Open Letter to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on China

Letter to editor

MALAYSIA will need more strategic long-term calculations on its future economic and geopolitical interests by starting to implement steps to pivot away from over-reliance on one economic superpower in safeguarding its short term needs.

This will make the country even more vulnerable in long-term strategic returns, especially in seeing the uncertainties in China’s perceived durability in its economic and hard power resilience.

This remains critical not only for our national sovereignty and territorial integrity but also concerns the security of our oil and gas (O&G) assets which make up the bulk of our main economic contributor with our economic survival and the livelihoods of millions at stake.

Our deterrence capacity is hapless against the might of Beijing’s military build-up and yet we are reluctant to shift our foreign policy approach and have been dangerously slow and lagging behind as compared to our neighbouring players.

Reliance on the goodwill of Beijing and hoping for its own self-restraint through consultative and backdoor engagement – and refraining from openly chastising its behaviours in fear of inciting its wrath and economic retaliation – have all not yielded the desired outcome.

For decades, we have been dangerously reliant on Chinese easy credit and source of investment and capital transfer with no light at the end of the tunnel.

No review of threats

This is further exacerbated by the renewed commitment by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in the Boao Forum of desiring more BRI (China’s Belt and Road Initiative) extension of investments and projects with no strategic and comprehensive review done on the impact of them on our national security, environmental concerns and direct economic repercussions on the people.

Malaysia has been complacent by having fallen deeper into the abyss of over-dependence on Beijing’s economic and financial lifelines, especially now in our scramble for economic recovery support by imploring for more of Beijing’s economic investment and focus in our country.

Questionable impact on the local economy, employment opportunities and other expected spill-over effects has also created a serious need to re-look at the mega ventures that cost billions of ringgit but seem to suit Beijing’s geopolitical agenda in the region more than the returns to Malaysia’s long term economic impact.

There is no single major review to evaluate the threat of Chinese presence, influence and grip on our economy and policy options.

There is similarly no review on whether our trapped foreign policy dogma of neutrality but hypocritically seen as China centric actually brings the desired objective of preserving our interests and national security.

For Beijing, it would seek to further expand its geostrategic pursuit in the region, by relying on the economic grip over Malaysia and the region.

We risk getting the worst out of our current China pander and the unwillingness to accept greater Western overtures as we will be exposed to a more vulnerable security climate in which a time trapped, pressured and a declining China will be potentially more assertive.

Pic credit: Getty Images

We remain hapless in our defence and deterrence capacity by then, in which we have yet to fully recognise the reality and urgency of the security reality.

The outcome of this Sino-US rivalry with shifting geopolitical architecture is far from sealed. It is easy to discredit and write off Washington’s future power resilience with the Malaysian and the regional players might be finding themselves on the wrong footing at their own larger collective expense.

We have always projected the need to separate the sensitive issue of the South China Sea from the mainstream bilateral relationship with China given this has always been used as a convenient pretext in sweeping the sensitive issues under the carpet which is at our own expense.

The expanded economic footprint in the country in key critical sectors – including the digital domain and 5G and rare earths exploit – will provide greater risks on Malaysia’s long-term susceptibility to being beholden to Beijing’s dictates.

It also exposes the country to risks of Beijing’s espionage campaign and surveillance activities in digital and other domains, integrated with soft power sway as highlighted by various intelligence agencies including the FBI and UK’s GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) agency and the latest Freedom House report on China’s Global Media Influence 2022.

In the latest Doublethink Lab on China Index report, Malaysia is in the top 10 of the most list in which the report highlighted Beijing’s attempts to extend its influence through manipulation of the media and academic interaction as well as trying to coerce other nations to adopt foreign policy goals in its favour after their economies have become reliant on China.

Anwar needs to be wise and strategic enough not to fall into this trap and dogma deeper – and to be bold enough to firmly re-assert Malaysia’s unyielding and non-negotiable stance on matters of regional and national sovereignty and security. – March 31, 2023


Collins Chong Yew Keat
Foreign affairs and strategy analyst
Universiti Malaya

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

Main pic credit: Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Facebook

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