China’s mega investments in Malaysia: Are our strategic interests compromised?

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China is expected to play a bigger role in infrastructure development in Malaysia - Photograph: South China Morning Post

Malaysians should ask serious questions relating to the RM144bn worth of memorandums of understanding signed during Najib’s recent visit to China, says K Haridas.

The Cold War as we knew it may have ended, but in today’s multipolar world there is increasing evidence of big powers wanting to ensure their pre-eminence over smaller nations and ensure that their geopolitical interests are both protected and ensured.

It is in this context that Malaysians should ask serious questions relating to the RM144bn worth of memorandums of understanding signed during Najib’s recent visit to China. Do these in anyway compromise Malaysia’s strategic interests?

At a time when we see both the West and China vying for closer ties with Asean nations, we must not only seek certain fundamental assurances from China but also ensure that our interests are not all placed in one basket.

At a time when our own leadership seems compromised, there is a need for closer inspection and scrutiny of such special relationships. The Chinese will continue to enjoy free visa entry status into Malaysia until the end of December 2017.

Already, they are involved in the bauxite scandal in Kuantan. There is no openness within Malaysia to deal with such issues in a transparent manner and hold people accountable. Chinese property investments in the Iskandar area and the coastal areas of Johore are immense.

We have also to note that our strategic power interests have been sold to the Chinese to cover up possibly the 1MDB fiasco. There is also news that several of our ports both in East and West Malaysia are being developed by the Chinese. With such strategic interests already in their hands, what remains of our capacity and capability to any form of neutrality.

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The bullet train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur will compromise the status of our KLIA terminals. There are now direct flights to Malacca to China and, there are indications that the Chinese will also help develop this entry point. With airports, sea ports, railways and power interests already secured, where do we stand as a nation?

Asean had signed a pact in 1971 declaring the region a “zone of peace, freedom and neutrality”. Has China assured Asean nations that it respects this Asean declaration? The Chinese claim to islands in the South China Sea remains an irritant in the relationship with several Asean nations.

In this context, let us also consider the status of the different Asean nations with regard to China. A corrupt Cambodia will ensure that Asean will never approve any resolutions which would challenge China’s role in this region.

Like Malaysia, the Cambodian ruler has been in power for decades and is perceived by some to be tainted. Leading opposition leaders of Cambodia are now in exile.

Thailand has already acceded to China’s opening up the Kra Canal. Work is proceeding, and when this is done, what does this say about our own strategic interests? Thailand will ensure that its own interest prevails, even at the expense of its neighbours; it presently faces an internal political stalemate.

The new Philippines president has already blown hot and cold with China and is not ready to take the position of his predecessor. Singapore seems to be the butt of China’s focus. With the Kra canal completed, the status of the port of Singapore will be compromised.

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With the bludgeoning developments in the coastal areas of Johor, there will be added challenges to Singapore. Singapore remains one of the few Asean nations that have vocally supported the ruling of the international courts. This has not been perceived well by the Chinese.

Indonesia is the only other nation that has taken a stand on its sovereignty and sent a clear message to the Chinese. While Vietnam is known for its independence, much less can be said for nations like Laos and Brunei.
Nations like Malaysia can only thrive when our interests are balanced. Chinese interests have to be balanced with greater economic partnerships with Indonesia, India, Japan and Singapore.

This is unlike the European Commission or the United States trade deals, which are also accompanied by human rights, environmental and other requirements.

Africa will reveal how Chinese projects are deals made at the highest political levels.

Such deals lack competitive and transparent bidding processes. Further, most of the workforce are Chinese brought in from China, and promises of job creation and the flouting of local rules and requirements are evident.

In addition, Chinese goods will flood the local market as is evident in Africa, and this will itself pose a major challenge to Chinese Malaysian and other entrepreneurs. It is important that all aspects are clearly spelt out when dealing with China.

China thus becomes an avenue for compromised leaders to undertake their investments, and in doing so such nations could compromise both their sovereignty while their leaders would be able to open ‘Yuan’ investments in China.
We must ensure that all deals are properly vetted and third party independent evaluations are done so that outflows from the nation are not compromised.

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Wine, women and song were the way ‘spies’ used to operate. Today, it is these three and more – the culture of money and greed that is also exploited. It is important that we are not perceived to be like other compromised African nations.

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