Mahathir calls on China to help Malaysia with its 'internal fiscal problems'

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and China's Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Aug 20, 2018.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and China's Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Aug 20, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has called on China to help his country with its fiscal issues as both sides pledged to further push and promote bilateral ties.

Speaking at a joint press conference at the Great Hall of the People after a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang, Tun Dr Mahathir said he hoped China could be sympathetic to Malaysia's problems.

"We hope also to get China to understand the problems being faced by Malaysia today. I believe that China will look sympathetically towards a problem that we have to resolve, and perhaps help us in resolving some of our internal fiscal problems," said Dr Mahathir, who has pushed for a review of two major Chinese infrastructure projects in Malaysia citing their costs and viability.

The Malaysian leader said that he did not believe in confrontation, adding that both countries stood to gain more by working together.

Dr Mahathir's new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government has declared that the previous Najib Razak administration has saddled the country with more than RM1 trillion of debt.

The Malaysian premier is on a five-day visit to China. Although it was not mentioned directly during the press conference, Dr Mahathir had said previously that he would raise the issue of a review of the two Chinese infrastructure projects - the US$20 billion (S$27.4 billion) East Coast Rail Link and two gas pipelines worth US$2.3 billion.

Dr Mahathir on Monday (Aug 20) also praised China, saying his country had much to learn from it , listing e-commerce and how China has dealt with unemployment as examples.

"We feel that China has a lot to teach us... we believe in cooperation between countries and certainly we believe in cooperation with China," said Dr Mahathir, who described his visit as "fruitful" and pledged to strengthen ties.

On Monday, both countries inked five deals in the areas of agriculture and finance, including a deal on the export of frozen durians.

Mr Li, for his part, reaffirmed Beijing's commitment to friendly relations with Malaysia, now governed by Dr Mahathir's administration, which took over after PH's historic win in the general election in May.

 
 
 

China would scale up two-way trade, which amounted to US$67.7 billion last year, and increase imports of Malaysian palm oil products and speciality agriculture products, he said.

"We are ready to continue to push for mutual benefits in growing this relationship, we believe that we need to raise our good neighbourly relationship to a higher level," said Mr Li.

Both countries were advocates of free trade and proponents of globalisation, he said, leading Dr Mahathir to respond that trade should also be fair.

"We should always remember that the level of development of countries are not all the same," said Dr Mahathir.

"We do not want a situation where there is a new version of colonialism, happening because poor countries are unable to compete with rich countries in terms of just open free trade, it must also be fair trade."

Earlier, Mr Li welcomed Dr Mahathir in a formal ceremony at the Great Hall of the People. A Chinese military band played Negaraku and March of the Volunteers, the national anthems of Malaysia and China, before Mr Li accompanied Dr Mahathir as he inspected a military guard of honour.

Later on Monday, Dr Mahathir is scheduled to meet President Xi Jinping, who will also host him to dinner at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse.

Dr Mahathir leaves Beijing for Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday (Aug 21).