Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s visit deepens China-Malaysia economic and trade ties

The launch ceremony for the construction of the electronics and engineering system for the Malaysian East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), a mega-rail project under the Belt and Road Initiative, was held in Terengganu, Malaysia on May 9, 2024. The ECRL will be built by China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) and will have a total length of 665 kilometers. The ECRL is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2026. Photo: cnsphoto

With concerted efforts from enterprises and individuals from different sectors in both China and Malaysia, the next 50 years will be a new golden era for China-Malaysia relations, Chinese Premier Li Qiang said on Thursday during his state visit to Malaysia.

“50 years after China and Malaysia established diplomatic ties, economic and trade cooperation has always played an important role in bilateral relations,” Li told business leaders at a lunch for the Chinese and Malaysian business communities, also attended by Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

The luncheon was attended by about 200 representatives from the business communities of the two countries. Chinese experts said that cooperation between the two countries has been on a very vigorous track, underpinned by strong economic and people-to-people ties, and highlighted by new cooperation areas and partnerships.

China and Malaysia on Thursday issued a joint statement on deepening the China-Malaysia comprehensive strategic partnership towards a China-Malaysia community with a shared future. The statement reaffirmed their commitment to mutual respect, mutual benefit, stable development and deepening development synergy. The two leaders agreed to strengthen cooperation in trade, investment and infrastructure linkages.

Lee began a three-day official visit to Malaysia on Tuesday, his first visit to the country since taking up the post in March 2023.

In one of the highlights of the prime minister’s visit, China on Thursday agreed to extend its visa-free policy for Malaysian nationals until the end of 2025, while the Malaysian side announced it would extend its visa-free policy for Chinese nationals until the end of 2026.

The two leaders welcomed the strong interest in continuing consultations and discussions on reciprocal visa waivers to promote people-to-people exchanges.

Malaysian and Chinese companies also signed agreements on Thursday for potential investments worth 13.2 billion ringgit ($2.8 billion) to cooperate in a wide range of sectors from oil and gas to education, Reuters reported.

China and Malaysia’s consistent and stable policies have fostered a solid foundation for economic and trade cooperation and enhanced confidence in cooperation between the two countries. Zhou Shixin, director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Thursday that the Chinese premier’s visit will further consolidate the two countries’ partnership and pave the way for deeper cooperation and mutual trust.

PM Li highlighted the broad scope of China-Malaysia economic cooperation and bilateral cooperation, and also urged the companies to expand cooperation in emerging areas such as green development, digital economy and artificial intelligence.

Anwar, meanwhile, stressed that relations between Malaysia and China are built on mutual respect and understanding. “This is a true testament to the respect and friendship that we will continue to cherish between Malaysia and China,” he said.

The prime minister also said China was a true friend and there was no need to fear it, criticizing Western media exaggerations about the so-called “China threat” in economic, military and technological terms, according to the Associated Press.

Experts said this showed Malaysia remained focused on strengthening its partnership with China and was not paying attention to US-led attempts to decouple it.

Earlier in the day, Premier Li said China-Malaysia relations were at the forefront among relations among countries in the region, setting a benchmark and example, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Gombak Integrated Terminal Station of the East Coast Railroad (ECRL) on Wednesday and said China is ready to work hand in hand with Malaysia to make the ECRL a path to prosperity and happiness that truly benefits the people, according to Xinhua.

Li said China will actively cooperate with Malaysia to explore ways to connect the ECRL with the China-Laos railway and the China-Thailand railway, further promote the construction of the new international land-sea trade corridor, enhance regional connectivity, and deepen the development of the ASEAN community.

The railway is a flagship project of high-quality Belt and Road cooperation between China and Malaysia and the largest single transportation infrastructure project undertaken by a Chinese company overseas, and will serve as Malaysia’s transportation artery, a spokesman for China Communications Construction Corp. (CCCC) ECRL, the contractor for the project, told the Global Times on Thursday.

The project has been a catalyst for local economic growth, creating around 20,000 jobs in Malaysia and the region, with more than 2,000 local businesses involved in the construction process, contributing to the development of industry, logistics and tourism in the region, according to CCCC.

China remains Malaysia’s largest trading partner for the 15th consecutive year as of 2023. According to data from the General Department of Customs, in the first five months of 2024, bilateral trade grew 15.3% to 584.5 billion yuan ($80.55 billion), while Chinese imports increased 15.2% to 281.15 billion yuan and exports rose 15.3% year-on-year to 303.35 billion yuan.

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