COMMON INTERESTS: Will China shift from its singular concern to one that takes the multiple interests of the region at heart?
THE China of today has never portrayed itself as the China of Old. Having discarded all the vestiges of the Middle Kingdom, the country today carries the images and symbols of a modern and industrial society with pride and aplomb.
Its leaders have gone around the world postulating for peace and prosperity for all.
At home, China is keenly developing its "Chinese Dream" that many have said resembled Malaysia's Vision 2020.
Chinese society has also been presented with a transformation model rivalling that of the earlier "xiao kang" (vibrant and prosperous) lifestyle during the heyday of Confucian China.
Malaysia too is in a state of perpetual transformation as the government moves with clockwork efficiency to notch achievement after achievement in the pursuit of a high income economy and whatever this will do for the people and country in the coming years.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, with Malaysian and Chinese performers at the China-Malaysia gala night in Beijing on Wednesday. Bernama pic
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's visit to China this time (he made an earlier visit when he was Prime Minister in 2009) will no doubt offer many opportunities for leaders on both sides to catch up with global and regional events of import to the two countries.
Inevitably, a subject of some common interest to the leaders when they meet will be focused on the status of the pursuit of their "dreams". Both countries will find that problems of old are still around, and they must be reminded that times have changed.
Present problems can only be solved by using present methods. They must also realise that their actions nowadays are up for world scrutiny all the time. There is not a single country in the world that can escape from facing up to the future of globalisation.
The "real-time" world of today has brought with it a more open and "curious" global society that wants to know and expects to be fed with "up to the second"-information on what is happening in every nook and corner of the globe. This will have implications for the results of the discussions Najib will have with the Chinese leaders during the visit.
Najib's talk-agenda will include firstly, the need to persuade the Chinese to be sensitive to the feelings of its Southeast Asian neighbours concerning the new Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.
While not agreeing to the call by some countries in the region to internationalise their maritime disputes, it is also not quite correct for China to only have negotiations on existing maritime boundary disputes bilaterally, when clearly a regional solution is sought by all.
Sensitivity has two sides. As the saying goes: "You cannot expect others to be sensitive to your needs when you yourself are not equally sensitive to the needs of others".
As a responsible state-actor in the international system -- and this is the second point of the projected discussions between the two countries -- China has to set the pace in modelling its behaviour not on the attributes of the Old China but on the precepts and practice of a budding contemporary democracy where the rule of law will persist and institutions will serve the people and not otherwise.
For Najib, this is a significant breakthrough if the change in attitude and behaviour, or even perception, of the Chinese in regard to the people and governments in the region, from a singular concern for what is essentially "China's" to one of the multiple interests of the region at heart, could be attained.
Najib has acquired the necessary credentials to come out with flying colours from this visit for several reasons.
He is not only carrying the ordained mantle of the good work done by his predecessors, including that of his father, to deserve the trust and mutual friendship the Chinese had showered upon Malaysia during all these 40 past years, but also presently when Malaysia is going to lead in the affairs of the region and beyond -- being the Chair of Asean in 2015 and getting Asean to adhere to the "China-no threat policy".
If at all China wants to involve itself in the affairs of the region, it will most likely agree to the Malaysian position on many of the regional and bilateral issues that will be brought up.
Finally, it is imperative for China to help shore up the leadership position of Malaysia vis-a-vis the region and itself.
Surely China is not prepared to see a repetition of the problems that it had experienced with Indonesia and Singapore a few decades earlier.
Indeed, as a regional interlocutor with well-established strength, Malaysia has the wherewithal to become a champion for China in the affairs of the region and beyond provided she gets the due reciprocity from China.
Dr Azhari Karim New Straits Times Home News Opinion Columnist 30 May 2014