Former envoy shares who he thinks should be Malaysia’s best friend

By Mahadhir bin Monihuldin

GOMBAK, 24 April 2016: Malaysia has always had a strong trading relationship with the two powerhouse countries that we have in the world — the United States and China. But with the goal of bringing greater progress in mind, we should ask ourselves, between these two great countries, which should Malaysia have the closest economic ties with?

It’s exactly that question that is brought onto the limelight in the special talk titled “Between U.S and China: Who Should be Malaysia’s best friend” which took place recently at the Kulliyah of Economics and Management Sciences.

The talk organised by IIUM’s Economics and Management Sciences Society featured the wisdom and expertise of Malaysia’s former ambassador for the World Trade Organization (WTO), Datuk Maniam Supperamaniam.

The lecture began with Datuk Maniam explaining the history of Malaysia’s economy in the past.

“Before, in the 60s, rubber and tin were the two main products that our country would depend on as exports,’ Datuk Maniam shared.

But soon after that, we began diversifying our exports by trading agricultural products like palm oil, rice, cocoa, etc., and we even went through a phase in which we relied on domestic goods rather than imported goods from other countries for economic development as it was thought to be beneficial for Malaysia.

But according to Datuk Maniam, “It was simply not enough.” That is if we want to become a developed nation by 2020. This is where the United States and China come in to help play their role in strengthening our economy through trade.

Datuk Maniam said that the U.S is significant to Malaysia for its contribution in technology. This proves to be true when statistics show that the top three imports Malaysia received from the U.S in 2013 were electrical machinery ($5.4 billion), aircraft ($1.6 billion) and machinery ($1.4 billion). However, the relationship isn’t a one-way street.

“The U.S sees Malaysia and ASEAN in general as a very important region for their economic interest,” Datuk Maniam expressed.

The newly signed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) deal is a perfect example of this, and not only that, Datuk Maniam mentioned that Obama’s recent visit to Malaysia even elevated ties with the U.S to the status of strategic partnership.

When it comes to China however, Datuk Maniam thinks their contribution to infrastructure is integral to Malaysia’s prosperity. Look no further than the second Penang Bridge that was partly built by the state-owned China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), or the $2 billion worth of money that the Chinese government will be investing in for the Bandar Malaysia project.

On the other hand, to China, Malaysia is its largest trading partner in ASEAN and third largest in all of Asia. Surely China sees a lot of value in what Malaysia has to provide for them also.

So after all that discussion, Datuk Maniam shared with the audience regarding which country he thinks should be Malaysia’s best friend, and to him, it should simply be both.

“I don’t think Malaysia should take sides with any country,” he said. “We need to be strategic in managing our economic relationships with both China and the U.S.”

It is known by many that China and the U.S are aggressively competing with each other on who can gain more influence over the world, and that Malaysia’s signing of the TPPA with America has ultimately spoilt our country’s relations with China, but Datuk Maniam was quick to point out that China still has a lot of invested interest in Malaysia, especially since they already have a free trade agreement of their own called the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area.

And thus, the lecture ended with a brief thank you speech by the host to Datuk Maniam and the participants who joined the event.***







Mahadhir bin Monihuldin

A conflicted writer

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