Malaysia says it is keen for more 'fair' deals with China

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said ties between the countries had improved since the resumption of the two projects - both part of China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Malaysia is hopeful of getting more "fair" investment from China, its foreign minister said on Tuesday (April 23), after both countries agreed to resume two multi-billion-dollar projects just before a Belt and Road conference in Beijing this week.

"We want to improve our ties with China. That is a fact. But it doesn't mean we will do whatever it takes," Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah told Reuters in an interview.

"Agreements and arrangements have to be fair for both sides," he said.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who came to power after a stunning election victory last May, had vowed to renegotiate or cancel what he calls unfair Chinese projects authorised by his predecessor.

Earlier this month, both countries agreed to resume construction of the East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) at a discount.

Last week, Tun Dr Mahathir announced the resumption of a multi-billion-dollar property development linked to China.

Datuk Saifuddin said ties between the countries had improved since the resumption of the two projects - both part of China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a key policy of Chinese President Xi Jinping that envisions rebuilding the old Silk Road to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond with massive infrastructure spending.

Dr Mahathir will travel to Beijing on Wednesday to attend a forum on the BRI.

The Prime Minister and the Malaysian delegation are also expected to hold a bilateral meeting on the sidelines with Mr Xi, Premier Li Keqiang and Mr Li Zhanshu, the chairman of the standing committee of the national people's congress, according to the Malaysian foreign ministry.

Addittionally, the Malaysian premier will be visiting some high-tech companies in Beijing, namely Huawei Technologies and SenseTime, as well as meeting key investors, international capital market analysts and businessmen.

"The Prime Minister's attendance is significant, given that Malaysia has continuously support the Belt and Road Initiative, especially on key development issues, such as policy synergy, infrastructure development, financial cooperation and people-to-people connectivity," the ministry said in a statement.

"China is a close friend and an important partner to Malaysia. This visit is expected to strengthen the longstanding friendship between Malaysia and China as well as foster wide-ranging cooperation between the two countries," added the ministry.

Mr Saifuddin, who will be part of the delegation, said Malaysia is open to Chinese investments from "any sector", but particularly in high-tech manufacturing.

He said Malaysia is also optimistic that China will increase its imports of Malaysian palm oil, on top of an increase of 500,000 tonnes Premier Li had pledged during Dr Mahathir's last visit in August.

Palm oil is a key Malaysian export and Mr Li and Dr Mahathir will witness the signing of an agreement on palm oil cooperation.

"We are hopeful that with the BRI conference and the positive closure of the two projects, we would be receiving more investments from China," Mr Saifuddin said.

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