Thursday, 31 January 2019

No clear line on stalled China-Malaysia railway

Malaysia has reviewed, suspended, cancelled and now apparently revived the $20 bn East Coast Rail Link project, stops and starts designed to drive a harder bargain with Beijing


First it was under review, then it was suspended, and later it was said to be cancelled altogether. Now, its reportedly back on the negotiating table. The status of Malaysia’s China-backed East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) has been mired in confusion this week after two senior ministers issued conflicting statements on the US$20 billion project’s future.

Malaysia’s Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali announced on January 26 that the Cabinet had agreed to terminate the rail link on grounds that the project was “beyond the government’s financial capability.” He said that the ECRL would be terminated “without jeopardizing relations with China.”

That was apparently news to Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, who admitted he was “shocked” after hearing Azmin’s announcement and suggested he might not have been fully informed of the administration’s decision on a project. The railway was originally negotiated by then premier Najib Razak’s government and formally initiated in November 2016.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad suspended the deal last July just months after his shock election victory, making good on an campaign vow to review costly China-backed projects that some feel risked plunging the country into a debt trap. Now, Mahathir’s government is scrambling to walk back comments about the deal’s termination.

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.