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Malaysia should consider discourse with China – Analyst

by Air Times Correspondent

SHAH ALAM, 2 June – Malaysia should seriously consider a discourse with its increasingly close ties with China, in order to protect itself from being entrapped.

This is the take of a leading geopolitical analyst Collins Chong Yew Keat, who cautioned Putrajaya on Beijing’s ever-attractive overtures.

He cited the current visit by China’s 14th National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee chairman Zhao Leji, which reflected the continuation of their efforts to seek a formidable second-channel assurance by capturing Malaysia’s goodwill under the new leadership and policy approach of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Chong also saw Zhao’s visit as a back-up in China’s efforts to shield the country from the West’s increasing embargo and economic containment efforts.

“Growing US-China tensions have intensified the need for both powers to consolidate their agenda outreach and to increase resilience.

“China wants to increase its assurance in food security and supply chain, especially in critical commodities and energy, and this reflected in its dealings with Malaysia.

“Hence, Zhao’s visit is a reflective indicator of this purpose, and Beijing also wanted to ensure local policymakers are in line with this aspiration, hence the intent and effort to increase its soft-power sway and buy-in.

“Economic and trade importance will always be used as the main pillar and tool of engaging with Malaysia, and this is further used by this trip to reinforce this process,” said Chong, University of Malaya’s analyst on foreign affairs, strategy, security, higher education, and strategic management.

Chong warned that Zhao’s visit was also to send a message to regional players and the West, that Beijing would continue to depend on the current regional periphery of partners and players who are under the Chinese economic orbit to give Beijing the assurance of food and energy security.

“This is crucial in detaching Beijing from the vulnerabilities in real time conflict, thus jettisoning from the prospect of being held ransom by the West through economic sanctions.

“It is also intended to send a message to the West that the region is still in Beijing’s ingrained playbook and backyard, and that Beijing will not be overly impacted by the West’s manoeuvres to increase its deterrent and counter presence response in the region.

“The West and G7 will continue to seek new economic ties and strengthen current ones to push back against Beijing’s potential economic blackmail, by diversifying supply chains and markets,” said Chong.

He reminded how in disputes with countries, especially in the West, China had shown continuous willingness to block, or hamper trade with little warning or explanation, increasing its sway, usage and might of economic blackmail. Chong cited how Canada and Australia were at China’s receiving end, in portraying the reality of Beijing’s economic playbook and usage of economic blackmail to force compromises.

“This creates a vicious cycle of traps for nations, especially in sending the message to the Global South that they will receive the same treatment should they follow the footsteps of the West.

“This is also to decrease the efficacy of deterrent efforts by the west in Beijing’s potential move in Taiwan, and to decrease the costs from the fallout of a full-scale invasion of Taiwan,” Chong said.

He added that Beijing wanted to capture the goodwill of the new leadership and policy approach under Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, made more increasingly critical in assuring Beijing’s regional pursuit of influence and geopolitical grip. “The recent trip to China by Anwar has predominantly been framed from a positive point of view, with little room for dissenting opinions on the risks involved.

“For Malaysia, it will continue to yearn for Beijing’s capital and market might, with the continuous hope for its investment in key infrastructure works, digital domain, public transportation, and many other critical areas that are pivotal for Malaysia’s economic progress.

“The already contentious, controversial projects and issues of China’s support involving the East Coast Rail Link, the Kuantan Industrial Park, the Iskandar Waterfront City and others have garnered negative public sentiments.

“However, realities of the country’s economic dependence and vulnerabilities have consistently enabled Beijing to press ahead with new strategic usage of economic tools to project its power purpose,” said Chong.

KL-Beijing ties, he added, had always been underpinned by economic and socio-cultural factors, and these remained the Achilles heel for Malaysia.

“KL is in critical need of Beijing’s capital, investment and capacity in key areas including local transportation assets, property, digital domain, resources, and areas of future interests including 5G telecommunications, Artificial Intelligence, green energy and green economy.

“The potential 5G inclusion of Chinese firms including Huawei and ZTE brings about new spheres of risks to national security, as has been warned by the West.

“This will be used to further weaken our deterrence and defence capacity including in the South China Sea.

“Malaysia will be dependent on Beijing’s goodwill in continuing these support and services in these assets and will also make us be at the receiving end of future blackmail or getting the worst ultimatum in the event of a real hot war or conflict.

“We then, may be forced to trade off our assets or to reduce our retaliatory or bargaining efforts and intensity, based on the potential blackmail or threat of the greater damage that can be done to our infrastructure from the 5G and digital grip that Beijing will have,” Chong warned.

He further warned that Malaysia would also be used as a regional base in expanding China’s digital ambition, should the 5G presence be upheld, to send a direct message to regional players that it had the capacity to halt the West’s attempts of digital containment.

“The perceived spill over positive impact on the local employment setting, the needed technology transfer and long-term economic benefits that can directly impact the local population have been very much debatable, if past indications are to be taken.

“The expansion of China’s presence in the country based on providing the spin-off economic and investment, risks further engulfment of our options and to fall deeper into the overreliance on China as our sole economic saviour.

“This will only invite falling deeper into the economic abyss of being beholden to Beijing’s potential economic blackmailing, in favour of greater superseding security and geopolitical interests in the region.

“This is particularly so concerning the South China Sea and the subsequent implicating factors that will affect Beijing’s intent for Taiwan’s reunification,” said Chong.

It is high time, he added, for Malaysia to start a serious discourse and a free opening for debates and revaluations on the cost benefit calculations, and the risks and returns to our national security and economic vulnerability from China.

“We should not continue to sleepwalk into the abyss of ignorance and inevitable trap of no return,” said Chong. – airtimes.my


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