China-US rivalry: Malaysia must be fiercely independent, says Anwar

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Anwar wanted Malaysia to maintain close relationships with both the US and China, in accordance with the current Asean policy. – Bernama photo

KUALA LUMPUR (Sept 13): Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim emphasized that Malaysia must be fiercely independent as a sovereign nation and should not be forced to choose sides in the escalation of rivalry between United States (US) and China.

Speaking at the Milken Institute Asia Summit 2023 in Singapore on Wednesday, Anwar wanted Malaysia to maintain close relationships with both the US and China, in accordance with the current Asean policy.

“This idea that you have to be either with China or the US. No, why should we suffer and be told what to do? I mean, we must be fiercely independent as independent nation,” he said during the special session, titled ‘A Conversation with Prime Minister of Malaysia,’ that was live streamed online.

When asked whether other Asean nations might lose out to Vietnam as it becomes closer to the US due to its willingness to take a stand by siding with the US, Anwar said he was not particularly worried.

He noted that Malaysia’s relations with the US government, investors, and companies remain strong.

“I don’t foresee much problems. President Joe Biden chose to visit Vietnam, good for Vietnam after they endured so much suffering in the past. It’s time for the US to give additional attention to Vietnam. I have no problems about that,” he said.

According to media reports, the US and Vietnam recently agreed to elevate their relations to a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership,’ the Southeast Asian country’s highest diplomatic level, on par with what it has with China, Russia, India and South Korea.

On the other hand, Anwar expressed his concern about the US-China rivalry, saying Asean have a role to play by engaging both China and the US, and appealing for them to reduce tensions as it’s affecting countries in this region.

During the recent Asean Summit in Jakarta, he said the 10-member bloc asked both China and the US to reduce tensions in South China Sea.

“I mentioned in front of (Chinese) Premier Li Qiang about South China Sea, he responded very positively, ensuring to respect the rights of countries and to negotiate and continue with effective negotiations.

“And we also appealed to Vice President of the United States (Kamala Harris) to try and reduce these tensions because they’re affecting us (Asean),” he said.

On the notion that President Biden and President Xi Jinping were not paying much attention to Asean by sending their second-in-commands because most member countries were not willing to choose sides, Anwar said the world needs Asean to remain neutral.

“Asean must keep the centrality as its thrust of foreign policy, to continue to have effective engagement with China and the United States,” he said. – Bernama