By Leng Shumei (Global Times)
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak begins his week-long visit to China on Monday, the second top ASEAN leader to come to China in two weeks.
Experts said that Southeast Asian countries are getting closer to China, which would not only ease disputes in the South China Sea but intensify competition between the US-Japan alliance and China.
Najib will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and top legislator Zhang Dejiang in Beijing, and they will have comprehensive discussions on bilateral relations and issues of common interest, and will witness the signing of cooperation agreements, foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said at a regular news briefing on Thursday.
“Malaysia will enhance economic cooperation with China, including a high-speed rail project and port projects,” Chen Xiangmiao, a research fellow at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times.
The high-speed rail project, which will connect Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, will improve the interconnection between China and Southeast Asian countries and promote the Maritime Silk Road, Gu Xiaosong, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
But Gu added Vietnam is threatening Malaysia as China’s biggest trade partner from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Bilateral trade between the two countries was valued at $68.9 billion from January to April 2016, a 2.8 percent increase compared to the same period last year, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
“Despite territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Malaysia has always been friendly with China. And it now seeks to further strengthen Sino-Malaysian ties since the Philippines and Vietnam, two main claimants in the South China Sea, are trying to rekindle their relationship with China,” Gu said.
Chinese experts have described Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to China earlier this month as putting the once entangled ties between the two countries over maritime disputes “back on track,” Xinhua reported.
Aside from Duterte, other high-ranking officials from ASEAN countries have recently been visiting China.
Myanmar Defense Services commander-in-chief General Min Aung Hlaing arrived in Kunming, Southwest China’s Yunnan Province on Friday.
Min Aung Hlaing will meet with State and military Chinese leaders and discuss the regional and international situation as well as military-to-military relations, defense ministry spokesperson Wu Qian told a regular press conference on Thursday.
“Deeper cooperation and communication, especially in military matters between China and ASEAN countries, helps establish mutual trust and reduces misunderstandings. And it would also serve to manage crises and stabilize the situation in the South China Sea,” Chen said.
“Some ASEAN countries like the Philippines, which used to rely too much on the US to counter China in the South China Sea, have recalibrated their policies and began to adopt a balanced approach to world powers,” Gu said, noting that it will, to some extent, benefit regional stability and development.
However, Chen said major power “games” have replaced territorial disputes, and competition between China and the US-Japan alliance will intensify since Japan always sees China as its main competitor in the Southeast Asian market, and the US has always been a dominant regional player.