I recently visited the People’s Republic of China at the invitation of His Excellency Wen Jiabao, Premier of that great country. Though I have been to China many times as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defence and Minister of Education, this was my first visit as Prime Minister. Before leaving, I mentioned here on 1Malaysia that the visit had special personal nostalgia for me, coming 35 years after my father made the same journey to establish diplomatic relations with China.
On this visit I did not just want to follow in my father’s footsteps. My intention was to take relations with China to a new level of cooperation and partnership. I’m pleased to report that I returned to Malaysia not just with nostalgia, but with a sense of real optimism about how the relationship has grown between our two countries, about the potential for the further deepening of ties.
Of course there were moments of personal emotion. Premier Wen Jiabao presented to me a black and white photograph of my late father, Tun Abdul Razak, signing a communiqué with then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai. This gracious gift underlines a bond of friendship between Malaysia and China that is based on historic ties and trust at all levels. My father trusted China’s leadership then, just as I do now.
As well as the bilateral meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao, during the visit I called on President Hu Jintao. As I mentioned to the Premier and President, it is my goal to accelerate ties between Malaysia and the China. I also visited the Beijing Foreign Studies University, attended the Malaysia-China Business Forum as well as various other productive trade functions. China is already our fourth largest trading partner, and we spent much time discussing how we can continue to expand the trade and economic links that define so much of the history and interaction between China and Malaysia. As both of our countries have embarked on significant stimulus programmes, we also discussed further cooperation on efforts to pull our countries, and the region, out of the economic downturn.
Visiting China, witnessing again its ancient history and resurgent economic power, reminded me that one of Malaysia’s unique roles is to act as a bridge between great civilisations. We are geographically and ideologically positioned between East and West. Malaysia’s diverse ethnic and religious makeup is representative of much of the world. In his recent speech in Cairo, US President Barrack Obama mentioned what he called the “astonishing progress” in Kuala Lumpur. He said there need be no contradiction between development and maintaining distinct cultures.
It is our diversity that is the source of our strength; our diversity that has facilitated the astonishing progress President Obama spoke of. We should all reflect on how to further empower innovation in Malaysia through our diverse cultures. It is precisely our differences that present the greatest opportunities for the future.