KUALA LUMPUR - Choosing between China and United States is not as simple as picking one's favourite football club, says Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Stressing that Malaysia would continue to maintain strong ties with both China and United States, Najib said it was in line with the country's fairly independent foreign policy based on developing relationship with all countries.
"It is not like choosing a football club. I support Manchester United and I apologise to Liverpool fans," he said after opening the 8th United Kingdom and Eire Council (UKEC) Malaysian Student Leaders Summit here yesterday.
Najib was replying to a question on whether Malaysia would have China or United States as its preferred ally.
One of the 650 participants of the two-day summit posed the question to Najib during the question and answer session.
"We don't have to make a choice between US and China, we'll look at the strength of both countries," said Najib, stressing that Malaysia was not beholden to United States as claimed by certain quarters.
Najib said while Malaysia would remain friendly with the two global players, it would not support policies that were not right.
Najib said United States' strength included big market, technology and innovation and the best education institutes in the world, adding that it was also a superpower.
"Why do we need to confront US?" he asked.
As for China, he said the country was an integral part of Asia and Malaysia's largest trading partner with two-way trade amounting to US$100bil (RM320bil).
"We plan to increase trading to between US$160bil (RM505bil) and US$170bil (RM537bil) in the next five years," he said, adding that China was the fastest growing economy with future investment and business opportunities abound.
Najib said if Malaysia was beholden to the United States, it would not have struck a deal with non-state actors like the pro-Russian separatists who had agreed to allow investigators into conflict-ridden Eastern Ukraine where MH17 was shot down on July 17.
Earlier in his speech, Najib urged young leaders to explore opportunities to lead in South-East Asia in the area of education exchange programmes, the business sector and in social development.
"By sending bright, committed and capable people, we can show that Malaysia is not only ready to learn from the world, but stands ready to lead the world as well," he said.