Choose Malaysia

By Dr Rais Hussin

As the US and China squares up to face each other down, countries are scrabbling to pick one side or another.

America's military might and China's economic influence and pulling non-aligned countries in different directions.

Of course the G7 is with America, even if they don't like the Trump administration's 'bull in a China shop (excuse the pun)' approach.

But for the rest of us it's not so clear cut. This is especially true for Asean, caught in the crossfire of China's territorial ambitions in the South China Sea and America's weakening grip on global hegemony.

And it's doubly so for Malaysia, among the largest recipients of Chinese outbound investment yet with a compatible political framework to the West.

Unlike the question of India and Pakistan which put us in the soup with the Modi government, this isn't a simple case of one versus the other for us.

While we would infinitely prefer that both superpowers work out their differences amicably (which, sadly, does not look like it's on the cards), our glass may actually be half full on this issue.

Malaysia is crucial strategic ground for both sides. China sees us as a central staging post on their Belt and Road route and have poured in funding to build out the requisite infrastructure.

The Chinese also enjoy a cultural affinity with Malaysia which has further helped facilitate trade and investment. Despite America's immense wealth, it is Chinese spending which has eclipsed all others over the last decade.

The argument that we must confront China over its resource-grabbing in SE Asia is not altogether correct although we must preserve our territorial sovereignty. There are likely far greater benefits for us from a cooperative strategy. This may not be true for other countries in SE Asia–Philippines and Vietnam for instance–but not so for Malaysia.

From the other camp, the Americans see us as a primary buffer to the expansion of China's might across SE Asia. In particular the Americans are absolutely committed to the free flow of traffic in the South China Sea, through which one third of the world's commercial shipping flows.

Notwithstanding the rise (and possible overtaking) of China as an economic power, make no mistake about the supremacy of America's military.

What we see is only the tip of the iceberg; the US military industry complex controls the entire planetary infrastructure and will continue to do so for the life span of anyone reading this.

You may not like to hear this, but it's equally naive to dismiss it. And the reality is that the attention of America's armed forces is increasingly upon South East Asia.

If the US jumps from the frying pan of the Middle East into the fire of China then we need to get our story straight early and clearly, because the battle will be fought (figuratively and literally) at our doorstep.

If you think an all-out physical conflict is too far-fetched, then consider that the US has unilateral control over every global watchdog–the UN, World Bank, IMF, WHO, International Court of Justice, to name just a few. Not to forget the dominance of the US dollar and control over the global media narrative.

In short it's not in our interest to turn our back on the US. Whether you like it or not, they still carry the biggest stick. And, if you can possibly overlook the insanity of Donald Trump, they also have the sweetest carrots. Democracy, freedom of speech, rule of law, right to property–these are the very building blocks of modern societies. Don't ever take them for granted.

So, we're not in a bad spot. On one hand we have a lot to gain from engagement with China, commercially and culturally. We can play a leading role in encouraging China's reasonable and good behavior with its neighbors in Asean, instead of triggering their worst tendencies (like the Philippines is doing).

On the other hand we must preserve our rights, freedoms and sovereign independence–which American influence insures. Alliance with the the US equally ensures the safety and security of our people in either diplomatic or military skirmishes. If we want to be a progressive society we must stand with other progressive societies.

Both the Chinese and the Americans need us. Let's pick through the menu card on offer from both and choose a meal that is nourishing and delicious to our particular taste. As we reach the end of the fasting month, may we relish the rewards that we have justly earned. To all my fellow Malaysians: Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Maaf Zahir Batin.

(Datuk Wira Dr. Rais Hussin Mohamed Ariff is the President/CEO at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.)



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