From panda to durian diplomacy

NANNING (CHINA): An old Chinese proverb goes, 'One generation plants the trees, another gets the shade'.

This well-known phrase aptly describes the tremendous efforts put up by Malaysian leaders, especially Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak, to deepen bilateral relations with the economic powerhouse China.

It wasn't easy even though history has shown that the unique relationship began some 600 years ago between the Malacca Sultanate and the Ming Dynasty; yet it still took decades to build the kind of trust needed between the two countries which subscribed to different political ideologies.

For the modern-post relationship, it all started with a diplomatic letter sent by Najib's father, the second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak, to the then-Chinese prime minister Zhou En Lai in 1971, before having the diplomatic bilateral ties formally established in 1974, to the 'panda diplomacy' – where 'Fu Wa' and 'Feng Yi' were sent as a 'symbol of peace' to mark the 40-year anniversary of the diplomatic ties.

Now, the spotlight has been directed at Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek, who initiated the Malaysian Durian Festival 2017 in Nanning, Guangxi Province, as a move to strengthen the 'Durian Diplomacy'.

For the 59-year-old minister, the three-day festival was more than bringing the best durian in Malaysia (Musang King), as well as other Malaysian-based products, namely bird's nest, pineapple, jackfruit and many more, but it was a multi-throng move to penetrate the endless possibility of the lucrative Chinese market.

And the festival, which was firstly mooted by Ahmad Shabery during his meeting with the Vice-Governor of Guangxi Province November last year, turned out to be a move extraordinaire when the locals thronged the festival, and queued for hours just to have a taste of the famous 'Mau Shan Wang' or Musang King.

Some even told the press that they came from other provinces and took off days just to come to the festival which ended Sunday, with about 150,000 visitors swamping the festival located in front of the famous Hang Yang City Mall.

During two official meetings with the Communist Party Chief (CPC) of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Peng Qinghua, and the Party Chief of Qinzhou Municipal Committee, Wang Gebing a few days ago, Ahmad Shabery chose to approach them by highlighting the historical journey of the 200 warships led by the legendary Admiral Cheng Ho, about 600 years ago.

He pointed out that the journey, which went through the maritime Silk Road, was more to establish bilateral ties rather than conquering other sovereign nations, and Malaysia would like to honour the long-fostered friendship by repaying the favour.

To everyone's surprise, his approach actually moved both of the powerful secretaries when they said they were deeply touched by the indepth knowledge of the Malaysian minister on what had transpired during Cheng Ho's journey, and they reassured that Malaysia would always be considered as China's friend.

Speaking to the Malaysian press, Ahmad Shabery said that kind of approach was solely meant to convince the Chinese that Malaysia had no other intention except to foster friendship through the 'One Belt, One Road' initiative.

"I have met with their leaders, their industry captains, and all of them are keen enough to help us. Because we have to understand that although they are very open with our products, we must make sure the preparations are done accordingly. These include the way we market it, the way we package it, so that it is presentable to the Chinese.

"I was informed that their warehouse's size is equivalent to 10 football fields, which is why they are willing enough to accept almost all of our products. I told them we needed more time to make it marketable and presentable to their market, and I envisioned that by 2020, our trade value is going to reach at least RM12 billion," he added.

He said he was deeply touched because according to the original schedule, he was supposed to meet the governor of Guangxi Province and the mayor of Qinzhou City, but later he was informed that the respective area's CPC secretary, one-notch higher than the government representatives, agreed to meet him, signalling the respect given by the CPC.

Ahmad Shabery said the issue of getting approval from the Chinese Government to bring in fresh durian, rather than frozen pulp and paste, as well as other Malaysian-based products including highly-valued bird's nest, jackfruit and pineapple was no longer a concern because the people had been responding well due to a successful turnout during the festival.

During the three-day festival, a total of seven memoranda of understanding (MOU) were signed between the Chinese and Malaysian co-operatives and companies, where most of the objectives were meant to promote agriculture, economic and trade development, as well as to further explore business collaboration for value-enhancement.

The next stage, according to the Kemaman member of parliament, is to prepare local farmers and entrepreneurs under Malaysia's National Farmers Associations, Malaysia's Farmers Organisation Authority, and other related bodies to face the high demands as well as to meet the RM12 billion target by 2020.

As of July this year, the total trade value between the two countries reached RM4.66 billion, and Malaysia remained as ASEAN's biggest trading partner in China for the eighth consecutive year.

As former Chinese ambassador to Malaysia, Huang Huikang said that the Sino-Malaysian relations should move up over the next 40 years to reach mutual dependency, like lips and teeth, the economic strategy by the minister was seen as perfect to further ignite the bilateral relations in the next four decades which has been dubbed as 'The Diamond Era of China-Malaysia'.
Bernama