Asia Minute: Immigration Advice in Southeast Asia

Mar 11, 2019

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad
Credit President of Russia / http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/59116/photos

One of Southeast Asia’s longest serving prime ministers met last week with one of the region’s most controversial leaders. Their talks were wide-ranging, and included some advice about immigration.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed is 93 years old, and on his second round of leading his country. Mahathir was previously prime minister from 1981 to 2003 – and won another term in an upset election nearly a year ago.

Last week he made his first visit to the Philippines since returning to office. He met with President Rodrigo Duterte — who has faced criticism from local and international human rights groups for the thousands of civilian deaths that have come with his war on drugs.

Mahathir was not critical of that policy — telling one Philippine paper on Friday that, “any leader will do things which are sometimes popular, sometimes unpopular.”

The Malaysian prime minister was more direct in talking about the impacts of Chinese investment in the Philippines. Mahathir said, “foreign direct investment should not involve bringing huge numbers of foreigners to live in the country.”

According to testimony before the Philippine Senate, at least 200,000 Chinese have moved to the Philippines since Duterte’s election in 2016.

The Philippine president has moved closer to the Beijing government than his predecessors, encouraging Chinese investment and downplaying territorial disputes over the South China Sea. On that topic, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir said, “the most important thing is that the South China Sea in particular must be open to navigation.”