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Why Malaysia shouldn’t worry about China’s investments

November 2, 2017

Malaysian officials and opposition parties must open their eyes to how the country can leverage on China's fast-growing international financial power.

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By John Lo

A very good Malay friend has asked for my comments on whether Malaysia should worry about China’s investments in the country. Obviously, many Malaysians have begun to raise this question because the opposition has been passing negative remarks in their campaign against the Chinese investments secured by the federal government.

I would like to offer my political perspectives on the subject.

Worst case scenario: Will Chinese investments lead to an invasion? Historically, China has never invaded another country or colonised any territory. China has been the victim of invasion and colonisation by all European powers, Japan, and the US in the form of “territory concessions” to these countries.

Japan invaded and occupied a large part of China and Taiwan. It slaughtered millions of Chinese, the most infamous being the Nanjing Massacre where 300,000 were murdered and mass rape was committed by Japanese troops.

All European powers have invaded each other’s territories and colonised the world. Britain has invaded all except 22 countries in the world. Japan and Western powers started two world wars. The West practices confrontation and a “winner takes all” philosophy.

Foreign policy says a lot

In the last 30 years, there has been a sharp contrast in the foreign policy conducted between China and the US. China has never started a war with any country.

In sharp contrast, the US and her NATO allies, especially the UK, have invaded and brought untold misery to countries in the Middle East. Look at Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the current attempt to destabilise Iran. Remember Vietnam?

The US has not changed her cold war mentality. Their basis of forging foreign relations with other countries is based on keeping the US arms industry complex prosperous by instigating wars. This “cowboy” style is a distinct danger to world peace.

China’s focus, on the other hand, is building highways and railways in many African countries. Ports and other infrastructure in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. China has poured billions in economic development into many countries.

Britain has colonised Malaysia. China sent a princess to marry the Sultan of Melaka. Such gestures, though in different historical periods, serve to highlight the respective styles of the West as opposed to China.

Tun Mahathir Mohamad’s “Look East Policy” could have been China instead of Japan had he been the prime minister now.

Notwithstanding the exploitations by the West, many Malaysians in the corridors of power are still very much anglophiles and overtly westernised. Puzzling that these very people still adore the ground our colonisers/exploiters tread on and scoff at China’s investments.

Something is not right here. It is time they review their outlook, at least, keep an even keel as Malaysia’s future is at stake.

Over the last 30 years, China’s economic growth has been phenomenal. A country of 1.3 billion with the biggest number of poor people, has uplifted more than 600 million into the middle class. She is adding 30 million [Malaysia’s total population] to this number every year. Most respectable studies are predicting the Chinese economy will be bigger than the US’ before 2030. Bloomberg says this will happen in 2026.

How has the US helped Malaysia prosper?

President Donald Trump’s inward-looking policy is hastening the decline of the US. The US and her allies have ruled the world and imposed their will on other countries in the name of democracy and promise of prosperity for a few hundred years. Very few countries have benefited and many have suffered by adopting or submitting to the US’ will. China’s economic growth model has shown to be better than that of the West’s.

The US’ presence in Malaysia has helped little to build up our economy. They have been pumping our oil for years but have not given us an oil industry. They have invested a lot more, I really mean a lot more, in Singapore’s oil industry.

Even in IT, the US have set up factories in Penang but have not taken any significant Malaysian partners for research and development. They have done this big time with Singapore. Is the US willing to invest in ports or railways? Or buy properties? No way as their focus has always been short-term self-centred “profits and benefits” for themselves.

China is not a rising superpower. China is already an established superpower. She has set up international financial and development institutions to rival and replace pro-West ones like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and such.

China’s AIIB [Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank] has enrolled many countries including the US’ traditional allies like Australia, the UK and Germany despite threats of US repercussions.

The US can no longer squeeze the developing world using these so-called international institutions under her control. China’s “One Belt One Road” is set to change the world positively, especially the less developed countries.

The reality of US versus China

Look at the economic reality for Malaysia. The US has boycotted and staged an extensive smear campaign against our oil palm to protect her edible oil industry. It almost killed it.

