Coronavirus: Malaysia gets first batch of Chinese aid to fight virus

Tashny Sukumaran

Malaysia on Thursday received thousands of masks from long-time ally China as it buckled down for its own fight against the coronavirus as cases soared to 900, making it the hardest hit Southeast Asian nation, amid a two-week partial national lockdown.

In a statement, the Chinese Embassy in Malaysia said that it had sent 5,000 masks and 10,000 face shields to Sungai Buloh hospital where many patients who have tested positive for the Covid-19 disease caused by the virus are being treated.

Coronavirus: the big questions over Malaysia’s partial lockdown

On Friday, Malaysia said that 100,000 face masks were donated by the China-Asia Economic Development Association. And next week, China will send 3,500 test kits to the country, as well as more supplies such as ventilators and sanitisers when possible, Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Bai Tian said.

In a Facebook post, Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein thanked China for its help, saying he had only recently written to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi for help.

“Thank you to the Chinese government for not waiting for a long time to help,” he said.

The two nations, which in 209 celebrated 45 years of friendship and bilateral relations, enjoy close ties, with Malaysia a key country in China’s global belt and road infrastructure initiative, and host to two giant pandas – Xing Xing and Liang Liang – loaned by Beijing in 2014.

As the global coronavirus crisis escalates this friendship has come to the fore, according to Hoo Chiew Ping, an international relations expert and academic.

Shoppers wearing protective masks pictured in a supermarket in Malaysia on Tuesday, amid fears of disruption after the government-ordered partial lockdown. Photo: Reuters

“I think Malaysia’s response during China’s outbreak to send masks and medical necessities when resources in China were running low played a role in leaving a positive impression,” she said, referring to medical aid such as 18 million pairs of rubber gloves that Malaysia sent in February.

“The Malaysian expats in China together with their friends back home mobilised the resources to make it possible for the first batch of aid,” she said.

This year was set to be the ‘Malaysia-China Year of Culture and Tourism 2020’, but the coronavirus has put paid to that, with tourist numbers plummeting amid the global pandemic. On Wednesday, the Tourism Ministry also announced that it would be cancelling Visit Malaysia Year 2020.

China and Malaysia have nursed close economic ties for several years now, even after the previous Beijing-friendly Barisan Nasional administration was replaced by the Mahathir Mohamad-led Pakatan Harapan coalition last May.

Hishammuddin Hussein signing his letter of appointment as Malaysia’s new foreign minister earlier this month. Photo: EPA

A new coalition that took power this month, in what some have branded a “political coup”, appears intent to continue working closely with China.

On one of his first days in office in early March, foreign minister Hishammuddin took a call with Wang, his Chinese counterpart, describing him as “a brother and a dear friend” and pledging to combat the coronavirus together.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also called new prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin soon after the latter was sworn in to congratulate him, saying that he looked forward to continuing to strengthen the Malaysia-China partnership, including greater results in the Belt and Road Initiative.

China’s main infrastructure project in Malaysia, the 640km East Coast Rail Link, was reportedly still on track last month despite the virus crisis, but works have since been halted because of the partial lockdown – a government-ordered two-week period of restricted movement enforced in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The lockdown requires people to stay at home until the end of March, unless they are buying or delivering necessities, seeking health care or performing official duties. Anyone found breaching the order faces up to six months in jail, a fine, or both.

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