This article first appeared in Malaysiakini on January 23, 2019.
Both the United States and China should not see Malaysia and other Asean nations as their proxies, says Deputy Defence Minister Liew Chin Tong.
Liew, who was speaking in his personal capacity at a forum on the US-China trade war in Sunway University today, stressed that Malaysia will not choose sides in the ongoing trade dispute between the two superpowers.
“Inherently, we don’t want to choose a side, we want to maintain (our) large and independent policy space as much as possible.
“China is like a huge elephant and has to realise that it is big. This is because in its narrative, China sees itself as a victim of the US and its allies, and therefore it is doing the right thing, vis-à-vis the US.
“It is very important (for China and US) not to see this country as a proxy of one or the other,” he said.
The ongoing trade dispute was triggered last year after US President Donald Trump announced higher tariffs on Chinese goods, with Beijing retaliating in kind.
Liew also reminded Beijing that aside from the trade war, its relations with Southeast Asian nations should also be taken into consideration.
“Malaysia is indeed a small country in face of China. China would have to handle the small states in a very tender way.
“The challenge is for China and everyone else not to force others to make a choice (between it and the US), and not to see small independent states as proxies of anyone,” he stressed.
Liew further urged China to take a different tack to maintaining its ties in the region.
“There is much room for China to adjust its approach, to make it softer and more appealing to independent actors and independent small states,” he said.
“For instance, when President Xi Jinping talked about the One Belt One Road Initiative in May 2017, he spoke of projects having to be transparent and above board.
“I think those things can be enforced, and would make small states more comfortable than they are now,” he said.
Citing another example, he said China has the right to its ‘Nine-Dash Line’ – to demarcate its claims to parts of the South China Sea – without needing to enforce it.