PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (Sin Chew Daily/ANN) – Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has refuted claims that he is pro-Japan and anti-China after the Pakatan Harapan government led by him has either canceled or sought for review of mega projects with China. He maintains that he is a good friend of China and has defended China at international forums including in Japan.
Mahathir Mohamad has been labeled as “pro-Japan anti-China” after several mega projects with China were either canceled or reviewed when the Pakatan Harapan took over as the ruling government. He refused such claim, saying that he has defended China at the international level on many occasions and he is China’s good friend.
Dr. Mahathir laughed when he heard many people claimed he visited Japan many times and reviewed mega projects collaborating with China. In an exclusive interview with Sin Chew Daily, the prime minister said he defended China in many countries, including Japan where he was attending a forum.
“They asked me, how do you feel about China? I told them Malaysia has been maintaining ties with China. We have bilateral trade and we have been friendly to China.” Dr. Mahathir said when Portugal came here from some 8,000 miles away, we became its colony. China has been with Malaysia for a long time but never colonized the country.
“There are many Chinese in our country, but China has never colonized us. Who should we be fearful of? China or Europe?” He added: “Many Chinese nationals know me. They see me as China’s good friend. Just because the Malaysian government asked to review the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and cancel the Sabah and Malacca natural gas pipe project then I am seen as unfriendly?
“The Chinese government is aware that we are facing a serious financial issue. I told them that we can’t afford (those projects). This is not whether we want it or not. These are bad projects in the first place, and we can’t afford them,” he said.
Asked whether he would visit China again in 2019, without hesitation, Dr. Mahathir replied: “Yes, I will if there is a need.” Dr. Mahathir said pandas Xing Xing and Liang Liang are gifts from China for Malaysia and the government would not send them back to China.
“The pandas belong to China, they are not sold here,” he said this in response to Minister of Water, Land, and Natural Resources Dr. Xavier Jayakumar Arulanandam who had earlier said that Xing Xing and Liang Liang may be sent back to China earlier due to a funding issue.
Dr. Mahathir said the Cabinet has never discussed the issue of sending the pandas back to China. He is unaware of the comments made by the minister. Dr. Mahathir agrees that panda has diplomatic significance to Malaysia-China ties as the pandas were gifts from China to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Malaysia-China ties.
On ECRL, Dr. Mahathir said if China agrees, the government may proceed with the project on a smaller scale. He said the government is still negotiating with China on ECRL. Up till now, a good solution has not been found. Both sides do not have any time frame set for negotiation.
“We try to ensure China would not incur losses and we do not need to spend too much of money,” he said. Dr. Mahathir stressed that the government of Malaysia is caught in a catch 22 situation that once it cancels the project, the government would have to pay hefty compensation to China.
On the other hand, the government is facing financial constraint to executive the project. He said the government may amend the project or find an alternative so that the government would not incur huge expenditure. “We are negotiating with them, whether in a formal or informal way. To China, this is a good contract. They can make a lot of money and they are not willing to adapt.”
Dr. Mahathir explained that prior to Pakatan Harapan take over the government, they realized that the Najib administration initiated a very huge project via a loan from the bank and the contract terms were not favorable. The Pakatan Harapan had thought about terminating the project once it took over.
“This is not easy as there are conditions stated in the contract. We can’t just stop. We have no money to pay China. If we terminate the project, we have to come up with huge compensation. Now we defer the project as we have paid a lot of money,” he said.
Dr. Mahathir said the money would not land in Malaysia as they are paid to Chinese contractors. Hence the Malaysian government would not be able to impose a tax. If they were to make money in Malaysia, the Malaysian government could impose a tax.
He said the government would continue this project if possible. But the ECRL is a development project which wastes money and unable to generate a return.
“This project may benefit the people in the east coast but what is the cost? We are supposed to serve the people. This includes the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail and ECRL. What about their costs? The government would have to manage them financially so that we do not waste funds,” he said.
Citing an example, he said the ECRL cost exceeds RM60 billion (US$14.49 billion). “Do you know that the rail projects which ferry passengers and cargo in the west coast have never made money? But for ECRL, there are fewer passengers and they are poor. They do not have big business like people on the west coast. So you are not going to make any profit from ECRL.
“The return of this project is almost zero and we need to pay the debt of RM55 billion. (US$12.078 billion). If we do not pay the debt, we will be fined. You have to pay when you have a mortgage from the bank.”
In addition, Dr. Mahathir also said that the Pakatan Harapan government is generating more profit than the Najib administration. But the profit is still insufficient to fund all developments in the country. Hence the development is extremely slow at the moment.
By News Desk