KUALA LUMPUR - In a bid to garner public support and win back several economically dynamic states lost to the opposition in 2008, Malaysia's ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition has introduced a series of populist measures to appeal to voters. But while the upcoming election will be decided mostly on domestic issues, the polls will also reflect rising US-China competition for influence in the country.
Following the 2008 global economic crisis, Prime Minister Najib Razak looked to Beijing to revive Malaysia's export-oriented economy, emphasizing increased Chinese investment in Malaysian industry. The premier has also moved to expand Sino-Malaysian exchange in areas such as finance, infrastructure development, science and technology, and education.
China is now Malaysia's largest trading partner, with trade reaching US$90 billion in 2011. Malaysia is China's largest trading partner in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). During a visit to China's Guangxi autonomous region last year, Najib officiated the launch of the China-Malaysia Qinzhou Industrial Park (QIP), a joint development by a Malaysian consortium of companies. At the event, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao paid tribute to Najib's late father, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, who established diplomatic ties with China in 1974 during his tenure as Malaysia's second prime minister. Malaysia was the first non-communist country in Southeast Asia to establish official ties with the People's Republic of China. Under Najib, 2014 has been designated as "Malaysia-China Friendship Year", while China has loaned two pandas to Malaysia for 10 years to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Read more.