Report: Anwar vows Malaysia will not get caught up in China-US geopolitical tensions as ties deepen

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, June 15 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has vowed he will not get caught up in China-US geopolitical tensions and be pressured into picking a side while playing down territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Anwar said he was adamant about putting Malaysia’s interests first while carrying on business with China, stressing that he neither had any intention of antagonising the United States nor being swayed by the unilateral action of one country against another.

Anwar’s action, however, risks sanctions imposed by the United States.

“If they have compelling evidence to suggest that any company or any country is causing mischief, then all right. They should adduce evidence.

“But otherwise, we will not succumb to that sort of pressure. It is no longer neocolonialism or colonial rule. We are an independent nation,” he was quoted as saying as Malaysia celebrates its 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties with China.

Anwar said it made sense for Malaysia to ramp up ties with China who was “willing to accommodate and listen” to Malaysia’s suggestions and concerns which included fast tracking Malaysia’s digital economy, renewable energy and Artificial Intelligence capacities.

“They have been most receptive and they collaborate well, and they are frank and (make) no display of arrogance.

“That’s why we are seen to be a bit closer to China. The exchange between ministers, between party leaders, between students and researchers, is because of China’s response to Malaysia’s engagements,” he said.

However, he did concede Malaysia had in the past been saddled with “lopsided” Chinese deals, shifting the blame to his predecessors’ “poor governance” instead and less to do with China.

Nevertheless, Anwar expressed confidence of better deals moving forward, buoyed by his optimism that China will soon rebound despite its slower-than-expected post-pandemic recovery.

“It’s a huge country, like the United States. It has enormous capacity, and do not underestimate the ingenuity, the capacity of their leaders to shift trajectory.

“They know their priorities. And what, to me, is exciting is even if they don’t call themselves a Western democracy, they listen quite a bit and they adjust fast,” he said.

On Malaysia’s long-standing South China Sea territorial dispute with China, Anwar did not dispute the overlapping claims were an issue between the two partners.

Instead, he stressed that the West had an “obsession, the tendency to exaggerate the problem”.

“Do we have a problem with China? Yes. Have we encountered any serious clashes or problems? No.

“Do we then concede? No. But what I am appalled by is this idea that ‘Yes, we have a problem with China only’,” he said.

He called settling South China Sea disputes through bilateral engagements and discussions within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), rather than third-party intervention, in light of the ongoing tensions between China and the Philippines.

“It is important to impress on the Philippines, on the Chinese, that we are here. We must be prepared and able to manage our own affairs,” he said, adding that Malaysia will push this point upon assuming the rotating chair of Asean next year.

As for Taiwan, Anwar said he was not “unduly worried” by the prospect of a war breaking out over the self-ruled island, as mainland China’s leaders “know how to navigate the situation”.

Beijing views Taiwan as its own territory, over the strong objections of the government in Taipei, and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.

Only 12 countries now maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, mostly poorer developing nations such as Paraguay, Eswatini, Palau and St Lucia.

For Malaysia, Anwar said it recognised the one-China policy and existing tensions between the two states must be resolved peacefully and amicably.

“I think even this issue is being exaggerated ... we have to caution other partners, including the US, not to be seen as provocative, because it will invariably affect us,” Anwar said.