Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad voiced his hopes that 2020, which is the 'Year of Culture and Tourism' between Malaysia and China, will further boost the ties and friendship between both nations significantly.
He noted that the relationship between both nations had roots from the 15th century during the golden era of the Malacca Sultanate and the Ming dynasty, and had flourished ever since.
In fact, he said Malaysia and China were the first nations in the region to establish diplomatic ties that bloomed into a relationship that was based on respect and trust.
"In 2018, Premier Li Keqiang and myself were of the opinion that it was a good time to celebrate the close relations enjoyed by the two nations and to focus on people-to-people exchanges via culture and tourism," he said in his address during the Malaysia-China Year of Culture and Tourism 2020 opening ceremony in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
The prime minister's speech was read by the Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Mohamaddin Ketapi.
Mahathir said just as the cultures of both nations are tied, so are their economies.
"For the record, in 1974, Malaysia-China trade was recorded at US$159 million (RM640.76 million). This rose by almost 700 times to US$108 billion (RM437.99 billion) in 2018," he said, adding that both nations would continue to work together for the benefit of its peoples.
The prime minister was also pleased to note that the culture and tourism initiative launched today, coincides with the Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign, making it more significant and meaningful.
Malaysia 'a melting pot of cultures'
He also shared with the audience, the multiracial aspect of Malaysia which made the country a melting pot of cultures, stating:
"I am also sure our guests from China will be able to relate to the numerous practices, foods, customs and cultures and will probably be able to trace them to specific provinces in China.
"Of course, other cultures, from India and indigenous groups from Sabah and Sarawak have a significant influence on the cultures in the peninsula and vice-versa. We are proud of our diversity and we believe that what we have is a significant display of multi-culturalism which has worked and helped us flourish".
Mahathir also took the opportunity to wish the people of both countries abundant prosperity, health, wealth and everlasting happiness, in conjunction with the coming Chinese New Year celebration.
"May the Year of the Metal Rat symbolise the reaffirmation of Malaysia-China friendship and cooperation, as well as the beginning of new and firm strides ahead," he said.
Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang expressed the hope that the Malaysia-China Year of Culture and Tourism 2020 will serve as a platform for both countries to further expand cultural exchanges and tourism cooperation, and encourage more people-to-people visits.
“We hope we can carry on our traditional friendship based on increased mutual understanding and lay a solid social foundation for a China-Malaysia comprehensive, strategic partnership,” he said in his speech read out by the China Vice-Minister of Culture and Tourism, Zhang Xu.