PETALING JAYA: Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has warned that China poses the most serious long-term threat to the regional stability of Southeast Asia by placing itself in a position where it can dominate governments without conquering any of them.
The PPBM chairman said the situation had become worrying as China’s new and emerging leaders are ambitious and prone to assert the superpower’s authority over others.
“Without actually conquering the countries they have managed to increase their influence over many countries in Southeast Asia, even in South Asia,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times (FT) published today.
“With the changes in (its) leadership, we see more ambitious leaders coming in and maybe they like to flex their muscles a bit and that is very worrisome,” he says.
Mahathir, who served as prime minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003, said he foresees a clash between China, as it keeps growing in power, and the traditionally US-dominated world order.
“They’re not really communist but they are not democratic; they are inclined towards totalitarianism and obviously this conflicts with western ideas about implanting democracy in the countries of the world,” he was quoted as saying in the FT report.
Over the past few months Mahathir has criticised Chinese mega projects in Malaysia as allowing the Communist superpower to gain a strategic foothold in the country and the surrounding sea routes.
He had yesterday bemoaned the agreed 49.9% sale of Proton Holdings Bhd to China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group. Zhejiang Geely also agreed to buy a 51% stake in Lotus Cars from DRB-Hicom Bhd.
He said the sale of Proton was but the beginning of Malaysian assets, including land, being sold off to foreigners.
The other projects where he has opposed Chinese investments include the RM43 billion Melaka Gateway project, the RM100 billion Forest City in Johor and the RM55 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) whose main contractor is the Beijing-based China Communications Construction Company (CCCC).
He has also expressed reservations on Malaysia’s participation in the One Belt One Road initiative which has seen Beijing undertake up to US$926 billion (RM3.95 trillion) worth of projects along strategic land and sea routes, spanning over 15,000 kilometres. The projects include railway networks, highways and ports in countries such as Laos, Pakistan and Vietnam.
Mahathir however had some praise for Malaysian Chinese for their enterprise and resilience in the face of a pro-Bumiputera environment brought about due to government policy in Malaysia.
Defending the racial ideas stated in his book The Malay Dilemma published in 1970, he said in the interview: “Even though you give the contract to a Malay, he’s not able to carry it out and eventually he goes to the Chinese.
“The Chinese are a very dynamic people and despite having to cater to affirmative action the Chinese in Malaysia have done much better than the Chinese in the Philippines, in Indonesia or Thailand, which shows that they are a very resilient people who can survive under any condition,” he was quoted as saying.
He also said his successors have not been able to meet the expectations and goals of Malaysia’s Vision 2020 which was formulated under his rule.
“When I stepped down, the country was well on track to become a developed country by the year 2020,” he was quoted as saying. “Of course they (the successors) are quite unable to achieve the objective.”