As we approach the 40th anniversary of Malaysia-China diplomatic relations on May 31, StarMetro talks to Chinese nationals and local businessmen on forging stronger ties between the people of the two nations.
The student community
Student ambassadors Hu Yang, 23, and 21-year-old Zhou Zhengjun, act as young bridges between the international Chinese community and various groups.
Both the accounting students at Asia Pacific University, Bukit Jalil, hail from Hebei and Henan, respectively.
Hu is the United World Chinese Association youth branch president, while Zhou is a senior executive assistant in the group.
The association aims to foster better ties between Chinese nationals and the local community through activities for its 10,000-strong members, including cultural exchange and helping the needy.
They also act as a communication platform between the members and various ministries.
As student ambassadors, Hu and Zhou deal with many Chinese students and help them settle into life in Malaysia.
“There is a significant number of Chinese students in Malaysia,” said Hu. He estimates them to be at about 20,000.
“Most of them find it easier to adapt to the local environment as it is similar in terms of language, food and culture
“Malaysia is known as a stepping stone for students furthering their higher education to other countries.
“It is cheaper here and the students experience less culture shock compared to countries like the US and Australia,” said Hu, who has been in Malaysia for three years.
Zhou, who is spending her second year in Malaysia, said it was also more convenient as Kuala Lumpur was only a four-hour flight back to Beijing.
She goes back twice a year and said it took some getting used to when she first arrived.
“Back in China, there are seasons but here it is very hot and humid all the time.
“The food is also spicy and Malaysians like curry, which is different from the food we have at home,” she said.
However, the pair enjoyed their experiences in Malaysia and their roles promoting Chinese culture to the Malaysian community.
“Malaysia is very multicultural and you see people of different races and religions. This is very different from China where over 90% of the population are ethnic Chinese.
“It is also a good environment to practice English. When I first came here my English was poor, but I can communicate better now,” she said.
Her experience is shared by Ma Fei, a Chinese student at Universiti Malaya who has been here for six years.
“In China, there is not much opportunity to speak English as even the English classes are sometimes conducted in Chinese,” said the English major.
There are things that they feel can be improved to make Malaysia an attractive place to the Chinese, such as transportation.
Ma said in Beijing bicycles were a dominant mode of transport within the city.
“People cycle to work and school, but here it is impossible to do so. If you don’t have a car in Kuala Lumpur, it is difficult to get around,” she said.
Ma feels that the public transporation was more efficient in China.
Citing an example of the traffic management in Beijing, she said vehicles with odd and even registration numbers were not allowed to be on the road or at a specific area on the same day.
Tourism is also something that Malaysia should promote to Chinese citizens.
“I like visiting the islands as the waters are very clear. The government should do more conservation and promotion as it is a strong selling point,” said Zhong.
Hu thinks that when senior Chinese officials visited Malaysia and vice versa, it showed a strong bond that reflected on its citizens.
“When senior government officials such as former Premier Wen Jiabao or President Xi Jin Ping visited Malaysia, the Chinese are interested to find out more about the country,” he said.
Hu feels that more communication is needed to strengthen ties between the two countries.
“Many Chinese come here for travel, study and business. Our countries’ diplomatic and trade relations have been improving through the years,” said Hu.
“2014 was supposed to be a good year for China-Malaysia relations, but due to some unfortunate happenings like the MH370 flight and kidnappings of Chinese nationals in Sabah, there has been friction between the two countries.
“Travel bookings to Malaysia have dropped significantly.
“In these trying times, there is a greater need to maintain that relationship and have better communication between the countries,” said Hu.
Entrepreneur from China
From accountant to entrepreneur, Sally Qian Lan’s travels have brought her far from her home in Guangxi, China.
Qian spent nine years in Australia before she met her Malaysian husband there.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“It has always been my dream to become an entrepreneur. After studying business climates in China, Malaysia and Australia, my husband and I, and a Malaysian partner decided to set up business here,” said Qian, who has been in Malaysia for the past three years.
She is director of The Purple House, a designer hostel in SS15, Subang Jaya which provides a conducive living environment for students.
She also runs a flower shop in Taipan, USJ and is a member of the China Enterprises Association in Malaysia (CENAM).
Qian explained that the Malaysian government had been pushing for Malaysia to become a top destination for higher education in the region, through funding and various policies.
“It has attracted many international students, including those from China,” she said, adding that Malaysia was a good choice due to its cultural similarities.
She added that in Malaysia, one could get an overseas degree from the US or Britain at a much cheaper price.
