Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Mahathir resets the terms for dealing with China

Malaysian premier's bid to maintain close ties despite canceling US$22 billion worth of BRI projects is a litmus test of Beijing's flexibility

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad welcomed Chinese trade, technology and investment while cautioning against a “new version of colonialism” during his recently concluded first state visit to China since winning the premiership in May.

During a joint news conference with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who reportedly directly asked Mahathir whether there was consensus on upholding free trade between both sides, the 93-year-old premier replied in the affirmative, while also adding that “free trade should also be fair trade.”

The world’s most senior statesman has made the recalibration of ties with China a key foreign policy priority following months of stinging criticism of his scandal-plagued predecessor Najib Razak, who stands accused of unscrupulous borrowing to fund China-backed mega-projects worth billions of dollars.

Mahathir has claimed that Najib’s willingness to assume huge foreign debts and agree to lopsided contracts risked eroding Malaysia’s sovereignty. Malaysian officials also have suspicions that Chinese companies were involved in the multi-billion dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) graft scandal, of which Najib stands personally accused of foul play. The ex-premier has denied the accusations.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.