Mahathir to visit China after putting $20bn of projects on ice

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian and Chinese officials are in talks for Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (pictured) to visit Beijing soon, two sources with knowledge of the discussions said, after Kuala Lumpur suspended China-backed projects worth more than $20 billion.
Mahathir, who came to power in May following a stunning election defeat for then prime minister Najib Razak, is reviewing major projects signed by the former government, saying many of them do not make financial sense for Malaysia.
His trip to Beijing has been provisionally agreed for mid-August, according to one source involved in planning it. A Malaysian foreign ministry source said both sides had yet to finalise dates, but Mahathir was “looking forward to visiting China”.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to talk to the media on the subject.
A spokesman for Mahathir did not comment. China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
Najib courted billions of dollars of Chinese investment and was one of Southeast Asia’s most enthusiastic supporters of President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative.
Arrested this week on charges of corruption, Najib pleaded not guilty and was freed on bail on Wednesday.
Reuters on Thursday reported authorities were investigating whether his administration made use of Chinese funds for two pipeline projects to pay the dues of scandal-ridden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). Mahathir has been highly critical of the benefits of certain Chinese projects in Malaysia. Since taking office, he has vowed to renegotiate terms even as construction work continued.
But in a surprise move this week, the finance ministry, under Mahathir’s orders, called a halt to work on three projects: the $20 billion East Coast Railway Link (ECRL) and two pipeline projects worth $2.3 billion.
The 688 km ECRL will connect the South China Sea off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia with the strategic shipping routes of the Straits of Malacca to the west.
The other two projects are a petroleum pipeline stretching 600 km along the west coast of peninsular Malaysia and a 662 km gas pipeline in Sabah, the Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. — Reuters