Wave of Chinese investment in Johor is good news: The Star Columnist

An artist's impression of the Forest City, a mixed-use development spanning about 1,386ha on four man-made islands in the Johor Strait.
An artist's impression of the Forest City, a mixed-use development spanning about 1,386ha on four man-made islands in the Johor Strait. PHOTO: COUNTRY GARDEN

JOHOR (THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Johor Baru (JB) is booming with new developments. At least, that is what I saw when I took the family there two weeks ago.

We stayed at a hotel overlooking the Tebrau Strait. The last time I was there about four years ago, I could see Singapore from the hotel. This time that view does not exist anymore.

There is a gigantic new building that is being constructed, completely blocking what was once a nice view. The property value on this side of the development complex must have dropped significantly with the construction of this massive building.

On the second day in JB we went to Legoland. I must admit I quite enjoyed the trip. Maybe I even enjoyed it a bit more than my younger kids!

We spent several hours in Legoland, and then we drove around Iskandar Puteri, formerly known as Nusajaya.

The area was impressive. The government administrative complex is clearly carefully planned and the architecture is very nice to look at. Whoever came up with the idea to create this new planned city deserves commendation.

We then drove past Forest City. I did not have enough time to properly visit the area but we saw it from not too far away. When I checked artist's impressions of this project, it certainly looked like another amazing development.

Expected to be completed in 20 years, Forest City will have four islands, all man-made. About 100,000 people are expected to live there, with many more commuting in to work and to do business. The developer expects that 220,000 jobs will be created there by 2035, following an investment of RM170 billion (S$54.9 billion).

I did not do any in-depth analysis of those projects and this article is not an attempt to provide an expert opinion on what is happening there. A more nuanced view can only be developed by looking at the details behind all the initiatives.

But as a tourist who only saw things superficially, these developments look like good news for the people of Johor.

In the long term, projects like these can provide much-needed employment opportunities for local people, economic growth for the state, and ultimately contribute to national growth.

One thing that struck me as I drove around was that almost all the new projects are being developed by companies from mainland China. Not just one or two, but all the developments I saw were being constructed by Chinese companies.

That in itself was pretty amazing. I can't help but wonder, what happened to all those people who cried wolf about Malaysia being colonised by foreign investors?

For decades we have been mocked by various groups and individuals about how the West are always looking for opportunities to land on our shores. And they keep telling us that these days, colonisation is always economic in nature.

We must be wary of the Americans (and the Jews!) because they are coming in to colonise us via their multinational companies who are riding on the wave of globalisation. That was the staple message they spurted over many years.

This fear-mongering became worse when we were debating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). If we believe what they say, the TPPA is America's vehicle to dominate Malaysia.

Now the same people must be stumped because, as it turned out, they are with America's President-elect Donald Trump in rejecting the TPPA. They pretended to warn people against America's TPP, but in reality the language they speak is the same as Trump's. They belong on the same side.

I am sure very soon these propagandists will come up with all sorts of creative stories about how their rejection of free-trade agreements is different from Trump and the United States. Let us give them some time to come up with a convincing story. They need it.

But while they are busy crafting their excuses, it seems like they fail to see that another foreign power has already landed. From what I saw in Johor Baru, not only are they here, they have even planted solid roots into the future of this nation.

I do wonder what has happened to all the anti-economic colonisation activists. There is hardly any noise from them and certainly no demonstrations in Johor Baru so far. Do they have a special position in their hearts for investors from the unitary communist state of China?

For now, I take a neutral position on these investments. I believe that trade and investment are a good thing in general, regardless of where they are from, and I hope to maintain that consistent position.

Of course, I accept that we need to study the impacts of investments from China in other countries that they have been to. China's active global investment is a relatively new phenomenon that deserves proper attention.

I have not done that work yet but I do hope to spend some time on it later this year. For now, I am glad that Johor is visibly benefiting from foreign investments.

The writer is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs.