KL review confined to 'dubious' projects, foreign investors told

Anwar Ibrahim said the government's review is limited to specific "dubious" projects approved under the previous administration and shouldn't be interpreted as a snub to China.
Anwar Ibrahim said the government's review is limited to specific "dubious" projects approved under the previous administration and shouldn't be interpreted as a snub to China.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG • Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who is in line to become Malaysia's next prime minister, sought to reassure foreign investors concerned about recent decisions to scrap several high-profile infrastructure projects in a bid to reduce debt.

Mr Anwar - who is expected to replace 93-year-old Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister in a year or two - said the government's review is limited to specific "dubious" projects approved under the previous administration and should not be interpreted as a snub to China.

"It is confined to these companies," Mr Anwar said in an interview with Bloomberg Television's Sophie Kamaruddin in Hong Kong, where he is attending an investment forum.

"Mahathir took the initiative, visiting China, assuring them that the bilateral relations, trade, investments with China must and will continue."

Since his surprise election victory in May, Dr Mahathir has cancelled or suspended several major projects backed by Chinese interests, including the East Coast Rail Line and three pipeline projects.

He also delayed work on a proposed bullet train linking Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, which had also attracted interest from Chinese contractors, and questioned whether foreigners should be able to buy property in a US$100 billion (S$138 billion) project backed by a Chinese company.

 
 

"Mahathir represents the sentiments in the country that firstly, we cannot continue with these mammoth projects at a time when the economy is struggling," Mr Anwar said.

He added that the government is focusing on transparency and debt reduction, and overall, "the economic fundamentals are strong".

Mr Anwar, 71, the official leader of the four-party Pakatan Harapan ruling coalition that backs Dr Mahathir, said Dr Mahathir was more suited to being prime minister than him at present as he was better at making tough decisions.

"This sort of teamwork will be very essential for him to continue getting the latitude and space without any encumbrances, and for me to assume the position much later," Mr Anwar said.

Separately, Mr Anwar said he was "appalled by the attitude" of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi over the country's treatment of the Rohingya, and called for formal talks on China's crackdown against its Muslim minority.

"Buddhists, Muslims, Christians all supported her. Why must she continue to be seen to be condoning crimes against the minority?"

He said "disgust" might be a more appropriate for how he feels about Ms Suu Kyi, adding that she was not even prepared to say "stop the killings".

"Aung San Suu Kyi is a real, real disappointment," he said.

Mr Anwar also spoke out about Beijing's treatment of Turkic-speaking Uighurs, most of whom live in China's Xinjiang region.

"I believe we should use a proper forum to start highlighting these issues and seek this understanding from the Chinese authorities."

Asked why Muslim governments have largely been quiet on the Uighurs, Mr Anwar said: "They're scared. Nobody wants to say anything."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2018, with the headline 'KL review confined to 'dubious' projects, foreign investors told'. Print Edition | Subscribe