Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak visited China last month, where he signed a series of deals, including a significant defense agreement, raising concerns that Malaysia could be “separating” from its partnership with the United States. In an email interview, Yang Razali Kassim, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, discusses Malaysia’s ties with China.
WPR: What is the nature and extent of economic and military ties between Malaysia and China, how have ties evolved in recent years, and what impact has the South China Sea disputes had on them?
Yang Razali Kassim: Economic ties between Malaysia and China are far more developed than military ties. The two countries have significant trade ties, and official trade statistics for 2016 show that China has been Malaysia's largest trading partner since 2009, while Malaysia is China's largest trading partner among the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).