Wednesday, December 6

A move in the right direction


Anwar shaking hands with his Chinese counterpart Li Qiang (right) during a bilateral meeting at the Liyuan Guest House, after attending the 20th China-Asean Expo and China-Asean Business and Investment Summit (Cabis) in Nanning, China. — Bernama photo

EARLY this week, our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim disclosed that he had invited President Xi Jinping of China to visit Malaysia next year.

Good news; wise move!

We will accord the President the warm welcome that he deserves.

Apparently, the Malaysian leaders and their China’s counterparts have been getting in touch with each other quietly and discussing bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual importance. Among those – the visit to Malaysia, I assume.

The visit will further cement the relations between the two nations at odds with one another at the beginning of the creation of the Federation of Malaysia until great statesmen like Chou En Lai and Tun Abdul Razak moved the ‘mountain’ that was in the way of Malaysia becoming a reality that soon.

One thing led to another. One, led to the peace talks in 1966 in Bangkok to end Indonesian Confrontation.

The presidential visit has special significance because it will also commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between China and Malaysia.

During visits made by Heads of State to friendly countries, it is customary for the visitors and the hosts to have something tangible to mark the visits with – say, an ‘Agreement’ or ‘Statement of Intent’.

During President Xi’s visit to Malaysia, Malaysians expect to hear about the signing of some agreement or some statement of intent – or at least a memorandum of understanding on certain important developments in their relations.

For instance, will there be the signing of agreement or positive open statements of intent relating to the dropping of the claim by China over our territorial waters?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if China would voluntarily erase from its map of the area of the territorial waters that belong to Sarawak (Malaysia)?

Please shift the nine dash line so as to place Malaysian waters outside of that line.

If such act were accomplished by next year, the occasion would call for a really ‘Big Gawai’!

What better occasion than the 50th anniversary of the formal establishment of the diplomatic relations between China and Malaysia on which to make a great announcement?

Sarawak’s interests

The visit would be of special significance to Sarawak because the state’s territorial waters, inclusive of our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), are still inside the loop of the nine-dash line drawn up by China.

Trade and commerce

Issues such as trading cultural relations are equally important between these two nations, but these commercial connections are nothing new. Hopefully, there would be cultural contacts between the indigenous people of Sarawak, not just between the ‘Chinese people in Sarawak’, the term used by the Consul General of China (The Borneo Post – Sept 19, 2023).

Continue doing business

The ancient past Sarawak sold to China birds’ nests, kingfisher’s feathers, hornbill’s ivory, ‘gambier’ – all sorts of stuff from the jungle.

From China, we bought goods ranging from textiles and ceramics to salted duck, chicken eggs to opium.

Nowadays, our traders are talking about selling products ranging from palm oil to biodiesel, from tourism to durians.

We shall continue with these activities because dealings in these products are mutually beneficial to the welfare of our respective peoples and countries.

I read the other day the statement made by the Consul-General of China while on his visit to Sibu: “It’s about Malaysia-China trade volume. Last year, the volume exceeded US$200 billion!”

The larger, the better!

Issues requiring immediate solution

Any issues or problems between China and Malaysia must be sorted out sooner rather than later, in a civilised manner, and in line with international norms and laws, and, taking into account the vital interests of the other littoral countries in Asean in terms of the nine-dash line.

Malaysia, as a member of Asean, must not ignore the interests of the other members of the group. The littoral countries like the Republic of the Philippines and the Republic of Vietnam and other nations in the region are watching Malaysia’s rapport with China.

Sarawak’s rights

It is crucial that China recognises Sarawak’s rights (Malaysian rights) over our territorial waters in the South China Sea, and since Sarawak is an integral part of the Federation of Malaysia, our interests must be taken as a factor in any negotiations leading to any agreement with any country.

I have noted with some concern that in a Malaysian federal set-up like Malaysia, matters of geopolitical importance have sometimes been taken as exclusive to the Foreign Ministry; often taken for granted as better discussed with the MPs and the ministers originating from the state, away from public discussion by other important stakeholders.

It is imperative that whatever the federal government does in terms of agreement or understanding with China or any country, the people from Sabah and Sarawak must have a say because their interests and future are intertwined with the future of the Federation.

Not just the legislators but ordinary people as well – the other stakeholders – who should be fully consulted, not just informed, but actively involved in decision-making.

Our Foreign Ministry should employ more qualified Sabahans and Sarawakians for its service overseas. I don’t really know about the situation now in terms of recruitment of Malaysians from the Borneo states into foreign service.

When I visited the United Nations (UN) headquarters in March 1971, the quota of officials in our office there had not been fully used up; a number of vacancies remained vacant.

Compared to the allocations given to India and Pakistan, their respective quotas were all filled up.

Don’t remind me that this was the situation so many years ago. I’m asking about the situation now: how many of those qualified persons from Sabah or Sarawak are staff members of our mission in the UN in New York?

Has any MP from the Borneo states ever asked this question in Parliament?