What to watch for in Mahathir Mohamad’s first official Beijing visit

The prime minister has been notably outspoken in his criticism of China-backed infrastructure projects and Beijing’s involvement in the South China Sea. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad this week will be making his first official visit to China since he returned to power in May. The trip will take place against a backdrop of increasingly […]

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August 16, 2018

The prime minister has been notably outspoken in his criticism of China-backed infrastructure projects and Beijing’s involvement in the South China Sea.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad this week will be making his first official visit to China since he returned to power in May. The trip will take place against a backdrop of increasingly tense trade relations between the United States and China, and is expected to set the tone for future relations between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing.

Mahathir’s visit will begin on August 17 and he will remain in China until the 21st. While there, he will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang.

Among the subjects that are expected to be discussed during the visit is the issue of several multi-million dollar Chinese-backed Malaysian infrastructure projects.

These deals—which center around two gas pipelines and a rail project along Peninsular Malaysia’s eastern coast—were signed by Mahathir’s predessesor, Najib Razak, and are likely to be a hot button topic. Mahathir said Monday that he would seek to cancel these deals which he judges to be not adequately beneficial to Malaysia.

Mahathir has spoken out against China’s handling of such infrastructure projects, including practice of importing Chinese workers and materials, rather than building up those industries in Malaysia.

“We don’t think we need those two projects. We don’t think they are viable. So if we can, we would like to just drop the projects,” the PM said in a conversation with The Associated Press.

Mahathir has also been outspoken about his opposition to China’s military posturing in the South China Sea, a topic that’s sure to come up in official conversations during the visit.

But Mahathir has also been quick to make assurances that his tough stance on these particular issues should not indicate an unwillingness to work closely with Beijing.

In a recent interview with Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post he said, “I have always regarded China as a neighbor, a good neighbor and also as a very big market for whatever it is we produce.

“Malaysia is a trading nation,” he added. “We need markets.”

 

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