Mahathir urges China to help resolve Malaysia's fiscal issues

Visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his wife Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing yesterday. The CCTV state news bulletin reported that Dr M
Visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his wife Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing yesterday. The CCTV state news bulletin reported that Dr Mahathir expressed support for China's Belt and Road Initiative during his meeting with Mr Xi.PHOTO: BERNAMA

He also says they stand to gain by working together, as both sides pledge to further promote bilateral ties

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, who is on a five-day visit to China, said 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 said the previous Najib Razak administration has saddled the country with debt amounting to more than RM1 trillion (S$334 billion).

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 (ECRL) and two gas pipelines worth US$2.3 billion.

TAKING TIES TO A HIGHER LEVEL

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.

CHINESE PREMIER LI KEQIANG

ROOM FOR DISCUSSION

China did not say that the projects had to continue, and Mahathir also didn't say they had to stop. To me, this indicates that there is room for further discussion.

ANALYST LYE LIANG FOOK, an ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow, noting that neither China nor Malaysia addressed directly in their public comments yesterday the thorny issue of two Chinese mega-projects in Malaysia. Dr Mahathir had pushed for a review of the US$20 billion (S$27.4 billion) East Coast Rail Link and two gas pipelines worth US$2.3 billion.

He also praised China yesterday, 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," said Dr Mahathir, who described his visit as "fruitful".

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

Mr Li, for his part, reaffirmed Beijing's commitment to friendly relations with Malaysia.

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," he said.

Earlier, Dr Mahathir received a full ceremonial welcome at the Great Hall of the People. He also called yesterday on President Xi Jinping, who hosted a dinner for him at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse.

The CCTV state news bulletin reported that Dr Mahathir expressed support for China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) - which includes the ECRL - during the meeting with Mr Xi.

The Chinese President, in turn, expressed appreciation for Dr Mahathir's support of the BRI. He also said existing problems had to be solved with the "principle of mutual respect and friendly consultation".

 
 

A China Daily editorial yesterday said of Dr Mahathir: "Given that he appears to be open to further Chinese investment and Malaysia stands to gain from increased exposure to Chinese trade, technology and entrepreneurship, there is no reason to think the two countries' longstanding friendly relations are being tested by his baulking at the cost of the projects that were authorised by his predecessor."

Neither China nor Malaysia addressed the thorny issue of the Chinese mega-projects directly in their public comments yesterday, prompting one analyst, ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow Lye Liang Fook, to say more talks on the issue were likely. "China did not say that the projects had to continue, and Mahathir also didn't say they had to stop. To me, this indicates that there is room for further discussion," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2018, with the headline 'Mahathir urges China to help resolve Malaysia's fiscal issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe