- Nov 4, 2011
Malaysia's Anwar meets Xi, likely to seek China help for rail linkDespite pro-Western image, PM wants close Beijing ties to boost economy
Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, left, is meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on March 31. (Photo courtesy of Prime Minister's Office of Malaysia)
NORMAN GOH, Nikkei staff writerMarch 31, 2023 18:34 JST
KUALA LUMPUR -- Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim met President Xi Jinping on Friday during his first trip to China as Malaysia's leader, as his delegation hopes to tie up several projects, likely including assistance for a high-speed railway linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
Anwar arrived in Beijing on Wednesday, with a delegation of ministers from the foreign, trade, transport, technology, housing and tourism departments. A meeting with his counterpart Premier Li Qiang is also set for Saturday, after which both are expected to sign as many as 16 memoranda of understanding related to agriculture and trade. He is expected to return to Kuala Lumpur the following Saturday.
During the trip, Anwar is likely to seek assistance from Beijing for resuming one of the Malaysian portions of the Singapore-Kunming Rail Link (SKRL), also known as the Pan-Asia Railway Network, spanning 6,617.5 kilometers through countries including Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. It is a part of China's Belt and Road Initiative.
Mahathir in 2018 decided to scrap the high-speed rail link, the southern half of Malaysia's portion of the SKRL, stretching 350 kilometers between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, saying it would add too much to the country's debt. But his government kept active the 688-kilometer East Coast Rail Link, the northern half of Malaysia's portion.
Transport Minister Anthony Loke told reporters on March 15, "Building this network [of the SKRL] is possible, and I call upon the Chinese government to help facilitate these exchanges [with Thailand and Laos]." He also said earlier this month, "We can talk about [the high-speed railway] and we can be open to proposals from the private sector," indicating the possibility of restarting the high-speed railway link. Several proposals have reportedly been submitted since then.
State-owned rail operator Keretapi Tanah Melayu recently launched the first Malaysia-China rail-sea service in collaboration with Cosco Shipping Lines, a China-based shipping company headquartered in Shanghai.
Since 2009, China has been Malaysia's largest trading partner. Trade between the two rose 15.6% to 487.13 billion ringgit ($110.62 billion) in 2022 from a year ago.
Ngeow Chow Bing, director of the Institute of China Studies at the University of Malaya, said that despite his pro-Western image, Anwar will seek a diplomatic stance equally friendly to both sides, particularly as China is the world's second-largest economy.
"There is no question that he wants to strengthen the relationship with China, looking at more opportunities rather than risks and challenges," he said, adding that Malaysia is part of the global supply chain and particularly in the semiconductor and technological sectors, making the country "a vital partner to China."
Ngeow also noted that economic development tops Anwar's agenda in the bilateral meetings as he is hoping that Chinese investment will help to boost the Malaysian economy and create jobs.
Although the South China Sea remains a topic of contention between ASEAN countries and China, it has not stopped Beijing from seeking closer ties with the region.
Malaysia's Anwar meets Xi, likely to seek China help for rail link
Despite pro-Western image, PM wants close Beijing ties to boost economy