-day official visit to China, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has set a pragmatic tone for the promotion of bilateral relations and cooperation in Belt and Road Initiative projects.

One important outcome of the visit was that Mahathir made it clear he canceled the China-financed East Coast Rail Link and two gas pipeline projects in Malacca and Sabah because Malaysia could not afford them, and not to offend China.

Contrary to Western assumptions that the cancellation of the $20 billion ECRL and $2.3 billion energy pipelines would deal a blow to Sino-Malaysian relations, the consultations between the two sides laid the foundation for a new phase of cooperation. In fact, Mahathir said the cancellation of the projects was good for development of bilateral ties.

China attaches great importance to its relations with Malaysia, and it has always adhered to the principle of mutual respect and interest. As such, China said it understands Malaysia's eagerness to reduce its debt and liabilities, and agreed to shelve the projects.

That Kuala Lumpur wants to promote more efficient cooperation with Beijing became clear when Mahathir witnessed the signing of a strategic agreement on new energy cooperation between Chinese car manufacturer Zhejiang Geely and Malaysian auto company Proton Holdings.

But since Malaysia welcomes Chinese investment and supports the Belt and Road Initiative, as they can boost regional development, China should reflect on cooperation in infrastructure construction with important Belt and Road countries such as Malaysia.

While exploring new cooperation areas such as Belt and Road projects, a country should take into consideration both the good and bad aspects, as countries engaged in multilateral cooperation can have differences and disputes.

And given that China has had differences with Belt and Road countries other than Malaysia, it should deepen its understanding and knowledge of other countries in order to address, if not altogether avoid, such problems in the future.

To begin with, China must pay greater attention to negotiations with other countries, especially because discussions lead to cooperation, which in turn leads to shared growth and shared interests.

Through negotiation based on equality and mutual respect, countries can overcome problems and realize win-win cooperation. For instance, during Mahathir's visit, China and Malaysia held in-depth talks which helped China to understand Malaysia's problems and the two sides to figure out long-term solutions.

The author is a professor at China (Kunming) Academy of South and Southeast Asian Studies.

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