KUALA LUMPUR - When Tun Razak Hussein penned a letter to Zhou En-lai, the then prime minister of China, to establish Malaysia-China ties back in 1971, it would have been his wish to see relations flourish between the two countries.
Some 40 years after he paid a six-day visit in 1974, immortalised in that poignant picture of Razak and Mao Tse-Tung shaking hands ties are set to shift several gears up with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's month-end visit to the economic powerhouse.
Beyond the euphoria set to greet the arrival of Feng Yi and Fu Wa, the pair of cuddly giant pandas on loan from China for 10 years, tomorrow morning, Najib, just like his father, is looking forward to propelling Malaysia to a greater level of cooperation with China.
The significance goes beyond the public attention and photo opportunities that will surely follow the arrival of the pandas. Malaysia has the distinction of being the first ASEAN nation to establish ties with China and is in Beijing's list of distinguished "friends" honoured by way of the pandas making the country their new home.
Najib's visit marks 40 years of formal ties between Malaysia and China -- a modern-day relationship, set in motion by Razak, that traces its roots as far back as the Malacca Sultanate's ties with the Ming dynasty in 15th century.
There are many reasons for Malaysia to look forward to Najib's visit to China.
Top of the list is the opportunity to improve thriving bilateral trade with China, which has emerged as the biggest trading partner for Malaysia for five years since 2009.
Last year alone, trade between two countries grew by 12.5 per cent to US$63.4 billion (RM207.92 billion).
For China, choosing Malaysia to be part of its famed Panda diplomacy means acknowledging Malaysia's global standing and huge potential.
The pandas bring about exclusivity as well. After a hiatus, China revived its Panda diplomacy in the 1950s, and between 1958 and 1982, presented 23 pandas to only nine countries.