On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Ties with China enter new level


Many of the Chinese capital’s 15 million population have begun leaving for their homes in the provinces for Chinese New Year.

Unlike the weather, MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat has been warmly received by top Chinese leaders and officials.

The visit of the high-powered party delegation is unprecedented as this is the largest MCA team ever to go to China.

Among the delegates are secretary-general Datuk Wong Foon Ming, vice-presidents Datuk Kong Cho Ha, Datuk Liow Tiong Lai and Datuk Tan Kok Hong, Youth chief Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong, Wanita chief Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun and treasurer-general Tan Sri Tee Hock Seng.

To top it all, he has two prominent businessmen on the trip – Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary and Tun Daim Zainuddin.

The timing of the trip is significant – the MCA is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. It is also the 60th anniversary of the Communist Party of China rule in China.

The year 2009 is special as it marks the 35th year of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Malaysia.

Since arriving here on Sunday, Ong has lined up to four meetings each day with Chinese leaders. Talks mostly focused on expanding aviation and port activities.

Trade between the two sides rose to US$46.4bil (RM167bil) in 2007 from US$30.7bil (RM110bil) two years earlier. The official number is expected to surpass US$50bil (RM180bil) for this year.

Although China, as with the rest of the world, has been affected by the global financial crisis, the fact remains that China is an economic power with the world’s largest market.

Ong’s visit has attracted the attention of China Central Television (CCTV) and Phoenix Television.

Yesterday, the Transport Minister found he had only 15 minutes for lunch as he took four press interviews in one go.

“Politics is the MCA’s core activity but it is important that we help to create jobs and business opportunities. We must help keep entrepreneurship afloat,” he said.

Ong said he wanted to drive home the message that such efforts were essential in these difficult times.

The MCA delegation was accorded a meeting with China’s top political advisor and fourth-most senior official, Jia Qinglin, at the Great Hall of The People. Jia represented president Hu Jintao.

The former Beijing mayor is the head of the People’s Political Consultative Conference and a member of the powerful Politburo.

The trip is meaningful because the results would mean more air routes between Kuala Lumpur and Chinese cities and more investments in Malaysian ports.

The Bank of China in Kuala Lumpur is also expected to assist small- and medium-sized businessmen with loan facilities, a subject of discussion between Ong and Jia.

Halal hub opportunities, with China’s 22 million Muslims in mind, and scholarships for Muslim students are also in the offing.

“We also hope Chinese-Muslim businessmen will use Malaysia’s halal hub as a gateway to the Middle-East market,” he said.

Ong also hopes to create another unprecedented move – to get a top Chinese university to set up a branch campus in Johor.

The Australians and British have set up branch campuses in Malaysia but a top Chinese branch campus in Malaysia would be the first in the world.

“We are also working with the Hong Kong Polytechnic University which has offered scholarships and internships to Malaysians so they can have exposure to China,” he adds.

There will be plenty of opportunities as a follow-up to the groundwork laid by Ong and his team.

Certainly, when Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak takes over the leadership, his official visit would be greatly welcomed by the Chinese.

His father, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, paved the way for full diplomatic ties 35 years ago, and his son will now take the friendship to another level.