, KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 10 – Chinese President Hu Jintao arrives in Malaysia on Tuesday, in his first round of regional diplomacy before heading to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in neighbouring Singapore.
Hu, the first Chinese leader to visit Malaysia in 15 years, will receive a red-carpet welcome at Parliament Square on Thursday afternoon after he arrives with a 140-member delegation.
Foreign Minister Anifah Aman has hailed Hu’s trip as a boost to ties between Malaysia and its top trading partner China.
"The president’s visit signals that bilateral relations are getting stronger and marks another milestone in our bilateral relations," he told a press briefing late Monday.
After the official greeting, Hu will have an evening audience with Malaysia’s king, followed by a state banquet. On Wednesday, he will meet with Prime Minister Najib Razak and sign several undisclosed agreements.
On Thursday Hu will travel to Singapore to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit with US President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other regional leaders.
K.S. Balakrishnan, senior lecturer at University Malaya, said Hu’s visit provided Malaysia with an opportunity to cement close ties with the region’s rising economic power.
He said the multicultural nation can also capitalise on its large ethnic Chinese population, which plays a prominent role in business.
However, Balakrishnan said that irritants remain, including the disputed Spratlys, a group of islands and atolls in the South China Sea claimed in whole or in part by Brunei, China, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
"Militarily, we fear China due to the Spratlys problem," he said, referring to deadly armed confrontations over the islands in the past.
Chia Oai Peng, head of China studies at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, said Hu’s visit was part of a shift towards China by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
"China is coming to the region to make friends and it wants to get Malaysia as a close ally," she said.
"For China it means having a key friend in ASEAN and the region, which will rely less on the US and Japan from now on."
"Greater cooperation also means a bigger market for Chinese goods in Southeast Asia and also a realignment of regional loyalties, with China competing with the US and Japan for greater trade and political influence."
Before departing for Singapore, Hu will travel south to tour the historic enclave of Malacca.
China’s influence over Malacca dates back to the 15th century when it was an important stopping point for the trading fleet of the great Chinese admiral and explorer Zheng He.
The Chinese who settled in Malacca at that time intermarried with the local Malay people. Their descendents created their own culture and are known as "peranakan".
Hu’s visit also marks the 35th anniversary of Malaysia-China diplomatic ties, which were established by Najib’s father, former premier Abdul Razak Hussein in 1974 when Malaysia became the first Southeast Asian country to recognise China.
Najib made an official visit to China in June this year.
China has become Malaysia’s biggest trading partner this year, surpassing Singapore, the United States and Japan.
Between January and September, bilateral trade reached 89 billion ringgit (26 billion dollars), accounting for nearly 13 percent of Malaysia’s total trade during the period.