Dr M’s BRI approval marks renewed Malaysia-China ties

PM’s show of support concluded his visit as an achievement of Malaysian diplomacy


PRIME Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s show of support for Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) points to a renewed bilateral relationship for both countries as evidenced by Malaysia’s agreement to cooperate on several sectors with China.

The revival of key China-backed deals including the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and Bandar Malaysia, has abated uncertainties and tensions between Malaysia and China, said Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute’s Centre for Public Policy Studies senior research analyst Paul Lim Pau Hua.

“The trade partnership between the two countries has been reassured. Apart from the revival of the ECRL and Bandar Malaysia, the new palm oil deal valued at RM4.5 billion, the artificial intelligence (AI) park project with local AI company participation, and Dr Mahathir’s visit to Huawei Technologies Co Ltd Beijing signify the positive developments between Malaysia and China,” Lim told The Malaysian Reserve recently.

Lim said Dr Mahathir’s stand on freedom of passage along the South China Sea route has underlined concern on regional safety and this highlights Malaysia’s role and commitment in Asean.

“On this basis, the stance can be concluded as an achievement of Malaysian diplomacy,” he said.

Meanwhile, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs CEO Ali Salman said Dr Mahathir’s statement during the Belt and Road forum reflected the government’s intent to be pragmatic in its foreign and economic policies.

“The BRI is one of the most important policy and infrastructure initiatives of the 21st century and it is appreciable that the Chinese leadership has acknowledged the need to ensure its sustainability given concerns over the debt burden on some host countries. This has also come amid calls for more transparency, which is an essential feature of good democracy.

“Given these changes, and the recently reached agreement between China and Malaysia to bring down the costs of ECRL and then renew it, the statement by Dr Mahathir is very welcoming,” Ali said.

“The Malaysian government should embrace all possible opportunities which the BRI offers and that the terms and conditions of this relationship remain transparent and the government does not repeat the mistakes of previous government to lock in projects with rather unconvincing viability and shrouded in mystery.

“Any projects should follow the principle of a net positive economic return and fair competition, both domestic and international levels,” he added.

Last Friday, Dr Mahathir was given the honour to deliver a speech at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation where he pledged his support for the BRI led by China, Malaysia’s largest trading partner.

Malaysia’s achievement in bringing Beijing back to the negotiation table on the ECRL to cut down cost by a third to RM44 billion has been lauded as a successful case study in the implementation of the Belt and Road projects.

In what many consider as China’s attempt to revamp the BRI brand, Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his keynote address during the forum, vowed “zero tolerance” on corruption amid allegations of exploitation on some of its high-profile projects.