Malaysia wants to settle its decades-long territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea through "friendly negotiation", the country's prime minister said in Beijing Wednesday.
Najib Tun Razak, on his first official visit to a country that is not a member of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) since taking office in April, made the remarks when meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao at the Great Hall of the People.
"Malaysia has recognized the complexity of the South China Sea issue and would like to solve the problem through friendly negotiation under the guidance of international laws," reads a press release issued by the Foreign Ministry after the hour-long meeting.
The sovereignty dispute has been a barrier to better relations between China and Malaysia, the first country to forge diplomatic ties with Beijing from ASEAN countries.
In early May, Malaysia and Vietnam tendered a joint submission to the United Nations over the location of the outer limits of the continental shelf, which has a bearing on the extent of their national waters. It came one week before the May 13 deadline that the UN had set by which countries had to submit claims over extended continental shelves.
Analysts said Malaysia and Vietnam intended to define their position and rights in the South China Sea and "internationalize" the issue.
Wen said Wednesday China and Malaysia should take care of each other's "core interests" and strictly follow the Declaration on the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, which calls for all countries involved to settle the issue through peaceful means.
"China and Malaysia should properly handle relevant issues and jointly protect peace and stability in the South China Sea," the press release quoted the Chinese premier as saying.
During a speech at Beijing Foreign Studies University earlier Wednesday, Najib said he was determined to take Beijing-Kuala Lumpur relations to new heights. Kuala Lumpur never viewed China as a threat but as an important partner, he said.
Wang Hanling, a maritime affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Najib's remarks carried "great positive significance", compared to Malaysia's previous stance that saw it seize Chinese islands and explore for oil in that region.
The two also signed several documents of cooperation, including one on maritime science and technology. They also inked a joint action plan on strategic cooperation.
Najib said the new Malaysian government would commit to elevating relations with China and deepening cooperation in fields including natural resources and energy. The area in the South China Sea is thought to contain rich resources, including oil.
"The proposal is in line with the way Beijing expects to solve the issue," Wang said.
The hall for Wednesday's signing ceremony was not the one usually used, but the one where Malaysia's second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak, late father of Najib, established diplomatic ties with Beijing at a meeting with then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai on May 31, 1974.
Wen sent an old photo to Najib of the late leaders signing the document.
"We appreciate the precious contributions the two generations of your family have made to the development of Sino-Malaysian relations," Wen said.
"I came to China not to walk in same the footsteps as my father 35 years ago, but to continue and advance the important journey he started," replied Najib. "I hope to walk faster and further."