Beijing - Three decades after Malaysia and China established diplomatic relations, the two countries are finally ready to have closer defence ties by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Defence Cooperation. Visiting Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Najib Abdul Razak, described the MoU as opening a new dimension in their bilateral relations.
The MoU, which was signed on Sept 2, provides for bilateral activities such as military training and exchange of personnel and information. It is also expected to pave the way for dialogues for the two countries to understand each other's perspective of regional and international security developments.
Mr Najib, who is also the Defence Minister, said Malaysia had always viewed China as a major economic and military power and regarded it as a stabilising force in Asia. "Through the MoU, we hope to foster closer defence ties."
The agreement would also enable the two countries to explore new areas of cooperation that extended beyond military-to-military cooperation, said Mr Najib.
However, Mr Najib said it was not within the framework of the MoU to procure weapons from China. "But that does not mean that we cannot buy defence weapons from China. It is up to us," he added.
Mr Najib said that during his meeting with Chinese Defence Minister General Cao Gangchuan, the latter reiterated that China harboured no hegemonic ambitions and was not a threat to the region.
China is Malaysia's largest trading partner in Asia, with bilateral trade in excess of US$14 billion a year.
In an analysis on the MoU, a Malaysian academic has linked China's readiness to sign a defence agreement with small countries like Malaysia to Beijing's rivalry with the United States for influence in the region.
"It is no longer a secret that China will make use of all opportunities available to reduce the United States' influence in East Asia. Beijing regards Washington as its strategic competitor," Dr Azmi Hussin wrote in the Malay-language newspaper, Utusan Malaysia.
The United States, on the other hand, seems to "have forgotten the importance of East Asia in the context of international peace and stability" due to its preoccupation with problems in the Middle East, namely Iraq, he added.
* Defence accord to foster closer ties (The Star, Sept 3)
* Defence MoU signed (New Straits Times, Sept 3)
* China is adept at using various strategies to enhance economic and military influence (Utusan Malaysia, Sept 3)