Trade agreements signed as Malaysia embraces China

Prime minister Najib Razak criticises West and signs major defence deals with Beijing

Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak (left), and China’s premier, Li Keqiang, attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak (left), and China’s premier, Li Keqiang, attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters


Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak is the latest Asian leader to visit Beijing and criticise the West for trying to develop undue influence in the continent, while signing deals to forge closer ties with the region’s rising star, China.

Hailing China as a “true friend”, Mr Najib is on a six-day visit and he took the opportunity to make a thinly-veiled attack on the United States, which is trying to retain influence in the world’s most populous continent in the face of China’s growing ambition.

“More generally, we believe it is incumbent upon larger countries to treat smaller ones fairly. And this includes former colonial powers,” he said in an editorial in the state-run China Daily. Malaysia is a former British colony, made up of 60 per cent ethnic Malays and 26 per cent Chinese as well as Indians and indigenous peoples.

“It is not for them to lecture countries they once exploited on how to conduct their own internal affairs today. Malaysia and China are united in agreeing on the need to defend the sovereignty of the nation state and in the belief that the individual histories, values and governance systems of different countries must be respected,” Mr Najib said.

Four navy ships

He also said Malaysia would buy at least four littoral mission ships from China, and announced “new steps” in military co-operation between the two countries.

The first two vessels are to be built in China and the next two in Malaysia, with further Malaysian-built ships subject to government financing, he said. Malaysia recently announced it was cutting its defence budget by 13 per cent.

Mr Najib’s visit comes days after that of president of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, who announced a “separation” from the US and signed deals promising billions of dollars’ worth of investment in the Philippines, a former US colony.

Malaysia has traditionally enjoyed close relations with the US, but those ties have become strained since Mr Najib is became the subject of lawsuits filed in July by the US justice department implicating him in a money-laundering scandal involving the alleged misappropriation of €3.16 billion from a Malaysian state fund known as 1MDB.

He denies any wrongdoing and dismisses the lawsuit as foreign interference in Malaysia’s affairs.

On the dispute over China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, which earned Beijing international censure from a maritime tribunal in The Hague, Mr Najib wrote that “there can be issues where even the closest of friends may disagree”.

Malaysia, alongside Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, all have disputes with China over its claim to control the resource-rich waters through which €4.5 trillion passes every year.

“When it comes to the South China Sea, we firmly believe that overlapping territorial and maritime disputes should be managed calmly and rationally through dialogue, in accordance with the rule of law and peaceful negotiations,” he said.

China and Malaysia also signed deals on railways, energy and defence during a meeting between Mr Najib and Premier Li Keqiang.

“China and Malaysia can enhance co-operation in railways, including high-speed rail to strengthen regional connectivity,” Mr Li said.