By Jonathan Dela Cruz
Q: WHAT are your impressions of Jack Ma? How will Malaysia forge relations with China and with President Xi Jinping?
A: Jack Ma understands IT more than I think anybody else who has spoken to me. He sees a lot of ideas, a lot of new industries, based on his new technology, IT and computing etc. He talks a lot about cloud computing, for example, something that we still do not fully understand. So his ideas are ahead of the times when compared to many other people's. And he has many ideas, including how to teach people in school. I spoke to him about that and Malaysia's needs and he said it can be done immediately. So he has a total grasp of the new industries based on IT. And he is suggesting that we should exchange views and learn from China, about the cashless society, the avoidance of corruption and other things. In this, he has a good word to say about President Xi Jinping. And he thinks that it will be useful for me to visit China, and I will do that, and I think what he is doing in his own city, is something that people must see. I must see, because I think I can learn a lot from him. I have never felt any fear of China because as I said just now they never conquered us. But I think we will try and enhance the good relations with China.
Jack Ma's ideas are ahead of the times.
Q: Can Malaysia benefit from the Belt and Road Initiative?
A: I suggested long ago improving the Silk Road. You see, when ships had to carry a lot of oil, ships would be built bigger and bigger … 500,000 tonnes, but the trains would remain the same size so I wrote a letter to Xi Jinping, suggesting he build a super train, maybe one and a half times the size, have longer trains that can cross from China to Europe because the technology is now available.
Mahathir's predecessor as prime minister, Najib Razak, with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. Photo: AFP
And then of course he came up with the One Belt, One Road idea, [which includes a] sea route to Europe. Of course, the sea is very important but I am quite sure it is not his intention to prevent other ships from passing through the Strait of Malacca and South China Sea.
We need to have open passage for all ships because we trade with all nations so we need the sea to be open to everybody and we don't need to create tensions by having battleships and all that there.
But you need to have small boats to make sure the sea is safe from pirates and that the countries in Southeast Asia and China and other countries in the East can cooperate to keep the seas safe for the ships to pass through. So that is our idea and we are not against the One Belt, One Road idea but it must also be open to all the shipping in the world.
We need the sea to be open to everybody and we don't need to create tensions by having battleships and all that there.
Q: What's your view on the South China Sea dispute and Malaysia's claims?
A: In the past, [our view was that] the shelf in the sea and the area less than 200 miles from our shores … [was] our sea. So we find that, in that sea, there are certain rocks which we have developed into islands. And we hope that we will stay on those islands, because it is a part of our keeping the sea safe from pirates and others.
So we want to retain, of course, about four or five islands that we have occupied. The rest – whoever thinks it is theirs, they can occupy. It is something if China claims the South China Sea is theirs, but those islands have always been regarded as ours for a long time. So we want to retain them.
Q: What's the best way to keep peace in the South China Sea?
A: I think there should not be too many warships. Warships create tension. Someday, somebody might make some mistakes and there will be a fight, some ships will be lost, and there might even be a war. We don't want that. What we want is for the seas to be patrolled by small patrol boats, equipped to deal with pirates, not to fight another war.
Q: Are these small boats to be part of an Asean-wide collaboration?
A: Asean, certainly, because the whole sea is surrounded by Asean countries. But if China wants to participate with small boats, they are welcome. Anybody, even the US, if they want to participate, but don't bring battleships here.
Q: Will China keep the seas open?
A: I think it is to the benefit of China to have the seas open, because then, there will be more trade. You can't expect all the goods going to China to change into Chinese ships before entering the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea. Goods from Europe and America, they will pass through the Strait of Malacca, and they should be free to pass through the Strait of Malacca, and then go to the South China Sea to reach China. You can't expect an oil tanker belonging to the Americans to stop and pump the oil out into Chinese ships, I mean, that's ridiculous. The sea must always be open.
We have the Strait of Malacca, which is a very narrow strait, only 20 miles wide, and it's quite shallow. We have never tried to stop ships from passing through. They are welcomed. Although between Malaysia and Indonesia, we could have named this Strait of Malacca 'the Malaysia-Indonesia Sea', we didn't. We want it to be open because it's good for trade. The South China Sea also is good for trading nations.
Q: How will the mounting US-China trade war affect the region?
A: I think any idea that you can protect through threats of war is wrong. War doesn't solve any problem, it creates problems, it kills people and destroys the whole of civilization. If ever there is a war, then I think not only will China and US suffer, the whole world will also suffer. So we should think in terms of making the sea safe, not to have confrontations between Chinese battleships and aircraft carriers and American battleships and aircraft carriers, each trying to beat each other, building bigger and bigger … and wasting a lot of money.
Nowadays, to buy an airplane is not cheap. At one time, an airplane like a Spitfire cost one million ringgit only. Today one plane costs 200 million ringgit (US$50 million). We can't afford those kinds of things. So the lower production of weapons is something that is good for the economy of the world. Of course weapons traders will not be happy, the weapons producers will not be happy, but they will soon make use of their facilities to produce peaceful tools.
War does not solve any problems; it creates problems.