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Malaysia’s Mahathir aims to scrap China deals

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While the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has strong preference for China, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is poised to cancel multi billion-dollar Chinese-backed infrastructure projects that were signed by his predecessor as his government works to dig itself out of debt, according to the Associated Press news.

In his interview with The Associated Press, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made the comments few days before he goes to Beijing for his first visit there since returning to power in an electoral upset three months ago.

Mahathir said really he wants to maintain good relations with China and welcomes its investment, so long as the projects benefit Malaysia.

However, he took his toughest stance yet on Chinese-backed energy pipelines and a rail project along peninsular Malaysia’s eastern coast struck by his predecessor Najib Razak, who faces trial on multiple charges related to the alleged multi billion-dollar looting of the 1MDB state investment fund.

 We don’t think we need those two projects. We dont think they are viable. So if we can, we would like to just drop the projects,”Mahathir said.

But during the time former Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak, Najib brought Malaysia closer to China, which sees the multi-ethnic Southeast Asian country as a key part of its ambitious One Belt, One Road global trade initiative. The former prime minister reached deals for the 688-kilometer (430-mile) East Coast Rail Link and two gas pipelines in 2016.

Malaysia’s new government has already suspended work on the projects, being built by Chinese state-backed companies, and called for drastic cuts in their ballooning cost, which it estimates at more than $22 billion. Some of that money has already been paid and could be difficult to recoup.

It was a gambit from Mahathir that others observers see as prudent move. Mahatmir explained his decision, “If scrapping the projects altogether isnt doable, Malaysia will need to at least put them on hold until the future, “where perhaps the need will arise.”

 He also asked China to respect the free movement of ships throughout the South China Sea, where China and multiple Southeast Asian nations including Malaysia have competing claims on islands and reefs — along with the rich fishing grounds and potential fossil fuel deposits around them.

China has been claiming much of the sea as its own and has built up several man-made islands equipped them with runways, hangers, radar and missile stations to bolster its claim. It has accused the United States, which routinely deploys aircraft carriers, other warships and aircraft to the sea, of meddling in a purely Asian dispute. Chinese ships also patrol the sea.

Mahathir cautioned against further militarizing the disputed body of water by reiterating his call for warships to not be permanently stationed there. He said in closing, “We are all for ships, even warships, passing through, but not stationed here,” he said. “It is a warning to everyone. Dont create tension unnecessarily.”

 Last July 15, Duterte paid a courtesy call to Mahathir at Putrajaya and discussed wide bilateral cooperation particularly on defense and security as well as regional and global issues of common interest like to curb the spread of extremism and terrorism in the region.

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