Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim, the reformist politician to whom Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will hand power in two years, on Wednesday met with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in the latest signal both sides are conscientiously consolidating bilateral ties.
While there has been some talk that Beijing is unhappy Malaysia has been sending mixed signals over the future of billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects linked to the “Belt and Road Initiative”, Anwar’s meeting with Wang Yi suggests otherwise.
The meeting is out of the ordinary, considering Anwar does not yet hold any official position in the Pakatan Harapan [Coalition of Hope] government installed following the May 9 general election.
The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately release a statement on the meeting, but Anwar wrote on Twitter after the meeting that he and Wang “hoped to strengthen Malaysia-China ties with greater seriousness”.
Anwar’s meeting with Wang came at the tail end of a three-day visit to China that included a lecture at Renmin University and a meeting with Chen Yuan, vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Bersama Wang Yi, Menteri Luar China. Saya turut diapit Duta Khas Malaysia ke China, Tan Kok Wai. Beliau ucap tahniah atas kemenangan di Port Dickson dan berharap untuk memperkukuhkan hubungan Malaysia-China dengan lebih serius. pic.twitter.com/myYNLvRta1— Anwar Ibrahim (@anwaribrahim) October 24, 2018
On Twitter, Anwar wrote that he was pleased to meet Chen, a former head of the China Development Bank with whom he had dealings during his previous stint as finance minister in the 1990s.
Observers said the meeting showed there was no let-up in Beijing’s efforts to cultivate Mahathir’s new government. There had been question marks about the relationship soon after Mahathir’s victory, as he declared that he would review Chinese-backed projects in his country, but tensions have eased following his August visit to Beijing.
“China typically deals with the foreign government of the day,” said Oh Ei Sun, a long time observer of Malaysia-China ties. “As Pakatan Harapan is the ruling coalition now and Anwar being the heir presumptive, it is only natural that China would like to cultivate friendship with him again.”
The visit was 71-year-old Anwar’s first to mainland China since his political resurrection – which began almost immediately after the May 9 election.
Imprisoned during the era of Mahathir’s predecessor Najib Razak under charges he and rights groups say were trumped up, Anwar was offered a full royal pardon by the country’s royal monarch a week after the polls.
Earlier this month he staged a crushing victory in a by-election that brought him back to parliament and paved the way for him to assume the premiership in two years – as per an agreement within Pakatan Harapan.
Anwar is the founder of the two-decade old Reformasi (reform) movement that underpins the ruling government. He founded the movement soon after he was sacked as deputy prime minister by Mahathir in 1998 – during the veteran politician’s first stint as leader of the country.
But prior to this year’s poll, the two allies-turned-foes resolved to once again work together to topple Najib, who had roiled the economy as a result of his alleged links to the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal.
Anwar’s visit, meanwhile, is the latest of a slew of high-level exchanges between the two countries.
Apart from Mahathir’s August visit, a slew of other Malaysian leaders have made separate visits to the Middle Kingdom.
Among them is primary industries minister Teresa Kok, who was in Nanjing this week to officiate the opening of the Malaysia-China Palm Oil Trade Fair. Deputy trade minister Ong Kian Ming in September made a visit to the China-Malaysia Qinzhou Industrial Park, and next month, trade minister Darell Leiking will attend the China International Import Expo in Shanghai.
Malaysian government sources say plans are in the works for Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to visit the Southeast Asian country soon.
Wang Yi in August met Mahathir in Kuala Lumpur en route to a meeting with foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Singapore.