Cooperation through BRI conduit for meaningful people-to-people exchanges: former special envoy to China for Malacca of Malaysia
Mutual benefit
Published: Oct 18, 2023 09:42 PM
A view of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Photo: VCG

A view of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Photo: VCG

The highly anticipated third Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum for International Cooperation currently underway is expected to not only highlight the achievements of the last decade since the initiative's inception, but also provide a blueprint for the BRI's new era in the next decade, Gan Tian Loo, the vice president of the Association of Interaction Malaysia-China and former special envoy to China for the Malacca State government of Malaysia, told the Global Times on Wednesday. He noted that the forum is expected to continue sharing China's solutions and wisdom with the world. 

"I look forward to the third BRI forum highlighting the achievements of the first decade of this new type of international cooperation and showcasing the constructive progress brought about by the 'Chinese solution' to the question of development for countries around the world. I hope the forum will bring about new cooperation, reveal new directions, and provide new policies in cultural exchanges and people-to-people exchanges among countries and regions along the route," Gan told the Global Times.

Gan Tian Loo Photo: Courtesy of Gan

Gan Tian Loo Photo: Courtesy of Gan

Gan was impressed by President Xi Jinping's address at the opening ceremony of the forum on Wednesday, and felt touched to learn that the decade-long initiative of a new framework for international relations is based on the goodwill friendship models of the "camel caravan" and the "sea cruise" along the ancient Silk Road.

"President Xi's keynote speech reflects how the BRI not only promotes economic and trade infrastructure construction, but also focuses on humanistic aspects especially concerned with people's livelihoods. He mentioned the ongoing Luban Workshops [a Chinese vocational training program], the Silk Road Scholarship Program offered by the Chinese government, and the proposed launch of the International Tourism Alliance of Silk Road Cities at the opening ceremony, which all reflect the BRI's goal to promote 'people-to-people connectivity,'" Gan said.

Gan said he was elated to witness the completion of the Malaysia Qinzhou Industrial Park (CMQIP) in China and the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park (MCKIP) in Malaysia under the BRI framework, which are the world's first pair of sister parks simultaneously built in two countries, creating a new model for cross-border cooperation. The twin parks further boost the economic development of key industries including the production of plastic and metal industry equipment, automotive parts, food processing, electronics and electrical appliances, information and communication, retail stores, and renewable energy generation, he noted. 

He also underlined Chinese enterprises' promotion of cross-border technology transfer through the establishment of overseas production bases in Malaysia and creation of numerous job opportunities locally.

Gan served for two terms as the China affairs special envoy for Malaysia's Malacca State government, responsible for communicating with China on issues such as cooperation under the BRI. 

During his tenure, the state of Malacca successfully achieved cooperation and exchanges in politics, economy, culture, and other areas with China, facilitating the joint construction of BRI. This includes the formal establishment of friendly relations between the state of Malacca and China's Guangdong Province in 2015, the implementation of the joint application of China's Minnan-Hokkien culture as part of the world's intangible cultural heritage, and the promotion of friendly relations between the historical city of Malacca and 15 famous old streets, ancient towns, and scenic spots in China.

The series of cultural exchanges, personnel visits, specialty exhibitions, academic forums, and other activities held in Malacca State have confirmed the tangible benefits and results brought about by the BRI, he said.

"Malacca is not only one of the strategic nodes of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road but also a port where the great Chinese navigator Zheng He (1371-1433) and his fleet had visited five times in his seven voyages. It is also the ancient capital and cultural city of Malaysia, as well as the main settlement for early Chinese immigrants to Southeast Asia," Gan introduced. 

The BRI presently also aligns with the spirit of peace that Zheng He conveyed to the world during his era. Zheng He and his powerful team did not colonize or invade other countries, but instead promoted friendship, peace, and economic trade, driving the growth of other nations. The BRI carries on this spirit, Gan stressed.

Gan is also committed to the protection of the Jonker Walk Melaka, a renowned Chinese community in Melaka, and spearheaded its listing as a Chinese cultural heritage site. 

Gan told the Global Times that the Jonker Walk Melaka has significant historical and cultural value. It is home to thousands of century-old Minnan architectural style shop-houses, making it a site for the inheritance of intangible cultural heritage and Chinese culture.

Gan, whose ancestral hometown is Yongchun, Southeast China's Fujian Province, and as a fourth-generation Chinese Malaysian, has never forgotten his cultural roots.

During the just-concluded Chinese National Day holidays, Jonker Walk Melaka saw great pedestrian traffic. Gan believes that Jonker Walk Melaka showcases the local community's commitment to and inheritance of Chinese culture, and visitors can experience the historical imprints of the region's Chinese migrating to Southeast Asia. "The arrival of Chinese tourists not only boosts the tourism economy of Malacca but also promotes people-to-people connectivity between Malaysia and China against the backdrop of jointly building the BRI, injecting momentum into the construction of a community of shared future for Malaysia and China." To attract more Chinese tourists, Gan said that Jonker Walk Melaka has already promoted electronic payment services in most of its shops. 

He believes that in addition to promoting bilateral economic and trade cooperation, strengthened cultural exchanges between Malaysia and China are crucial for the development of friendly relations between the two countries.

A Malaysian merchant (right) displays her goods during the 7th Global Cross-border E-commerce Conference in Zhengzhou, Central China's Henan?Province, on May 9, 2023. Photo: VCG

A Malaysian merchant (right) displays her goods during the 7th Global Cross-border E-commerce Conference in Zhengzhou, Central China's Henan Province, on May 9, 2023. Photo: VCG

"A connection of the heart between people in different cultures has always been significant to the successful operation of the BRI, as the BRI has always relied on the concrete participation of individuals and contributes to their wellbeing. Many countries along the BRI do not fully understand Chinese culture. However, if we can help our international friends to better understand China' peaceful and inclusive philosophy, I believe more people will welcome the BRI,"

"Since the proposal of the BRI, the local Malaysian society has been incredibly welcoming and supportive, as seen in the active participation of state leaders and the general public in learning about exchanges with China," Gan said.

Gan recognizes the "high quality" achievements of China's BRI, and considers the initiative to be a global trailblazer truly needed by Malaysia. "Take solar power generation as an example, Malaysia, located near the equator, has a great advantage in solar power generation. China has already taken the lead in this field with its advanced technology. Thus there is great potential for cooperation between the two sides. We also hope that China will help Malacca to regain its historical prosperity as a port."

 "I hope that in the future, the BRI will continue to share the 'Chinese solution' and 'Chinese wisdom' with other countries. Through this new form of international cooperation, we can maintain regional peace and quick development. I hope the people of the world will turn their pursuit of a better life into reality within this community of shared future, and achieve a world of great harmony through the BRI," Gan concluded.