MALAYSIA - China needs to handle the issue of territorial claims with its neighbours more as a problem between friends rather than a conflict with one another.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said it would be in the interest of China to realise that its position on the issue has to be tempered with the need to get along with its neighbours.
"I think they will come to realise that they will need friends and they can't afford to alienate. They have problems with Korea, they have problems with Japan, they have problems with Vietnam and the Philippines.
"And if they have problems with Malaysia, then the world will begin to wonder that all these countries can't be wrong," he said during a session at the Council of Foreign Relations moderated by CNN's Fareed Zakaria.
Some 200 council members attended the session.
Najib said the rise of China meant a big market for Malaysian products and investments from China, but at the same time, ASEAN nations were asking whether China would turn more aggressive or assertive because of its rise.
"We are engaging in this dialogue with China that we have these claims in South-East Asia but let's handle it between friends, let's handle it between nations that have so much to gain from each other, rather than see it as a zero-sum game that we must all be in conflict with one another. That surely is not the way to approach between friends. That's the message that I'm sending to the Chinese," he added.
Najib again assured Malaysians that the Government would place the interest of its citizens before signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement.
"The TPP is not just trade and investments but other components that impeach our domestic interests.
"I need to address our constituents as well and if I don't, you might not see me again," he said to laughter in the audience.
Najib said while he wanted an agreement that would stimulate trade and investment, he was mindful that the agreement should have the backing of Malaysians.
"The next few months will be a period of tough negotiations. The key to it is being flexible and if you are flexible, you will get an agreement," he added.
The TPP is an FTA being negotiated among 12 countries, including the United States.