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Mahathir Mohamad

Clouds over massive Chinese infrastructure projects but China and Malaysia ‘can weather change’

Beijing seeks greater belt and road cooperation as Mahathir envoy visits the Chinese capital to pave the way for Malaysian prime minister’s trip next month

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 July, 2018, 9:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 July, 2018, 11:19pm

Beijing’s ties with Kuala Lumpur can withstand change and uncertainty, China said on Wednesday, despite massive infrastructure projects hanging in the balance in Malaysia.

In talks with Tun Daim Zainuddin, a special envoy of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China would advance cooperation on the “Belt and Road Initiative”, a massive plan by Beijing to boost infrastructure links throughout Asia to Africa and Europe.

“The friendship between China and Malaysia has accumulated over a long time. China and Malaysia are not only comprehensive strategic partners, but also pragmatic cooperation partners. Their relationship can weather the wind of change,” the foreign ministry quoted Wang as saying.

Daim, chairman of the Malaysian Council of Eminent Persons, is in Beijing to pave the way for Mahathir’s trip to China planned for next month. He also met Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday and delivered a letter to him from Mahathir.

Daim’s trip comes just two months after Mahathir was returned to power in a general election.

Since then, the Malaysian prime minister has suspended several Chinese investment projects, including the US$20 billion East Coast Rail Link, designed to connect the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia with strategic shipping routes in the west.

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The Malaysian authorities are also looking into possible links between two China-backed gas pipeline projects and a Malaysian businessman named Jho Low who is believed to be responsible for the theft of billions of US dollars from the scandal-ridden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

But Wang told Daim that the two nations should strengthen strategic cooperation on the belt and road, and coordination on international and regional affairs, according to the ministry.

The ministry did not say if the two sides had reached an agreement on the suspended China-backed projects.

However, it quoted Daim as saying the newly elected Malaysian government “highly values” its relations with China, and that Kuala Lumpur would fully support China’s massive infrastructure plan across Asia and beyond.

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Chinese officials had sought to stabilise bilateral ties since the election, sending diplomats and economic and public security officials to Kuala Lumpur to prepare for Mahathir’s visit, sources said.

When Mahathir visits China he is expected to raise a proposal to minimise the presence of foreign warships in the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea.

Wu Shicun, head of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said the two countries’ strong foundation of economic cooperation would help them weather the uncertainties around Chinese investment, but warned that maritime disputes remained an underlying concern.