Najib: Deals with China don't hurt sovereignty

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's wife Rosmah Mansor greeting Chinese President Xi Jinping's wife Peng Liyuan as both couples met at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Thursday.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's wife Rosmah Mansor greeting Chinese President Xi Jinping's wife Peng Liyuan as both couples met at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Thursday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Prime Minister Najib Razak has dismissed as "absurd and absolutely false" allegations that he has pawned off Malaysia's sovereignty after making deals worth RM144 billion (S$47.6 billion) with China in what he called a "groundbreaking" visit to Beijing this week.

The projects, which he said "will be owned and operated by Malaysians", have been criticised by opponents at home.

"There seem to be some who don't appear to welcome this investment in the Malaysian economy, and don't seem to want the resulting jobs, skills and improvement in people's lives," he said in a statement yesterday. "Some have scaremongered that Malaysia is being sold off. This is absurd and absolutely false."

The deals involve billion-dollar loans from Chinese banks, and include the purchase of naval vessels and the construction of a RM55 billion railway line linking Kuala Lumpur to Kelantan state.

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Wednesday that the huge loan for the rail project is "dangerous for national sovereignty". Other opposition leaders are concerned that Malaysia's stance in the South China Sea territorial dispute will be jeopardised by the increasing economic dependence on Beijing.

Datuk Seri Najib's response: "These agreements are truly for all our people. They are just as much for the thousands of swiftlet farmers and half a million oil palm smallholders as they are for well-known corporations."

Malaysia, which is the world's second-largest producer of bird's nests with 10,000 swiftlet farmers involved, will be exporting raw and unclean bird's nests, besides processed nests, to the Chinese market, which is worth US$1.8 billion (S$2.5 billion) per year.

During his visit, Mr Najib also asked China to buy more palm oil, saying 500,000 palm smallholders depend on the commodity.

In an editorial in the Beijing-run China Daily on Wednesday, Mr Najib said Western powers should not lecture former colonies they once exploited. The comments were seen as a veiled attack on the West following lawsuits filed by the United States Justice Department in July, implicating him in laundering up to US$4 billion from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad. He had chaired the fund until May this year.

Reuters reported that US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Daniel Russel described Mr Najib's article as sounding "a little bit more like former prime minister Mahathir".

Meanwhile, questions continue to swirl around the RM55 billion railway deal that was directly awarded to China Communications Construction Company.

The state-controlled firm has been blacklisted by the World Bank for fraudulent practices since 2009, and will continue to be until Jan 12 next year.

Mr Najib insisted yesterday that "we have much to learn from" Chinese leaders in various economic sectors.

It was also announced yesterday that Mr Jack Ma, founder of Chinese tech giant Alibaba, has been appointed adviser to the Malaysian government on digital economy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2016, with the headline 'Najib: Deals with China don't hurt sovereignty'. Print Edition | Subscribe