Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad demonstrates a picture showing his visit to China in the 1980s during an interview with Xinhua in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on Aug. 16, 2018. Mahathir Mohamad said Thursday that he would strengthen bilateral relations with China in his upcoming visit to China, citing historical bond between the two countries and close cooperation during his previous 22 years in office. (Xinhua/Chong Voon Chung)
by Liu Tong, Lin Hao
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Thursday that he would strengthen bilateral relations with China in his upcoming visit to China, citing historical bond between the two countries and close cooperation during his previous 22 years in office.
In an interview with Xinhua ahead of his visit starting from Friday, Mahathir said the relationship with China was "very important" and he wanted to further strengthen the relations between China and Malaysia by this visit.
"Of course to learn about Chinese program or plans for Southeast Asia, including Malaysia," he said.
Mahathir, during his first stint as the prime minister from 1981 to 2003, had visited China multiple times. But this will be his first official visit to China since he assumed office in May.
"During my 22 years of tenure as prime minister, I had pushed for close relations with China," he said.
The 93-year-old prime minister made a political comeback in May after leading the opposition coalition of Pakatan Harapan to win the general election.
He said the new government certainly wanted "close relations" with China and would look for China's support for the recovery of Malaysian finances.
He said his view on China remained unchanged and he believed the two countries would solve the differences amicably.
The prime minister said his government welcomed foreign investment, primarily those that could "bring in capital, technologies" and set up plants to produce goods for the domestic market or for export.
Malaysia needed foreign investment in the area of new technologies and manufacturing to increase employment opportunities especially among university graduates, he said.
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and some other Chinese technology companies are increasing the presence in Malaysia, bringing in know-how like mobile payment system and e-wallet services.
Describing China's development in the past several decades as "something of a miracle," Mahathir said China had developed into "the center of manufacturing for the whole world."
"They have been able to acquire or develop their own technologies which is at par with the technologies available in other parts of the world," he said. "They have even gone so far as being able to put man in space, that is a remarkable achievement because it was done in very quick time."
In the meantime, Malaysia had benefited from China's development, the prime minister said.
"China's growth is much welcome to us, because it means that Chinese are richer. Malaysia is a trading nation, and we like to have our partners rich," he noted.
"China's consumption will need supplies from outside, and Malaysia can provide some of the needs for the new rich people in China," he added.
China has become Malaysia's largest trading partner since 2009, and the largest source of foreign direct investment in manufacturing in the past two years.
Mahathir, who had on several occasions stated his support for the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative since assuming office, told Xinhua that he had suggested building a special railway between China and Europe along the ancient Silk Road.
The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, proposed in 2013, aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road routes.
"China needs the world as its market. China also needs to have imports from the rest of the world," he said.
The prime minister said he also attached importance to closer people-to-people ties between the two countries. "I think Chinese tourists will come in great numbers to Malaysia," he said, noting that "there is a historical link between China and Malaysia."
The Malaysian leader brought up the great Chinese navigator Zheng He's (1371-1433) visits to Malaysia in Ming Dynasty, saying Zheng and his big fleet came to Malaysia to establish diplomatic relations and peaceful ties instead of conquest.
Mahathir said it was very important to maintain regional peace and stability which was key to propelling prosperity and people's well-being in the region.
"So for Malaysia, we look to China to help maintain peace in this region," he said, "China will play a big role because it is a powerful country."