Xi Jinping holds Malaysia talks in regional charm offensive

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 October, 2013, 3:28pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 October, 2013, 3:09am

China and Malaysia will significantly upgrade bilateral ties to boost military co-operation and nearly triple two-way trade.

President Xi Jinping said after talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak that both nations would step up co-operation to promote regional stability as he continued his maiden presidential tour of Southeast Asia in Kuala Lumpur.

Xi's trip is seen as an attempt by Beijing to gain leverage over the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), especially over the handling of territorial disputes and offset the impact of Washington's so-called pivot to Asia. With US President Barack Obama scrapping his Asian tour due to the US government shutdown, Xi's meetings with regional leaders have grabbed the limelight.

"We agreed to work together to advance the development of the China-Asean strategic partnership and continue to promote East Asian co-operation," Xi said. "China will continue to provide firm support to the central role of Asean in East Asian co-operation and we will be happy to see a greater role played by Malaysia in this region."

China's role in Southeast Asia has been hampered by maritime disputes in the South China Sea and suspicions among Asean nations about China's military build-up. Malaysia, which has territorial claims in the disputed waters, has not reacted as strongly to Beijing's claims as Asean neighbours Vietnam and the Philippines.

In a show of strengthened ties, Xi and Najib witnessed the signing of a five-year commitment on co-operation. In addition to boosting trade, worth US$57 billion last year, to US$160 billion by 2017, the two nations agreed to step up military exchanges and law enforcement co-operation.

"We have agreed to strengthen our partnership with naval defence, joint military exercises to combat terrorism and to promote security," Xi said. "This will create a sound environment for peace and the prosperity of both countries."

Najib said he would visit China next year, and he had "great confidence that under Xi's leadership, China will continue to make much progress and become an economic powerhouse and a major force in providing momentum for global economic growth".

Xi began his Southeast Asian tour, his first since being installed as president, on Wednesday. On Thursday he became the first foreign leader to address Indonesia's parliament.

During a lunch with the local Chinese community, Xi said Malaysian singer Jasmine Leong was well known in China, and that he felt glad to visit Malaysia again after 21 years.

Xi will travel to Bali today for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit before returning to Beijing.

Additional reporting by Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Reuters