Malaysia and China sign ‘landmark’ naval defence deal
MALAYSIA will buy four combat vessels from China in a “landmark” defence deal, Prime Minister Najib Razak said, signalling a potential strategic shift away from the US.
The agreement marked the first time Kuala Lumpur had purchased warships from Beijing and came only two weeks after Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte announced his “separation” from Washington during a visit to China.
Under the terms of the deal, two of the vessels will be built in Malaysia and two in China, Mr Najib said in an op-ed published in the China Daily newspaper yesterday during his weeklong trip to Beijing.
“I call this a landmark decision because before this we have not bought such vessels from China,” Mr Najib said after talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Malaysia has historically acquired the bulk of its major defence hardware from the United States, Russia and European countries.
Analysts said the accord was a setback for Washington’s “pivot” toward Asia and underlined China’s increasing diplomatic and economic gravitational pull in the region – despite its ongoing territorial disputes.
“This is the new regional norm. Now China is implementing the power and the US is in retreat,” said Southeast Asia politics analyst Bridget Welsh.
Gu Xiaosong, a researcher at government think tank Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences, was quoted in China’s Global Times as saying, “Southeast Asia’s diplomatic situation has shifted towards China following the visits of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Vietnam’s leader this year.”
Mr Najib called for Malaysia and China’s disagreement over rights to the strategically vital South China Sea, claimed almost in its entirety by Beijing, to be resolved “calmly and rationally through dialogue”.
Malaysia’s relations with the United States warmed after Mr Najib took office in 2009 following decades of periodic distrust.
But he has increasingly leaned toward China as it became Malaysia’s biggest trading partner and after the eruption last year of a massive corruption scandal implicating Mr Najib and a state investment fund – 1MDB – that he founded.
Billions are alleged to have been siphoned from the fund in a stunning international campaign of embezzlement and money-laundering that has sparked investigations in several countries.
Mr Najib’s ties with Washington became strained when the US Justice Department moved in July to seize more than US$1 billion in assets it says were purchased by Mr Najib’s relatives and associates using stolen 1MDB money.
In Beijing this week, Mr Najib signed 14 memorandums of understanding worth 144 billion yuan ($34.4 billion), including an agreement for China to build a rail line on Malaysia’s east coast, Malaysian media reported.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak (second from left) and China’s Premier Li Keqiang (second from right) at the signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 1.