IN ITS latest move to woo big spenders from China, Malaysia will celebrate the travels of a Chinese navigator through the region and the life of a Chinese princess married to a Malay ruler in Malacca in the 15th century.
The plans are part of a series of cultural events designed to highlight Malaysia's rich Chinese heritage throughout this year, which has been declared Malaysia-China Friendship Year, said Deputy Tourism Minister Fu Ah Kiow.
He said yesterday that this was the first time Malaysia was organising a 'friendship year' with any country in recent memory.
'Tourists from China are keenly targeted as, like visitors from the Middle East, they are big spenders here,' he told a press conference, adding that their numbers were expected to swell in the coming years.
'We have never viewed China as a threat, as the coming up of China will benefit nearby countries, especially in South-east Asia,' he said. 'The Chinese tourism market is a very important market for us, and it is rising fast.'
Underlining the importance of the friendship year, the celebrations will be launched by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi next Saturday in Malacca.
Chinese Deputy Culture Minister Meng Xiaosi will attend the ceremony along with 71 media and travel industry representatives from China.
Datuk Seri Abdullah will officiate at the opening of a gallery dedicated to Admiral Zheng He to mark the 600th year of the Ming Dynasty navigator's voyages as well as a photography exhibition on the resumption of diplomatic ties in 1974.
A Chinese New Year festival will be launched at Jonker Street in Malacca city, featuring cultural shows and a fireworks display.
Malacca was the seat of the old Malay sultanate that came into contact with imperial China in the 15th century due to Zheng He's travels. A Chinese princess, Hang Li Po, later married the sultan of Malacca.
A musical based on the life of the princess will be shown in big Malaysian cities from March, and then taken to major Chinese cities, said Datuk Fu.
A show titled Dances Of The Dynasties will be held at Genting Highlands from Friday to Jan 16, showcasing 5,000 years of Chinese culture, with highlights from the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.
Other friendship year events will be announced in the coming weeks.
The friendship year was agreed upon after Datuk Seri Abdullah met Chinese leaders in Beijing last September.
The number of visitors from China was the fastest rising in 2002, up nearly 20 per cent from the previous year to 546,490.
The Chinese were the fourth-largest group of tourists to Malaysia after Singaporeans, Indonesians and Thais.
Last year's Sars outbreak led to a 40 per cent drop in Chinese tourists from the first 11 months of 2002, Datuk Fu said.
He said Chinese visitors spent an average of RM400 (S$178) a day, more than many other tourist groups, except the Arabs. He did not give details.
By 2010, their numbers were projected to rise to 100 million a year.
'If 5 per cent of them come to Malaysia, that would be five million people,' he said. 'Imagine the revenue it will bring.'
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