PETALING JAYA: Dr Mahathir Mohamad has hit out at the Melaka Gateway port project as yet another sign that the federal government is ceding sovereignty to China for short-term political gains.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) yesterday quoted the former prime minister as questioning the need for the RM43 billion project.
“We have adequate facilities in this country. We already have enough ports and the necessary infrastructure to attract tourists. This [Melaka Gateway] is unnecessary,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with SCMP last month.
Mahathir, who also chairs Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), has been at the forefront of criticisms over billion dollar contracts to China, including the move to attract property buyers from the mainland to Johor.
He has warned that the RM100 billion Forest City in Johor developed by China’s Country Garden Holdings would not stop home owners from the mainland applying to become Malaysian citizens one day, as the properties were given freehold status.
More recently, he took a swipe at the RM55 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project whose main contractor is the Beijing-based China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), saying that a highway would better serve the economy.
Mahathir said the Melaka Gateway would only increase Malaysia’s debts considerably while benefitting businesses from China instead of Malaysians.
But Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin defended the project, saying it was Mahathir’s policy to enhance economic cooperation with east Asia.
“When he was prime minister, we saw a big influx in Japanese investment… No one accused Dr Mahathir during his ‘Look East’ policy of selling out the country,” Khairy was quoted as saying.
“By that same token, this is an extension of us working together with a rising economy which is today China.”
Melaka Gateway features a deep-sea port to be built by 2019 on Pulau Melaka off the coast of Malacca, a move seen as competing with Singapore.
Launched in 2014, the project is a joint venture between the Malacca state government’s KAJ Development Sdn Bhd and Chinese energy company PowerChina International
SCMP said it would feature a cruise terminal and a waterfront district, which includes hotels and a giant observation wheel.
Sam Beatson, a researcher at the Lau China Institute at King’s College London, told SCMP that Melaka Gateway was also a strategic measure by China “to help secure trade routes” amid regional tensions.
Some 80% of China’s maritime oil imports pass through the Straits of Malacca, the report added.