Mahathir Mohamad is using lucrative new Chinese development projects to stir up racist sentiment and attack Prime Minister Najib. This is not only a lie but a dangerous one at that.
By Holly Reeves
The Chinese are coming says Malaysia’s ageing strongman leader and developing national joke, Mahathir Mohamad. People should be afraid. They want our country, our land and to rob Malaysians of their rightful opportunities.
His comments refer to the RM170 billion (US$38 billion) Forest City development project in Johor, but his remarks play on a growing racial undercurrent in Malaysian politics. Listen to his cold vitriol, and he claims massive Chinese investment in the region means 700,000 foreigners would be given citizenship, then be eligible to vote in the next general election. “Whatever ideology they believe in might change the colour of Malaysian politics,” he implores.
Mahathir’s statements are full of self-interest and rewrite the history of his rule
But the colour of these statements is clearly yellow. They are the position of a coward, hiding his self-interest behind that of the country. “Here, we have Dr Mahathir creating fear, using race, just to fulfil his political motives. He is not stupid, he is just selfish and opportunistic,” says Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar.
You see, yet again, this is Mahathir twisting facts to try and win points against Prime Minister Najib. His recent blog posts are rewriting history to say money from overseas which he took was to the country’s benefit, but the new Chinese investment deals his successor has signed are underhand and inappropriate.
“I find that Mahathir and his allies are only talking negative things, most of which are a figment of his imagination and evil thoughts,” adds the Johor region’s monarch bites back in an interview with The Star. “I feel sad for him because he had to lower himself to this point. It is okay to disagree but please do not concoct things,” the Sultan added.
Riling up anti-Chinese sentiment threatens future growth and investment
The concern is that although Mahathir is widely expected to rally aggressively and pointlessly against the onward march of progress; his venom is spreading at a time when Malaysia cannot afford to turn its back on Chinese investment. Muhyiddin Yassin, the probable leader of Beratsu and possible national leader, has also dripped poison on the Forest City project and similar saying they were, “robbing the rice bowl” of Malaysians.
But this opinion overlooks an uncomfortable truth. As China rises as a global superpower, Malaysia, and its much-weaker base of opportunity, is not as appealing as some would believe for wealthy, upwardly-mobile modern Chinese. Even the usually conciliatory Foreign Ministry says Mahathir’s comments are verging on the absurd.
They say, “Somebody applauded Sino-Malaysian cooperation when in office but fanned the flame of anti-Chinese sentiment after.” Their statement added, “Saying China’s investment is stealing job opportunities from Malaysia is a complete lie with a secret agenda behind it.” That agenda is simply to play on nationalistic fears to win political points. Mahathir should be ashamed that his political prowess has fallen so far.
His claims are factually inaccurate; Najib says they are slanderous
And when properly investigated the lie in the former leader’s statements is quickly exposed. Those taking up long-term residency under the “Malaysia, My Second Home” project cannot even claim citizenship. They can, however, come into the country to spend their time, and their money, in the developing areas of Johor.
“If (purchasers) buy a house (in Forest City), their house will be on our land. Where is the question of our sovereignty being sacrificed?” Bernama quotes Prime Minister Najib as explaining. “He (Dr Mahathir) has made a false statement and (slandered) the federal and Johor governments.”
Meanwhile, data from Q3 2016 shows Malaysian investment in China stood at RM7.2 billion (US$1.63 billion) or 1.3% of total Dow Jones Industrial Average stock. This compares to RM4.9 billion (US$1.1 billion) of investment from China to Malaysia, accounting for merely 0.9% of total FDI stock, meaning Malaysians invest more in China than they other way around. By Mahathir’s logic, Kuala Lumpur is more of a threat to Beijing.
Foreign investment is an important part of Malaysia’s future growth
The point that seems to be made most often in the forward and back of this most recent of Mahathir-fuelled empty spats is that foreign ownership of property is a significant threat. But looking across to Singapore the number of expatriate workers and property owners has been fuel to the economic fire that leaves it at the head of ASEAN’s growth tables. Malaysia should embrace the opportunity, not regress to the fear and resentment of Mahathir’s old ways.
The truth is that China and her people are the new power players in regional economic growth and they bring money, opportunity and partnership to Malaysia. Friends need to be chosen very carefully on the path to prosperity and peace, and their motives carefully examined. Consider the question, what did Mahathir last do for his country? China may be hungry, but she’s willing to share. Mahathir serves no-one but himself.