Its strate­gic po­si­tion makes it the most nat­u­ral and log­i­cal cen­tral node in the new Silk Road plan

New Straits Times - - News - The writer views de­vel­op­ments in the na­tion, the re­gion and the wider world from his van­tage point in Kuch­ing, Sarawak

IN an­cient Rome, all roads led to the eter­nal city. This week, they all seem to con­verge in Bei­jing. Heads of state and govern­ment from lit­er­ally the four cor­ners of the globe are in the Chi­nese cap­i­tal to dis­cuss, in a high-level sum­mit called by Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, a highly am­bi­tious idea to re­vive the an­cient Silk Road that ush­ered in a golden era of in­ter­na­tional trade when China was re­garded as the Mid­dle King­dom.

Now that China has, within lit­tle more than a gen­er­a­tion, es­tab­lished it­self once again as the great­est trad­ing na­tion in the world, it is most ap­pro­pri­ate and cer­tainly most wel­come that the coun­try is reach­ing out to chart a truly “win-win” part­ner­ship — as the Chi­nese lead­er­ship is fond of say­ing — with the rest of the world, through this Belt and Road Fo­rum for In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion.

Malaysia stands to be among the great­est ben­e­fi­cia­ries of this new Chi­nese ini­tia­tive in our re­gion. Prime Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Na­jib Razak is a key at­tendee at BRF, and, among the most en­thu­si­as­tic na­tional lead­ers for this new Silk Road.

As the name sug­gests, this mod­ern-day ini­tia­tive has two al­most equally breath­tak­ing com­po­nents: one re­trac­ing the ac­tual Silk Road from China, across the great Eurasian plains, to West­ern Europe, and the other, a mar­itime route that links China, through South­east Asia, to Africa and even beyond.

Malaysia’s strate­gic po­si­tion makes it the most nat­u­ral and log­i­cal cen­tral node in the mar­itime belt. This harks back to the time when Me­laka was the undis­puted cen­tre of global com­merce in this part of the world. As the

re­lated in a com­men­tary on April 15 about 15th-cen­tury Me­laka: “Zheng He, the Chi­nese ex­plorer, re­mains revered for ex­pand­ing China’s mar­itime trade to places as far as Africa. Me­laka’s al­liance with China at the time made it a key hub for the lu­cra­tive trade of spices.”

It quoted top Malaysian of­fi­cials as say­ing that, “the con­struc­tion of a new deep-sea port as part of the RM43 bil­lion Me­laka Gate­way pro­ject, jointly de­vel­oped by lo­cal and Chi­nese firms, serves no­tice that the coun­try plans to make it­self a key part of Bei­jing’s am­bi­tious ‘One Belt One Road’ ini­tia­tive”.

A sea­soned lo­cal ob­server on the econ­omy (who prefers to re­main anony­mous) noted to this writer yes­ter­day: “The above pro­ject, to­gether with Kuantan Port and the East Coast Rail Link pro­ject to link up east and west (of the penin­sula) is equiv­a­lent to build­ing a chan­nel that cuts across the Penin­su­lar Malaysia… in fu­ture, all con­sign­ments from China or Ja­pan and Korea to Europe will down­load at Kuantan Port, be taken through the East Coast Rail Link to Port Klang or

TUES­DAY, MAY 16, 2017 Me­laka port, then shipped to Europe, cut­ting short the voy­age and ship­ping cost via Sin­ga­pore.”

Malaysia’s global strate­gic rel­e­vance in the eco­nomic arena will thus be se­cured fur­ther into the fore­see­able fu­ture.

It is, of course, up to in­di­vid­ual na­tions and even sub-na­tional ac­tors to think up imag­i­na­tive ways to link up to the One Belt One Road ini­tia­tive at its cur­rent for­ma­tive stage.

Sarawak Chief Min­is­ter Datuk Amar Abang Jo­hari Abang Openg, for ex­am­ple, is also in Bei­jing along­side the prime min­is­ter. Played as­tutely, Sarawak may also be­come an im­por­tant ben­e­fi­ciary of the ini­tia­tive.

Said the lo­cal ob­server: “Pro­mote Sarawak to China through putting up more in­dus­trial and agri­cul­tural projects in Sarawak as we have cheap en­ergy and plen­ti­ful land, as well as a deepsea port in Bin­tulu. It is not dif­fi­cult for us to make our case to them (the Chi­nese).”

As al­ways hap­pens with Malaysia’s re­la­tion­ship with the big global pow­ers, though, con­tro­versy over a newly rein­vig­o­rated Malaysia-China part­ner­ship nat­u­rally sur­faces. Thank­fully as well, nev­er­the­less, our coun­try has all this while been blessed by a rather easy­go­ing, very prag­matic ap­proach to big­power re­la­tion­ships.

We have never had to con­tend with a chip on the shoul­der that bugs many smaller coun­tries’ in­ter­ac­tions with big­ger ones. No ran­cour marked our im­me­di­ate post-in­de­pen­dence ties with Bri­tain, with which we even have a se­cu­rity al­liance that re­mains to this day.

Our re­la­tions with the United States have al­ways been busi­ness-like and mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial, even af­ter we be­came the first re­gional na­tion to open diplo­matic ties with the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China in 1974.

No­body has ever ac­cused our govern­ment of any­thing but keenly watch­ing out for the greater na­tional in­ter­est in the con­duct of its ties with these big pow­ers all this while. That bedrock re­mains to­day, with China.

Peo­ple walk­ing past the in­stal­la­tion ‘Golden Bridge on Silk Road’ by artist Shu Yong in con­junc­tion with the Belt and Road Fo­rum for In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion in Bei­jing. China is chart­ing a ‘win-win’ part­ner­ship through this fo­rum.

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