Malaysian trade minister: Multilateralism 'works' and should continue
Hou Jing

Editor's Note:The year 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the comprehensive strategic partnership between Malaysia and China. In 2024, the two countries will celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations. In an exclusive interview on April 1, Malaysian Minister of International Trade and Industry Tengku Zafrul Aziz told CGTN's Hou Jing that the relationship between the two sides goes far beyond mere monetary value, and is based on a collaborative foundation of trust, friendship, mutual respect and recognition.

Among the relationships between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, the continuous deepening China-Malaysia cooperation has continued to be a bright spark in the region, witnessing astounding achievements over the years.

Malaysia was the first country in ASEAN to establish diplomatic relations with China and was also among the earliest countries to respond to the Belt and Road Initiative. China has been Malaysia's largest trading partner for 14 consecutive years and is currently Malaysia's largest source of foreign investment. At the same time, Malaysia is also China's largest trading partner within the ASEAN market. Despite the disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2022, China-Malaysia trade still achieved an annual growth of more than 15 percent and bilateral trade reached a record of over $200 billion U.S. dollars that year.

Malaysian Minister of International Trade and Industry Tengku Zafrul Aziz visited China at the end of March as a member of Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's delegation. It was the prime minister's first official visit to China since becoming the 10th Malaysian prime minister last November.

"It has been a very productive trip," Tengku Zafrul told CGTN after he met Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang in Beijing on April 1st together with the Malaysian prime minister. "Today alone, our prime minister witnessed 19 MOUs (Memorandum of Understanding) between Malaysian and Chinese companies to further invest and collaborate in many areas especially when it comes to investing in Malaysia," he said.

Both countries are cooperating in many areas but the digital economy and electric vehicle (EV) sectors were among the key focus areas of this trip. Malaysia and China both have their distinct advantages in these areas, so they can make the cooperation mutually beneficial. Malaysia has been in the electrical and engineering industry for the last 50 years, and the country has 13 percent of global market share for semiconductor assembly and tests. China is highly recognized in the EV sector because of advanced new technologies. On April 1, the Malaysian prime minister witnessed the signing of a commitment between China's car maker Geely with Malaysia's DRB-HICOM, for further investment in the Automobile High-Technology Valley in Malaysia, which focuses on battery energy vehicles.

This March marked the first anniversary that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) took effect for Malaysia. Trade between ASEAN and China has gone up 15 percent since the RCEP has come into effect. Tengku Zafrul regards this as proof that the concept of multilateralism works, because trade between countries within ASEAN and China has improved considerably. "I am a strong believer that improvement in trade will bring prosperity to all nations involved in improving trade relations," he said.

When it comes to the influence of the BRI to Malaysia, Tengku Zafrul emphasized its value beyond raising money to build infrastructure projects. He said, "Yes, the BRI has brought many positive benefits to Malaysia, especially the East Coast Rail Link, which is a huge project close to more than $15 billion dollars. It links the east coast of Malaysia to the west coast. We also have the twin industrial park, which again proved to be an enormous positive economic spillover to Malaysia and China."

To him, instead of regarding the BRI only by the monetary benefits, Tengku Zafrul believes that the most important part of collaboration or cooperation is the foundation of trust, friendship, mutual respect and mutual recognition.

"What we want is a stable region, a peaceful region. The BRI looks at things holistically, not just about the dollar value of the collaboration." said Tengku Zafrul.

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