On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

All eyes on the China visit

The three-day trip to China from  Aug 18
is no ordinary visit. It is to  celebrate
the 25 years of diplomatic ties between Malaysia and China.

But political analysts see the visit as more than just a diplomatic  exercise.

For many, photographs of meetings between Dr Mahathir and
Chinese leaders Jiang Zemin and Zhu 
Rongji would be reminiscent of the 
visit by the late Tun Abdul Razak 
in 1974.

Photographs of Razak meeting  Chairman
Mao in Beijing were later reproduced and used as posters  in the 1976 general election.

Razak's visit went down extremely well with the Chinese  electorate as it paved the way for  normal diplomatic ties between the  two countries.

Since then, Malaysia and China  have
enjoyed excellent ties; Dr  Mahathir himself
has made over  five trips there.

Writing in the Japanese daily  Mainichi
Shimbun last week, Dr  Mahathir praised
China for deciding not to devalue the yuan.

More significantly, he described  China
as “a friend indeed, much  more so than
some other so-called  friends.''

Dr Mahathir wrote: `'If we can  live with
the US as the sole superpower, there is no reason why we  cannot live with China as a world  power.

“China has practically no history  of
conquering and colonising  neighbours.
European powers  have.''

Some see the latest China visit as 
excellent timing to endear the 
Barisan Nasional government to 
the Chinese voters. Those who subscribe to such a theory believe
that  the prime minister would
dissolve  Parliament and call for
elections  on returning to Kuala

Although Dr Mahathir continues  to be a
target of attack among supporters of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Chinese voters
generally are  not as emotional as their
Malay  brethren.

The trip will in some way help  win
further Chinese support but it  won't be
the sole factor to get the  Chinese votes
as most Malaysian  Chinese no longer have
links with  China except as

The Government's effort in restoring the economy is likely to  have a bigger impact. A bullish  stock market would help as it provides the
trickle-down effect.

The emphasis on political and  economic
stability, particularly  with reference
to the riots in Indonesia, would leave a deeper impression on the Chinese

While the urban Chinese have  been supportive
of the DAP in past  elections, the
community as a  whole solidly backed the
Barisan  Nasional in the 1995 election,
delivering over 60% of the votes.

In Penang, the DAP was almost  wiped out
when 32 of 33 state assemblymen returned were from  Barisan.

Indications so far show the Chinese business community backing  Barisan. No one is quite sure how  the middle class, including professionals,
would vote this time.

Generally, it can be assumed  that the
community sees Dr Mahathir representing political and  economic stability.

Many Chinese admit that the  MCA has done
well in the fields of  education and
culture. The unity it  displays has made
the community  stand proud.

Even the critical Chinese educationists movement has gone on record to acknowledge
the MCA's efforts.

The continual move by PAS to  set up an
Islamic state, the bickerings in the DAP, the squabbles  among the opposition over who  should be prime minister in case of  an opposition victory, and the dispute over
cross-overs to Parti Keadilan Nasional have not helped the  opposition cause.

Should Jiang Zemin heap praises  on Dr
Mahathir's leadership, it is  unlikely
that the opposition would  be able to
criticise the Chinese  Government and the
Barisan without offending Chinese voters here.

It would not be able to respond in  the
manner Dr Mahathir had blasted US Vice-President Al Gore for  endorsing the reformasi movement.

But Malaysians must also see the  visit
by Dr Mahathir beyond domestic concerns.

Both countries, for example,  have agreed
to work together to  reform the
international financial  regulatory
system and establish a  new financial
order to benefit all  parties.

As part of a comprehensive programme on the development of bilateral ties,
Malaysia and China  have agreed to
jointly work to promote the Singapore-Kunming rail  project.

Malaysia will also open more  consular
offices for visa issuance  to tourists
from the republic.

The visit by Dr Mahathir will  further
boost the Sino-Malaysian  trade
relations, with bilateral trade  standing
at US$4bil in 1997 in Malaysia's favour.

Despite the economic slowdown,  the
countries managed to post a bilateral trade of US$2.91bil in the  first nine months of last year.

Dr Mahathir's trip to Beijing on  the eve
of the next millennium is  most timely
and, given the tremendous interest it has generated, expectations are naturally