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The setting up of the Institute of China Studies (ICS) was proposed by the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi after his visit to China as the Deputy Prime Minister in September 2003. The Ministry of Higher Education of Malaysia then directed the University of Malaya to prepare a proposal, leading to the establishment of the ICS on 5 December 2003.

The ICS, as the first research institute in the country with specific focus on China, serves as a resource centre and policy adviser to the Government, corporate sector and diplomatic corps on issues related to business political economy and strategic or bilateral relations.

While the primary focus of the ICS is on research involving mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, the institute also encourages the study of economic, political, social and cultural development involving ethnic Chinese communities, with a specific focus on Southeast Asia and Malaysia

The ICS will encourage academic exchange programmes on issues of importance to the ICS, University of Malaya. The ICS will initiate and undertake joint research projects with foreign institutions, with particular emphasis on forging collaborative ties with members of the academia in China.
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