JOHOR BARU • The Sultan of Johor has said he is "deeply offended and hurt" by the political spin used by certain Malaysian politicians against mainland Chinese investments in the state, saying that this, if left unchecked, would drive away investors.
In a no-holds-barred interview, a visibly upset Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar singled out former premier, Tun Mahathir Mohamad, for "putting political interests above Malaysian interests, particularly Johor".
"Enough is enough. I have so far restrained myself from commenting on the controversy on Forest City generated by Dr Mahathir and his supporters.
"But Dr Mahathir has gone too far with his twisting of the issue. He is making allegations that 700,000 mainland Chinese will stay in Johor Baru, and that citizenships will be given away, and that huge tracts of land have been sold to the Chinese," he added.
"He is giving the impression that Johor is surrendering land to the Chinese and that we are giving up our sovereignty, comparing even how we gave up Singapore to the British," he said in an interview at Istana Bukit Serene.
The Sultan insisted that he did not wish to intervene in politics but had to set the record straight as "the facts have been twisted by people with twisted minds and intentions".
"Let me ask him this - Forest City is to be built on reclamation land and most of these units are condominiums. In simple language, these units are up in the air. They are strata units.
"I would like to ask Dr Mahathir if these foreign buyers can just take their apartments back home or carry off an inch of the reclaimed land.
"Take a look at the number of foreigners who have bought properties in Singapore. Are the Singaporeans in that tiny island republic worried? No, they are not and they, in fact, welcome affluent expatriates there.
"Here, we have Dr Mahathir creating fear, using race, just to fulfil his political motives. He's not stupid, he's just selfish and opportunistic," he added.
The Johor ruler was responding to a series of comments and blogs posted by Dr Mahathir who claimed that huge tracts of land around Johor Baru were being sold to foreigners with no restrictions, and that there would be mass immigration to take up residence in these new cities.
The former premier cited Forest City, claiming that "already thousands of units have been completed and sold to mainland Chinese".
He also quoted Bloomberg reports as saying 700,000 mainland Chinese would live there and that there were 60 similar projects which could house more than a million people.
Dr Mahathir took aim at Chinese investments again on Sunday in a speech at the public launch of his four-month-old opposition party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM).
PPBM president, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who was sacked as deputy prime minister, has also slammed Datuk Seri Najib Razak for inviting mainland Chinese investments into the country, claiming that the current prime minister was "robbing the rice bowl" of Malaysians.
Forest City, a US$42 billion (S$60 billion) futuristic "eco-city" of high-rise homes and waterfront villas, will sit on four man-made islands on the Malaysian side of the Johor Strait. It is being developed by Hong Kong-listed real estate giant Country Garden and a firm partly owned by the Johor ruler.
During the interview, the Sultan said many investors coming to Forest City were also taking advantage of the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme, which was launched in 2002 when Dr Mahathir was in office.
"During his tenure as prime minister, he was asking Malaysians to 'Look East', but now he is criticising when Chinese investors come here to invest," said the Sultan.
The ruler added that Dr Mahathir was "playing the politics of fear and race which has no place in Johor as I do not believe in racial politics".
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK