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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Malaysia as the ‘iron brother’ of China?



China is, without a doubt, a civilisation and a massive nation. One, when combined, is quite capable of building a 60-storey building within a single month; as it did in Hunan province.
In fact, if one Googles the 10 biggest projects in China, the results are both impressive and shocking. All the projects range in the tens of billions of US dollars too with equal measure.
Put differently, if China wants to, it could wipe out the entire debt of 1MDB - at RM43 billion and counting - with a single stroke of the pen by President Xi Jinping or even Prime Minister Li Keqiang.
To be sure, there had been signs that Xi had indeed done just that. The Gwadar port in Pakistan, which is connected to a long and winding highway across the entire stretch of the country, before finally ending in Kashgar, Xinjiang province, in China, is estimated to cost RM32 billion.
Well, knowing the limitations of Pakistan, China paid for, built it, and had effectively secured a strategic land and sea route into the Indian Ocean. But that's Pakistan - often known in China as the “iron brother”.
The benefit to being an ‘iron brother’, is of course aplenty. Aside from Gwadar port and highway, Pakistan can get other forms of economic assistance too, all of which are there to prevent Pakistan from any economic or financial collapse.
In exchange, like all ‘iron brothers’, Pakistan is supposed to hold India in check, indeed, to keep the entire Indian army and nuclear force focused on Pakistanis - rather than the Chinese.
Perhaps this is the price Pakistan is willing to pay due to the rivalry with India. After all, well before its first nuclear test and tit-for-tat against India in 1998, its former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had once famously said: “"Even if Pakistanis had to eat grass, by God, we will have nuclear weapons.”
This is what Pakistan wished for as early as 1970s, and got nearly 30 years later. But this nuclear deterrent came at a huge cost.
While Islamabad could go eyeball-to-eyeball with New Delhi, and the nuclear capability to put India in place, it now permanently risks a nuclear wipeout, too.
Now, granted the horror of this spectre, did China promise Pakistan - its ‘iron brother’ - that in the event of an Indian nuclear attack, Beijing would lob a few nuclear-tipped missiles against India, too? Never!
Finding itself trapped in a corner
Thus for the price of RM 32 billion, Pakistan had done China a great service, by locking India down, while risking an existential attack that could wipe it out. Can this be a good deal? Of course not. Pakistan went for it because the country had over the decades found itself trapped in a corner. Malaysia is not. So, why should Malaysia be paying the game of being close to China to the exclusion of other great powers?
This is why the notion of an ‘iron brother’, which Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has tried to cultivate with China, based on the Pakistan example, is both flawed and totally misguided.
Pakistan had to do what it did in order to extract RM32 billion from China, even this after decades of patient persuasion and cajoling.
1MDB merely dug a hole near the Petronas Twin Towers, which were commissioned by Dr Mahathir Mohamad anyway, and now expects a huge pay out and bail out from China on 1MDB?
Indeed, goaded by his hitherto adviser Abdul Razak Baginda, who has all of a sudden become pro-China, even to the extent of writing a DPhil thesis on Malaysia’s normalisation of its relationship with China in 1973, perhaps Najib has gone all romantic, too.
But “dancing with the dragon”, as Razak Baginda playfully put it, has all the hallmarks of surrendering our strategic interest and sovereignty in their entirely; if not immediately, certainly in phases. China eventually wins all the stakes on the table, as this is what great powers do. Thus, their surplus influence has to be neutralised through a balance of various powers to produce an equilibrium. Is Malaysia ready to be made a mere chip of China?

Indeed, if only Prime Minister Najib has the foresight to understand the risk and cost of taking Malaysia so close in the orbit of China, one would not have to warn him of this grand peril, period. But this is a prime minister who has lost the plot, and invariably, confused “Cash is King” with bartering the country’s strategic interests to China.

RAIS HUSSIN MOHAMED ARIFF is a supreme council member and head of policy and strategy of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).- Mkini

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