Malaysia and China: The new ‘lips and teeth’ duo

by CK TAN, Nikkei staff writer / 31 October 2017/ Asia.Nikkei.com

KUALA LUMPUR — China and Malaysia are closer than they have ever been in over four decades of diplomatic relations. And if remarks by the outgoing Chinese ambassador are anything to go by, this may be only the beginning — much to the discomfort of certain critics.

“The Sino-Malaysian relationship should move up over the next 40 years to reach mutual dependency, like lips and teeth,” Huang Huikang said in a recent farewell speech marking the completion of his four-year posting to Kuala Lumpur. Mao Zedong, the founder of Communist China, famously used “lips and teeth” to describe the bond between his country and North Korea.

In the last decade alone, China and Malaysia have reached a number of milestones together. China in 2016 became the top source of foreign direct investment in Malaysian manufacturing. It has been Malaysia’s largest trade partner since 2009.

China is also one of the main suppliers of tourists to the Southeast Asian country.

Huge infrastructure projects involving Chinese contractors have underscored the deepening ties, as much as they have caused unease among detractors. Prime Minister Najib Razak alluded to this when, at an event for a new railway line to be built by a Chinese company, he asked: “What’s wrong with us fostering closer ties with China, which is expected to be the biggest economy in 2030?”

Najib has been cozying up to Beijing since he became premier in 2009, following in the footsteps of his father, Razak Hussein — Malaysia’s second prime minister. It was Razak who took the bold step of establishing diplomatic relations with socialist China in 1974, at the height of the Cold War and Cultural Revolution. Malaysia was the first Southeast Asian country to do so. Read more…

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