China and Malaysia are on the same continent. She has 1.3 billion people, increasingly becoming wealthy. The US has just about 400 million.

Exporting to China is a lot easier logistically. The US uses all sort of threats to control other countries, often using trade. If this fails, its aircraft carriers will arrive at our doorsteps.

In very simple language, Malaysia can sell “mau sang wang” to China at a price that is unheard of. How do we sell durians to the US? China is the largest market in the world. And the Chinese have money to buy our products at equitable prices.

Far too many Malaysians are willing to invest in properties or take pride to send their children to the UK for an education. In many international surveys, UK’s education is at the bottom.

China and Singapore are on top, with Shanghai at the very top. China produces scientists and engineers in number more than the US and Europe combined every year.

Why should we pay for expensive-at-the-bottom-rank education? Why are we not sending students to China where the cost is a fraction to that of the UK’s? MARA is sending thousands of students to Ohio State University. What is its ranking? The UK is importing Chinese science and maths teachers in order to restore her standards.

The fastest computers in the world are those of the Chinese. They have had breakthroughs in quantum computing and can send quantum signals from space. China has already got a prototype quantum computer which is 24,000 times faster than the fastest computers at present.

Usage of smartphones and IT is far more extensive in China than in the US. Even hawkers can accept smartphone payments on the spot.

Very important but often ignored is that China and Malaysia share the same time zone.

Being pragmatic about China

Tan Sri Musa Aman’s pragmatism towards China is paying off and will bring dividends for Sabah. No way can Sabah have as many US tourist arrivals in 10 years as Chinese tourist arrivals in one year.

What is more important for our future is that on his recent visit to Beijing, the Chinese promised him an additional one million tourists if Sabah had the necessary facilities for them.

The current tourism boom will pale in comparison when one million additional Chinese tourists, including more high-end Chinese MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Event) tourists, come after the completion of the Sabah International Convention Centre (SICC).

From Sabah’s perspectives, China which is in close proximity to Malaysia, has the world’s largest market, and is becoming increasingly wealthy.

The next stage is for Sabah to look to China for agricultural collaboration, the objective being to transform Sabah into Malaysia’s “Food State” with high-value crops for export. The Chinese can feed 1.3 billion. China has the technology to feed 1.3 billion. I am certain China can give Sabah the necessary assistance so that we can eliminate or reduce Malaysia’s RM45 billion food imports each year.

Malaysian high officials and opposition parties must open their eyes on how Malaysia can leverage on China’s fast-growing international financial power.

Already, the renminbi has become the medium of exchange and payment for a number of oil-producing countries. The US dollar is not backed by gold. China has proposed the use of renminbi as an international currency to be backed by her gold reserves.

Shanghai will rival and may soon overtake New York as the financial capital of the world. The US-dominated IMF has finally recognised the renminbi as a reserve currency.

I can quite understand the opposition’s inclination to politicise China’s investments in Malaysia to instil fear in the voters’ minds, especially Malay voters.

I am willing to take a bet that should the opposition take over the government, they will run to Beijing first for investment. The reason is simple, the US will not invest much here. Europe is down. Japan has been in the doldrums for more than 20 years. They need investments more than Malaysia does. It is not wise to run down China’s investment for the sake of political campaigning.

The proper way to address any issue on China’s investments is not to blame the Chinese. They have come because the government has lobbied hard for China’s investments.

If the opposition has any reservations, they should direct their criticism to the government and should not implicate China. To say that China is giving kickbacks is in bad taste and shows insensitivity and crudeness.

I am not advocating abandoning Malaysia’s relationship with the US for China. We should keep an even keel with both superpowers. Definitely, it makes more economic sense to deal with China more for the reasons already stated.

Thanks to Tun Abdul Razak’s wisdom and foresight for being the first head of state in Asean to establish diplomatic relationships with China in 1974. Malaysia occupies a special place in Beijing’s heart. Malaysia should use this for our benefit. I am sure Beijing would welcome Malaysia to exercising this privilege.

John Lo is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.


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