(Bloomberg) -- China and Malaysia pledged to deepen trade and economic ties and advance construction of major projects during Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s three-day visit to Malaysia. 

The two nations agreed to a plan for economic and trade cooperation that would run through 2028, according to Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s office on Wednesday. Anwar, in a post on X, said he and Li witnessed the signing of 14 memorandums of understanding and agreements, marking a significant expansion of their cooperation.

China said it is open to working with Malaysia to advance the construction of major projects such as the East Coast Rail Link, according to a report from Xinhua News Agency. Malaysia is considering extending the 50 billion ringgit ($10.6 billion) project that’s part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative closer to its border with Thailand. 

Anwar and Li also agreed that China and relevant ASEAN countries should independently handle the South China Sea issue, Xinhua News Agency reported. Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan claim parts of the same maritime area, and have sparred with China over which claims are valid.

Li’s visit is the first by a Chinese premier to the Southeast Asian nation since 2015, as Beijing looks to deepen ties with a country that has asserted its neutrality amid intensifying rivalry between the US and China. Anwar is positioning Malaysia as a destination for investment from both powers, pledging at least 25 billion ringgit ($5.3 billion) to support its semiconductor industry amid a shake-up in global supply chains.

“Premier Li and I concurred on the importance of further strengthening the deep bond and friendship between our nations,” Anwar said in a post on X. “I encouraged more strategic partnerships and high-value investments in Malaysia.”

Malaysia has, in recent weeks, announced a slew of tech-related investment pledges from US and China, including from ByteDance, Google and Microsoft. It’s done so while having political disagreements with both countries — with China, on its expansive claims in the South China Sea and with the US on its stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Malaysia and China will form a joint working group aimed at ensuring seamless movement of goods between the two countries, according to Anwar’s office on Wednesday. Other memorandums that were signed included cooperation in the digital economy, green development as well as the export of fresh durian fruits to China. Officials also pledged to discuss additional visa exemptions — boosting a mutual visa-free entry policy between the two countries.

In 2023, China remained Malaysia’s largest trading partner, a position its held since 2009, with a total trade of $98.9 billion, said the Foreign Ministry. Li’s visit coincides with the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, it added.

--With assistance from Ram Anand and Alfred Liu.

(Updated with number of agreements in second paragraph.)

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