Flash back:
1974 Triumphant Year of Diplomacy

After US President Nixon’s historic visit to China and with the restoration of China’s legal status in the United Nations in the 1970’s, many countries were riding on the second wave of offering their hands of friendship to China by establishment diplomatic ties with it. Countries in Southeast Asia joined the bandwagon with eagerness.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) then comprised Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. Malaysia was the first among them in taking steps to improve relationship with China and the first to establish diplomatic ties with it.

When Malaysia took the initiative to explore the possibility of improving its relationship with China 40 years ago, the first hurdle was changing China’s stand of not recognising Malaysia.

It must be recalled that when Malaysia was formed on September 16, 1963 by grouping the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah, the Indonesian government under President Sukarno regarded it as a security threat because the new federation included Sarawak and Sabah bordering Indonesia.

Malaysia was then labelled as a “product of neo-colonialism” and an anti-Malaysia campaign called “Confrontation” was waged. Indonesia’s stand gained the support of China which began to change only in the 1970’s.

When Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak proposed the Neutralisation of Southeast Asia guaranteed by the United States, Soviet Union and China at the Non-Aligned Movement Heads of Government Conference in Lusaka in September 1970, it was realized that Malaysia and China had no diplomatic ties. Thus, Malaysia became the first among ASEAN nations to consider shifting its China policy to normalize relationship between the two countries.

Then between late 1970 and early 1971, Kuala Lumpur and several states in Peninsular Malaysia were hit by severe floods, causing great losses of lives and damages to properties unseen in the last 40 years. The Chinese Red Cross Society donated relief and assistance worth RMB500,000 to its Malaysian counterpart and offered its sympathy. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai personally approved the message of sympathy and extended the hand of friendship from the people of China to the people of Malaysia.

In May, 1971, the Malaysian government sent a trade delegation headed by Chairman of the Perbadanan Nasional Bhd ( Pernas ) Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah to the Guangzhou Trade Fair and later to Beijing. Tengku Razaleigh, a trusted confidant of Tun Abdul Razak conveyed a message from the Prime Minister noting that it was an opportune time for Malaysia and China to establish diplomatic relationship. He suggested three steps to take: firstly to strengthen mutual understanding via people-to-people interactions; secondly
to develop bilateral trade and thirdly to officially establish diplomatic relationship.

On May 15, Premier Zhou Enlai and Vice Premier Li Xiannian met Tengku Razaleigh and his delegation in Beijing. Premier Zhou pointed out that the national affairs of any nation should be decided by its own people and other nation should never interfere. He believed that the governments of China and Malaysia should encourage more interactions among the people in order to spur the development of bilateral relationship and that the time of mutual recognition would follow soon. During the meeting, China for the first time use the name Malaysia to indicate its recognition of Malaysia.

On August 22, 1971, the first delegation since the establishment of new China visited Malaysia. It was a trade mission headed by Mr Zhang Guangdou, General Manager of China National Chemicals Import and Export Corporation. He was welcomed by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and a big crowd at the airport. As a gesture of friendship, Malaysia presented each delegate a long-sleeve Batik shirt as a gift.

On the afternoon of August 24, Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak received the Chinese delegation at the Prime Minister’s office and declared that Malaysia rejected the “two-China” concept and recognised the People’s Republic of China as the only legal Government of China and that China’s internal affairs should be resolved by the Chinese people themselves.

On the issue of the Communist Party of Malaya, Tun Abdul Razak said if China could declare that it did not support them and had no relationship with them, it would be a step nearer to the establishment of bilateral relationship between the two countries. To this , Mr Zhang Guangdou stated China’s stand.

During the visit, the Chinese delegation also called on relevant authorities on the promotion of bilateral trade and the results had been fruitful.

On August 27, the Trade and Industry Ministry hosted a fare-well dinner for the Chinese delegation. The Chinese, in their brand new Batik shirts presented to them by the Prime Minister, took to the stage and danced together with the performers. It was a night of friendship and goodwill. The Chinese delegation left in the morning of August 28. A sizeable crowd bid them farewell.

In September the same year, Malaysia supported a resolution submitted by Albania, Algeria and other nations at the 26th UN Congress to restore the legal status of China in United Nations. The stand taken by Malaysia had brought the establishment of diplomatic ties even closer.

Negotiations on the establishment of diplomatic ties were carried out between June 1973 and April 1974 between Chinese representative to the UN Mr Huang Hua and Malaysian representative to the UN Encik Zakaria Ali . The negotiations were proven to be quite challenging as 14 rounds of talk were held focusing on four major issues. They were:

(1) The issue of Communist Party of Malaya. The Malaysian side pointed out that the Malayan Communist Party advocated armed struggle to topple the Malaysian government; their leaders were mostly Chinese and they claimed to have the support of the Chinese government. This was an obstacle to the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries. Malaysia hoped that China would sever relationship with the Communist Party of Malayan and its affiliated organizations. After prolonged and frank discussions,
both sides agreed that the communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic ties should include a clause rejecting any invasion,
interference, control and subversion from any outside country.

(2) The issue of Chinese and oversea Chinese. Both sides agreed that the communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic ties should make it clear that the governments of China and Malaysia do not recognize dual citizenship. The Chinese government recognizes that those with Chinese blood and who have obtained voluntarily Malaysian citizenship would voluntarily lose their Chinese citizenship. Those who maintain their Chinese citizenship voluntarily should abide by the laws of Malaysian government.

(3) The Taiwan issue. China maintained a one-China policy and Malaysia agreed to sever relationship with the Taiwan consulate, stop all official exchanges, abolish all official agreements and arrangements with Taiwan and close all Taiwan-related official agencies.

(4) The issue of Malay translation. In the past, China used the term “Tiongkok” for China in all its Malay translation. Taking consideration of the fact that “China” had now been accepted by a majority of countries in the world, the Chinese side agreed to use the term “China” in the communiqué.

After reaching agreement on the communiqué, Tun Abdul Razak, on the invitation by Premier Zhou Enlai, made a historic visit to China from May 28 to June 2. Premier Zhou attended the welcome dinner on May 28 even though he was reportedly sick. He also held discussion with Tun Abdul Razak on May 29. On the same day, Chairman Mao Zedong met Tun Abdul Razak.

The communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic relationship between Malaysia and China was signed between Premier Zhou and Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak at the Chinese People’s Great Hall on May 31. With the inking of the agreement, Malaysia became the first South East Asian nation to normalize relationship with China.

■ Compiled by Chen Song
■ Translated by Hoo Ban Khee

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