By Bai Tiantian and Chen Qingqing Source:Global Times
Chinese analysts expressed cautious optimism over China-Malaysia relations after an opposition coalition led by Malaysia’s political strongman Mahathir Mohamad won the majority of seats in national elections.
The 92-year-old former Malaysian prime minister said Malaysia may renegotiate some deals with China after his coalition won against the government of Najib Razak, who is credited with building warm ties with China.
Mahathir previously criticized Chinese investments in Malaysia, calling some agreements signed or endorsed by Najib lopsided. But analysts said friendly China-Malaysia relations are unlikely to be reversed.
“I don’t think it is correct to call Mahathir ‘anti-China’ as some have in the media. When he was prime minister, he was friendly with China and visited China several times. At that time, Mahathir was a fervent critic of the US,” Zhu Zhenming, a professor at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
Zhu said some of Mahathir’s criticism of Chinese investments may have been politically driven in an attempt to defeat Najib in the election.
“China’s trade volume is too large to be ignored. Cooperating with China is not an option but a mutually beneficial trend that cannot be reversed,” Zhu noted.
Mahathir, who led Malaysia for 22 years before retiring at 78, told a news conference on Thursday that he supports China’s Belt and Road initiative but said Malaysia reserves the right to renegotiate terms of some agreements with Beijing, if necessary.
Mahathir’s criticism toward Chinese investments has sparked concerns among some Chinese investors.
Li Minglong, a businessman from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region who imports bird’s nest from Malaysia, told the Global Times he fears that the election results might impact his business in the short term.
A businesswoman, Wu Wanrong, said she waited until midnight for the election results.
Wu’s business with Malaysia will continue but she hopes that her import papers won’t be postponed with a new administration in office.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said on Thursday that Mahathir is a veteran politician who has made important contributions to the development of China-Malaysia relations.
“The current comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Malaysia enjoys a sound momentum and the cooperation is generating fruitful results. This has brought concrete benefits to the two nations and peoples and both sides should cherish it,” Geng told the media.
Analysts noted that Mahathir may diversify foreign investments in Malaysia and make Malaysia less dependent on China economically after taking office.
“Elections aside, Mahathir’s comments reflect some of his concerns that are not uncommon in Southeast Asia. Many of these countries are still adapting to China’s rise,” Zhu said.
Mahathir’s victory may postpone a high-speed rail project between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
In a previous interview with The Sunday Times, Mahathir said: “We need to do a study on whether it is feasible or not because we don’t have the money and have to borrow, and that is not something the Malaysian government can bear at the moment. We have to know whether we really need this HSR or not.”
Analysts also said a $13 billion East Coast Rail Link that will connect Malaysia’s underdeveloped east coast to Kuala Lumpur, which Mahathir had campaigned against, could be shelved.
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