Fear-mongering about China must stop, says Mah

Mah Siew Keong denies that China is only interested in infrastructure-led investments.

PETALING JAYA: Fear-mongering about China’s investments in Malaysia will hurt the economy, says plantations minister Mah Siew Keong in an article that was critical of political attacks on Chinese investment.

He said over-politicisation and misinformation had impacted the discourse on Chinese investments in Malaysia, which he said was unfortunate as Malaysia would benefit from China’s expansion of its massive Belt and Road Initiative in the region.

Mah’s comments were made in an opinion piece published in BusinessWorld, a business newspaper in the Philippines.

He noted that approved foreign direct investments by China in Malaysia’s manufacturing sector grew from RM0.6 billion in 2010 to RM3.85 billion in 2017, and denied claims that China was only interested in infrastructure-led investments.

He said the cumulative amount of Chinese investment was only a fraction of investments from other countries, and pointed out that the “fear-mongering attitude” towards foreign direct investment was detrimental to the Malaysian economy.

The most notable criticism of Chinese investment came recently from Dr Mahathir Mohamad, chairman of the opposition Pakatan Harapan alliance, who said that China’s investments in the country would be reviewed if Pakatan came to power.

Mahathir is the Pakatan nominee for prime minister. He said in a recent interview with Bloomberg that Chinese investment was welcomed if companies set up operations in Malaysia, employed locals, and brought in capital and technology to the country but this was not the case.

“Here we gain nothing from the investment,” Mahathir, 92, had said. “We don’t welcome that.”

However, Mah decried the focus on China. “It is unfair to single out a particular country in reference to FDI in order to gain political mileage,” he said.

“The impact of creating such alarmist views and anti-trade approach will actually hurt local small and medium-sized enterprises that are ultimate beneficiaries for trade and potential employment,” he said.

Mah said project loans had also come from other countries.

Since 1973, the Japan International Cooperation Agency provided loans for many large projects such as the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Port Klang power station project and Pahang-Selangor raw water transfer project.

In 1979, the Asian Development Bank had also provided a loan of US$53.8 million (over RM200 million at today’s exchange rate) for the Bintulu deep water port, while the World Bank financed a number of power, water and port-related infrastructure projects during the premiership of Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“One must remember that in November 2016 alone, Malaysia signed more than 10 Memorandum of Understandings and other agreements with global partners worth over RM144 billion, followed by even more multi-billion Ringgit MoUs in the following year.

“Without counting for present value, investments coming from JICA alone is at least RM33 billion in total. The actual amount may go above and beyond that figure,” he said.

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