Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the 93-year-old leader, will pay an official visit to China from August 17 to 21. During his visit, "touchy" issues such as the suspended China-backed projects and South China Sea issues will be discussed, according to reports.
Malaysia, part of the 10-member-state ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), establishes diplomatic relations with China in 1974.
'Old friend' of China
Mahathir will be welcomed as an "old friend" of China, according to Daim Zainuddin, chairman of the Malaysian Council of Eminent Persons, who visited Beijing in July to pave the way for Mahathir's trip.
Having made seven visits to Beijing during his first term as PM from 1981 to 2003, Mahathir is no stranger to China.
He also initiated the China-ASEAN cooperation and "10 plus 3" cooperation and played a historic role for today's East Asia cooperation.
Speaking of the upcoming visit, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi noted that there will be even stronger mutual trust built between the two leaders and a new blueprint for the mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries.
Fate of suspended China-backed projects
The PM’s visit will likely cover "touchy" topics such as the fate of China-backed mega projects, The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) reported.
Soon after Mahathir became prime minister, he has taken the toughest stance on several projects and agreements, including multibillion-dollar Chinese-backed infrastructure projects, signed by his predecessor, Najib Razak.
East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and two gas pipeline projects — Multi-Product Pipeline (MPP) in Malacca and Trans-Sabah Gas Pipeline (TSGP) in Sabah, are part of the suspended ones.
Mahathir is looking to cancel these Chinese-backed projects, noting that if scrapping the projects altogether isn't doable, Malaysia will need to at least put them on holds, AP reported on Monday.
When asked about the cancellation of the projects, the Chinese Foreign Ministry once said that China and Malaysia have maintained close economic, trade and investment cooperation, adding China stands ready to continue the close cooperation.
The PM has emphasized that he is not anti-China, calling the upcoming visit to demonstrate his administration's resolve to push forward with Sino-Malaysian relations and learn from the experience of China's development.
South China Sea issues to be discussed
Mahathir's Beijing visit is also expected to touch on issues surrounding the South China Sea, reports said.
The PM reiterated his call for warships not to be permanently stationed there, warning it could cause an unhealthy arms race, according to AP.
"Warships create tension," Mahathir told the South China Morning Post during an interview in June, calling the removal of battleships.
"The Mahathir Doctrine" not only gives voice anew to ASEAN on the South China Sea but also opens up opportunities for new forms of conciliatory collaborations between ASEAN and China with the longer-term aim to achieve rule-based diplomacy in the region, Liew Chin Tong, Malaysia's DAP (Democratic Action Party) national political education director, opined on Free Malaysia Today on July 13.
Earlier this month, China and the ASEAN have reached a single draft negotiating text of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.
The progress is proof that China and ASEAN countries are capable of maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea and agreeing on regional rules followed by all parties through negotiations, Wang said at the China-ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Singapore.
Support Belt and Road Initiative
China has always been a close friend and important development partner of Malaysia, Mahathir said in a meeting of Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Bai Tian on May 24.
The new government of Malaysia will further enhance the all-round cooperation with China especially in political, economic and trade fields, the PM noted.
During the talks with Wang earlier this month, Mahathir reiterated his support for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), saying it is a great opportunity for the region to realize common development and prosperity.
Mahathir encouraged Chinese enterprises, especially high-tech firms to increase their investment in Malaysia.
China is ready to work with Malaysia to make an all-round plan for future cooperation and open up new dimensions in bilateral ties, Wang noted.