The sincerity, friendship, mutual benefit and win-win outcome which guided Admiral Zheng He still guide Malaysia and China’s bilateral relations today.
IT is a great pleasure to pay my first visit to Malaysia as Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China and attend the East Asia leaders’ meetings. I am no stranger to this beautiful country, as I visited Malaysia in 1996 when the Petronas Twin Towers were just completed. The past 20 years have indeed witnessed impressive and admirable achievements in Malaysia.
China and Malaysia, two neighbours facing each other across the sea, enjoy a time-honoured friendship. Trade between the two countries started over 2,000 years ago.
During the Ming Dynasty (14th-17th century), Zheng He, a Chinese navigator, came to Malacca five times on seven sea voyages. A record of friendly China-Malaysia exchanges exists with many stories, such as those of Bukit Cina and the King’s Well, still told today.
People today remember Zheng He for what he did. His aspiration, as the records show, was to seek friendship and develop trade with neighbours.
He and his people helped local military and civilians build city walls, drive away pirates, settle conflicts and keep peace at sea. They also passed on agricultural and manufacturing technologies and medical skills to the local people to help with their lives and daily work.
Today, when we look back at that past episode in China-Malaysia exchanges, we also admire Zheng He for what he did not do. When he arrived in this land of prosperity commanding what was then the most powerful fleet in the world, he engaged in nothing like plundering, expansion or colonisation.
Instead, he became known for his goodwill and moves of peace, of which people still keep fond memories. What he did speaks volumes of the Chinese belief that “one should not do to others what he doesn’t want others to do to him”.
It also bears testimony to the Chinese wisdom that “one needs to help others achieve success if he wants success for himself”. Zheng He’s dedication to peace and readiness to reach out and help others show the essence of the Chinese philosophy, where peace and good neighbourliness always come first. It also constitutes part of the cultural legacy that brings countries in the region together.
Today, China and Malaysia are each other’s trustworthy friend. We have formed a comprehensive strategic partnership and enjoy political mutual trust and mutual respect. The leaders of our two countries visit each other often and maintain close communication.
In May last year, visiting Prime Minister Najib Razak and I attended celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations at the West Hall of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the place where the senior generation of our leaders signed the Joint Communiqué in 1974 to establish diplomatic ties between China and Malaysia.
Over the years, our two countries have supported each other on major issues we are concerned with and jointly contributed to equity and justice in the world. Not long ago, the first joint military exercise was carried out by our militaries in Malacca, marking a major step forward in our defence cooperation.
Economically, we have had much to offer each other in win-win cooperation. Our bilateral trade has topped US$100bil (RM436.6bil).
China has been Malaysia’s largest trading partner for seven years straight, and Malaysia is now China’s biggest trading partner among Asean countries.
China’s trade with Malaysia accounts for one-fifth of its total trade with Asean. The foundation is sound for our cooperation in economy, trade, finance, infrastructure, agriculture, forestry and fishery.
Our high-tech cooperation is even reaching to the sky and seas. As a result, not only have our peoples have benefited from such cooperation; the whole region has also shared in the benefits.
People in our two countries are eager to learn from and help each other. In both China and Malaysia, badminton is a popular sport. The names of world-class players such as Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei are known to almost every household.
As competitors and athletes aspiring for excellence, they battle each other on the badminton course. After the games, they are good friends who exchange text greetings on festivals.
China’s great poet Li Bai of the Tang Dynasty (7th-10th century) once wrote of friendship that “true friendship is revealed through adversity, and success becomes nothing when it is not shared”.
A Malaysian saying carries something of a similar effect: Bukit sama didaki, lurah sama dituruni (together we will climb the mountains and together we will cross the valleys).”
When a massive earthquake hit China in Wenchuan, Sichuan province in 2008, Malaysia raced against time to extend a helping hand. Its people from all walks of life raised as much as 200 million yuan (RM136.5mil), making Malaysia one of the biggest donors to the disaster-stricken areas.
And shortly after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 lost contact, I spoke with Prime Minister Najib Razak on the phone for thorough discussions on the search and rescue mission. In times of adversity, China and Malaysia have always stood with and supported each other.
The Chinese community in Malaysia has contributed their share to local economic development, social harmony and amity among ethnic groups. They have served as a special bond contributing to China-Malaysia friendship.
Over the past 40 years, cooperation between China and Malaysia has set a good example of friendly exchanges between countries in the region. Standing at a new starting point for development in our relations for the next four decades, our two countries will continue to view and grow our relations from a strategic perspective, deepen strategic mutual trust, advance mutually beneficial cooperation, expand people-to-people and cultural exchanges, and carry forward our traditional friendship.
China has set the goal to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020. It has much in common with Malaysia’s Vision 2020.
As China is advancing the initiative of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, encouraging mass entrepreneurship and innovation, and transforming and upgrading its economic structure, Malaysia is gearing toward all-round economic transformation with the New Economic Model aimed at more robust growth.
I see this as offering each other a perfect chance to boost development. We may draw on our respective strengths and conduct more cooperation on production capacity. We may encourage more enterprises to take part in the development of the industrial parks in Qinzhou and Kuantan, enhance infrastructure building and increase connectivity.
Such cooperation will produce huge development dividends to ensure steady growth and make life better for our people. China and Malaysia both play a major role in turning East Asia into a major pole and sustaining steady global growth. I have great confidence that our mutually beneficial cooperation will hold out even brighter prospects.
China-Asean relations are a major cornerstone for peace, stability, development and prosperity in the region. The upcoming East Asia leaders’ meetings will be held at a time when the Asean Community is to be formally established.
This carries a special and landmark significance. Given the lingering impact of the international financial crisis and the generally downward economic trend, it is all the more important for countries in the region to stand in solidarity and work with each other for common development and prosperity.
Ours is a time with interwoven traditional and non-traditional security challenges, on top of which external interference has led to incessant turbulences in some parts of the world and caused serious spillover effects. It falls upon countries in the region to cherish the harmonious coexistence of different cultures and development paths in the region, and work together to uphold regional peace and stability for the long run.
Sincerity, friendship, mutual benefit and win-win outcomes were what Zheng He stood for when his ships took him to Malacca. They are still the principles guiding the growth of China-Malaysia relations today.
They represent the trend of the times and aspiration of the people, not only in China and Malaysia but region-wide. It is our common goal that deserves our common effort.
I am confident that with joint efforts, China-Malaysia relations and cooperation in the region, will grow steadily and become more mature, and will head toward greater mutual benefit, mutual trust, prosperity and common development.
Li Keqiang is Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.