Chinese premier visits Malacca to send message of peace amid U.S. meddling in South China Sea

2015-11-23 08:31Xinhua Editor: Mo Hong'e
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (2nd L, front) interacts with old friends and representatives of local people at San Shu Gong specialty shop in Malacca, Malaysia, Nov. 22, 2015. Li, accompanied by his wife Cheng Hong, visited Malacca on Sunday. (Photo; Xinhua/Li Tao)

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (2nd L, front) interacts with old friends and representatives of local people at San Shu Gong specialty shop in Malacca, Malaysia, Nov. 22, 2015. Li, accompanied by his wife Cheng Hong, visited Malacca on Sunday. (Photo; Xinhua/Li Tao)

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday squeezed several hours out of his tight schedule in Malaysia to visit Malacca, a port city about two hours' drive from Kuala Lumpur. [Special coverage]

The tour, quite distinctive in an itinerary crammed with multilateral and bilateral meetings, featured a diversity of activities from visiting museums to chatting with local folks.

However, it was well beyond a regular travel to get to know the local customs and conditions. More importantly, it was an explicit gesture of China's commitment to peaceful development and common prosperity in East Asia.

China has been playing a leading role in promoting all types of regional cooperation and integration, as the premier demonstrated in the 18th ASEAN-China (10+1) leaders' meeting, the 18th ASEAN-China, Japan and South Korea (10+3) leaders' meeting, and the 10th East Asia Summit.

He pledged to offer loans totaling 10 billion U.S. dollars for ASEAN infrastructure as well as free assistance worth 3.6 billion yuan (around 563 million U.S. dollars) to underdeveloped ASEAN nations in 2016.

He also called on China and ASEAN to speed up the upgrade of their free trade area (FTA), and conclude the negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by 2016.

Although most of the nations in the region aspire for closer ties with China, a few countries have been hyping up "China threat" theories and wrongfully accusing China of bullying its neighbors.

Hegemony is never within China's culture and policy, as proved by ancient Chinese navigator Zheng He's great expeditionary voyages during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Li reiterated the message during his stay in Malaysia.

Li made a particular stop at Zheng He Museum in Malacca, a place to commemorate the erstwhile intercontinental voyager, who is also believed to be the initiator of the ancient Maritime Silk Road.

Starting his expeditions more than eight decades earlier than Christopher Columbus, Zheng made seven sea voyages to Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia and East Africa from 1405 to 1433, and brought silk, tea and chinaware either as commodities or as gifts to the local people wherever he traveled.

Historical records revealed that Zheng visited Malacca for at least five times, and deepened the friendly exchanges between China and Malaysia in a significant way. Actually, he remains widely admired today for bringing nothing but friendship and prosperity to the places on the route with his big fleets.

However, maritime disputes have been simmering in recent years in the sea area where Chinese ancestors used to sail around. The United States, with its high-profile strategy of rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, is meddling in regional affairs and stoking tensions.

Prior to the meetings, U.S. President Barack Obama labeled the South China Sea as "a major topic," and U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice dubbed it "a central issue of discussion."

Last month, Washington infuriated China and alarmed the region by sailing a naval vessel very close to China's Nansha Islands in the South China Sea.

Earlier Sunday, before he went to Malacca, Li urged countries from outside the region to play a positive and constructive role and refrain from taking actions that may cause tension in this region.

In a five-pronged proposal for peace and stability in the South China Sea, he also suggested that sovereign and jurisdictional disputes in the region be settled through friendly consultation and negotiation.

"Only by expanding our common interests and seeking common ground can we narrow our differences," he told ASEAN nations in an earlier meeting.


Six months before Li's visit to Malacca, Zhai Mo, a well-known Chinese navigator, also made a stop at the famous port city while leading his fleet of unpowered sailboats to retrace the ancient Maritime Silk Road in a bid to pass down Zheng's spirit.

They encountered heavy rain at the Strait of Malacca. "The sea water turned into dark green in the storm, and we approached the shore in rafts," Zhai said while recalling his first landing on Malacca.

"What struck me most is the sharp contrast -- how small the strait is and how huge Zheng He's fleets would have appeared," Zhai said.

Zhai could not even find a proper berth to anchor his boat, which has a draught of only 2.5 meters. It is just beyond his imagination how Zheng's hundreds of vessels and some 28,000 boatmen on board managed to swarm into the strait 600 years ago.

Looking around the exhibits, including boat models and porcelain remains said to be excavated from an ancient warehouse left by Zheng, the premier said he believes it was also the sharp contrast between what Zheng's powerful fleets could have done and what he actually did that won him the everlasting reputation.

As the museum displays, Zheng asked his people to help local soldiers and civilians build city walls, drive away pirates, settle conflicts and keep peace at sea in Malacca. They also passed agricultural and manufacturing technologies and medical skills to the local people.

Commanding the largest and most advanced fleets in his time, Zheng did not bring hostility and conflicts. That embodies the very essence of the traditional Chinese philosophy, where peace and good-neighborliness always come first, Li noted.

Following this spirit, China's development today will never sacrifice the interests of other countries and will always pursue mutual benefit and common development of all its partners, he said, stressing that China is willing to solve maritime disputes through negotiations and dialogues.

Another of Zheng's legacies lies in the bloodline of a very special community in Malaysia -- Baba and Nyonya. They are descendants of Zheng's followers who decided to stay and married the local residents between the 15th and 17th centuries.

In Malacca, Li also visited a museum about these natives of mixed blood, who have inherited both Chinese and Malaysian traditions and formed their own cultures in food, clothes, chinaware and building.

The Baba and Nyonya community is "a vivid example of the friendly exchanges and cultural blending between the two countries," Li said. "They also showcase the openness and tolerance of Zheng He's spirit, which allows different ethnic groups, cultures and religions to live in harmony."

"Learning from the history, we shall further promote cultural exchanges between China and Malaysia," he said.


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