Mahathir Mohamad, 93, is a shrewd politician and he knows of the art of dealing with many complicated tasks. It is quite difficult to defeat him especially among inter-State relations. He remained in power during 1981-2003 and change Malaysia incredibly. He can be hardly defeated. He has the habit of upholding the national task than anything else.
He visited China over 16 times and knows it quite well. He has cancelled the agreements worth US$ 22 billion with China --- something very amazing and unusual. He is also regarded as the "anti-China rebel" but how far it is true, yet to be seen. He made a five-day visit to China (17-21 August) recently. His visit was successful and both sides agreed to meet again to resolve some of the basic problems.
Mahathir found his country's contracts of over US$ 22 billion with the Chinese Government unnecessary and to found to cancel all such agreements. The East Coast Rail Link and two pipelines were the main projects signed by the Najib Government with the Chinese authorities. The East Coast Rail Link, 688 km, in particular is key to China's Belt and Road plan to link Europe to Singapore by rail.
He has previously said Chinese infrastructure contracts, which borrow huge sums of money from China, rely on Chinese workers and imported Chinese materials, do not benefit Malaysia. Mahathir found of putting his country sovereignty on Beijing, something too serious. The Government of Mahathir has realised that a large sum of money has been drawn from the Chinese Export-Import Bank by the Razak Government. Mahathir Government has realised that policy of the previous Government appears somewhat detrimental to the national interest of Malaysia.
He in July suspended all the projects citing their “lopsided” terms against Malaysia and high costs. Mahathir reiterated his intention to cancel the projects – a decision he said Chinese leaders had assented to – but stressed he was doing so purely because Malaysia could not afford them, and not to spite Beijing.
But again Mahathir visited important business joints in China and held discussions with them. Mahathir has realized that that Najib Government created conditions for bankruptcy in the country and as a leader he must save the vital interest of his country. He is trying his best to save the country getting into bankruptcy. China does not want Malaysia to become a debt country for any reason. Both nations are pragmatic to see each other prosperous and to cooperate in currency swaps, e-commerce, and enhance trade agriculture products.
Mahathir notion of China has become another point of concern for those countries that might have shown little interest in China's Belt and Road Initiative and want to promote their own national interest. What Malaysia's ‘Mahathir doctrine’ means for China-US rivalry and on-going tussle? He is suggesting a firmer stand on the South China Sea issues and a different approach to be adopted rather than the approach of Xi-Trump. Mahathir thinks that the South China Sea should be taken as a cooperation among nations. Diplomatic consultations should be promoted. All nations, big or small, should play a role in the South China Sea.
Many would see the visit of Mahathir as mending fences with China over these issues and building much more pragmatic links with China in a different manner. China is an important country and Mahathir just could not ignore it. Talks are more important with China than simply opposing it.
Malaysia, being the most industrialized nations in South East Asia, could immensely benefit from Chinese experience. Mahathir said Malaysia wanted close relations with China, and needed foreign investment in technology and manufacturing to create jobs for Malaysian university graduates. Malaysia wants free and fair trade with China.
Malaysia is willing to forge new economic ties with China based on shared values and norms and must ready to keep reap the benefits. "They are more powerful, and we cannot fight against them," Mahathir said. "How do we benefit from their wealth and their power? That's what we are looking at now."
Trading relations between China and Malaysia are more important. Their trade has increased to US$ 100 billion. Alibaba and e-commerce between the two countries created more room for the enhancement of trade. The increase was due to higher export volume in electrical and electrical products, petroleum products as well as liquefied natural gas (LNG), chemicals and chemical products as well as rubber products.
The smooth growth of trade can guarantee good relations between the two countries. Hope the two countries would be able to solve the Belt and Road conflict and move more toward the direction of building more powerful economic and social relations.
The writer is Director of the China-Pakistan Study Center at the Institute of StrategicStudies Islamabad. He writes on EastAsian affairs.