“Most people in urban areas can speak English and Chinese, so for Chinese students there is less of a culture shock compared to going to Western countries,” she said.
On a more personal level, Qian said she liked Malaysia as it was multicultural.
The 34-year-old is an adventurous foodie, citing mamak food and Nyonya cuisine as some of her favourites.
On communicating with the locals, Qian said it was not a big barrier as she could speak common languages such as English, Mandarin and Cantonese.
“If you’re in China and you don’t speak Chinese, you’re going to have a big problem,” she said.
Qian thinks that tourism in Malaysia can be promoted further to the Chinese market.
The avid traveller has been to places such as Penang, Malacca and Gem Island in Terengganu, where she had her wedding ceremony.
“Many of my Chinese friends have limited knowledge of Malaysia — it is easier for them to recall places like Thailand and Indonesia.
When they come here they are surprised to find that Malaysia is actually modern and has attractions rivalling other countries,” she said.
Qian believes that when it comes to the two countries, there are lessons to be learnt from each other.
“I feel that the people here have exposure to different cultures, so they are open to new ideas and appreciate other points of view.
“In China, most people have the same mindset, so it is hard to look at it from other perspectives,” she said.
Qian said that there were mutual benefits to Chinese companies investing in Malaysia and vice versa.
“Some projects that we have worked on together such as the China-Malaysia Qingzhou Industrial Park in Qingzhou, China create job opportunities for the locals,” he said.
Despite her positive experiences here, it is not all a bed of roses.
Qian shares the plight of many foreign spouses in Malaysia — that of getting a permanent residency (PR).
“As a Chinese national, I have to renew my visa every year, even though I am here doing legal business. It is also difficult for me to invest or get bank loans,” she said, adding that she had been stopped by immigration many times while travelling in and out of the country.
For Qian, it was a confusing process as there seems to be no clear rules for foreign spouses to get PR status in Malaysia.
Security is another aspect that should be looked at, said Qian.
“I find that people do not feel safe here, including some of my international students staying in the hostel,” she said.
Qian’s flower shop was broken into previously, and her hostel staff was also robbed at KL Sentral.
“The government should look into this in order to provide a safe environment for international students and tourists but the people living here,” she said.
The local business
As one of the biggest trading nations in the world, businessmen from all over the globe have been bridging connections and securing business deals with China.
Malaysia is no different, with big names from developer companies and international corporations to smaller independent businesses are seen to have good ties with their China counterparts.
An example would be I-Bhd chairman Tan Sri Lim Kim Hong, whose business relations with China started over three decades ago.
His first encounter started in the early 1980s when China first opened its doors to foreign investors.
Four years later, he was the first Malaysian to undertake a reverse investment in China, a joint venture of the Dreamland TianJin’s mattress plant.
“I was one of the pioneers to venture into China. I appreciate it when our counterparts react positively to our efforts to change the concept, thinking and the attitude as this has paved the way for other establishments into China,” he said.
One of his most prominent moments in doing business with China was his appointment as the economic adviser to Jiangyin Province in the early 90s.
His next break came in the late 1990s when China became the main partner for I-Bhd’s digital appliance business segment.
This venture not only helped the two companies but also opened a gateway for other companies to market their own brand of finished products to Malaysia, such as Gree, the largest air-condition manufacturer in China that produced 3.5 million units annually.
“It was through patience and hard work that set the building blocks to gain their confidence and trust to overcome challenges and obstacles,” he said.
He also brought Malaysian investment to China and the first group of Chinese businessmen to visit Malaysia.
Meanwhile, KUB-Berjaya Enviro Bhd also managed to breakthrough the China market by building a sanitary landfill in China’s Guangdong Province two years ago.
“Overall it was a pleasant experience to work in and with China as their business processes are really transparent,” said the company managing director Chock Eng Tah.
He further complements China for being a very welcoming country for businessmen.
“China presents itself as a place for opportunities especially for businessmen and when you go down there, make the right connections, opportunities will come up,” he said.
Chock added that the businessmen in China respected the law and as long as all the terms were listed in detail and signed, there would be no problem.
“The only problems I faced were the usual bumps in business dealings and not with the people there,” he said.
Chock’s company also manages the sanitary landfill in Bukit Tagah here, which was built by the Federal Government.
In addition, they have also recently completed a waste water treatment plant in Guangdong Province.
“We are planning more of such projects in other parts of China, and of course with the good record we have so far, it will not be a problem,” he said.
The entire article and photo above was published on The Star on Saturday, 24 May 2014.