Asia Minute: Malaysian Leader Starts Key China Trip

Aug 17, 2018

Mahathir Mohamad in 2007
Credit amrufm / Flickr

Today marks 100 days in office for the new leadership of Malaysia. The country’s former prime minister has been charged with financial fraud and money laundering. And the current prime minister is starting a crucial trip that mixes diplomacy and business.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad begins a five-day visit to China today.

He’s accused Malaysia’s previous government of selling out national interests to China. He said that many shared infrastructure projects that have started construction in Malaysia are too costly, “lopsided,” and not in the best interests of the country.

The deals include two natural gas pipelines at more than 2-billion U.S. dollars apiece, plus a rail project that could run roughly 20-billion dollars. There are also port expansions and industrial parks and a 100-billion dollar mixed-use development that according to local media would be the biggest overseas project by a Chinese property developer. Much of the financing has been done with loans from Chinese sources.

Mahathir has suspended several of the deals. They include key parts of China’s so-called “Belt and Road Initiative” — a set of infrastructure projects around Asia.

The 93-year old Mahathir will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and will stop by a car factory, a drone facility, and the technology and e-commerce giant Ali Baba.

Kuala Lumpur skyline
Credit naim fadil / Flickr

Both governments have spoken optimistically of a “reset” of relations between the countries.

The success of the meetings won’t be judged by diplomatic language, but by what happens with some of those stalled infrastructure projects.