KUALA LUMPUR - Residents in Malaysia's southern state of Johor welcome foreign investment generally, but they favour investment from neighbouring city state Singapore over that from China, says a recent survey.
According to The Malaysian Insight (TMI), a poll conducted in January by the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research showed 69 per cent of 1,007 survey respondents in Johor were in favour of investments from Singapore, but only 56 per cent of them welcomed investments from China.
Johoreans, according to the news site, do not see themselves benefitting from China's growing economic presence in the state, largely in the form of multi-billion-ringgit property developments.
"We don't feel the positive effects," Zayani Ismail told TMI. "The only thing they have done is drive up the local property prices and make it harder for people like me to buy a home in Johor Baru," said the 32-year-old executive.
Many locals view Chinese investments with a mixture of disinterest and suspicion, mainly because the bulk of these investments were in high-end real estate, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow Dr Francis E Hutchinson told TMI.
"The perception is that this drives up housing prices and many of those buying the newly-completed units will not be local," he said.
The survey also showed that more Johoreans - 29 per cent - were dissatisfied with Chinese investments than with Singaporean investments, which saw a dissatisfaction rate of 18 per cent.
Average Johoreans believe that Chinese projects do not provide enough local job opportunities, Dr Hutchinson said, in contrast to Singaporean projects like the 1980s development of Pasir Gudang which directly benefitted Johoreans.
"Beyond the jobs created, an important new township was developed in a sparsely-populated part of the state," he explained.
According to TMI, Chinese developer Country Garden Pacific View responded to criticism that its RM444 billion (S$150 billion) investment in property project Forest City did not benefit locals by announcing last year more than 40 per cent of its capital expenditure went to pay local firms. Despite its revelation that RM4.7 billion was spent on local consultancy services, law and architecture firms and construction materials, the average Johorean's scepticism remains.
The historical relationship between Malaysia and Singapore - they were part of the Federation of Malaysia until 1965 - also plays a part in Johoreans favouring Singapore, said Dr Hutchinson.
Singapore investments are also viewed as more relevant to Johor because of their close geographical location, with the two linked across the Johor Strait by the 1km-long Causeway at Woodlands and the 2km-long Second Link at Tuas.
Nine in 10 locals polled said there should be a high-speed railroad between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur; 81 per cent said there should be a third link between the two countries and 88 per cent said Johor and Singapore should be linked by an MRT service.