US simply cannot match what Beijing is able to offer its neighbors
COVID-19 will turn the world around in more ways than anticipated. In Malaysia’s case, the aftermath is likely to see the country drawn more tightly into China’s sphere of influence. Some of the reasons for the readjustment will be inevitable, while others will be deliberate choices.
Malaysia’s economic relationship with China has largely been a positive story, with three prime ministers contributing much to cement ties with Beijing: Abdul Razak, who became the first Association of Southeast Asian Nations leader to recognize the People’s Republic of China; Mahathir Mohamed, who encouraged greater trade and economic cooperation with China; and Najib Razak who took Malaysia’s cooperation with Beijing to new and higher levels.
Not only is Beijing now Malaysia’s top trade partner, but China has become a critically important participant in the country’s infrastructure projects. While Najib played a significant role in making China a partner in several major mega projects, this trend continued when Mahathir Mohamed returned for his second stint as prime minister.
With most countries expected to post negative growth rates for 2020, China’s economy has rebounded quickly and can be expected to generate demand for Malaysian exports. Malaysia will badly need to stoke its exports to drive growth, a difficult task given that its economy could contract by as much as 5.5% this year.