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Mahathir to review China ventures if he wins election

We gain nothing from the investment, he says, citing plans by Country Garden to invest US$100b in Johor

Kuala Lumpur

CHINESE investors in Malaysia will face more scrutiny if former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad wins back power in the upcoming election.

Dr Mahathir, the opposition's candidate for prime minister, said in an interview with Bloomberg on Friday that Chinese investment was welcome if companies set up operations in Malaysia, employed locals, and brought in capital and technology to the country. This wasn't the case now, he said.

"Here we gain nothing from the investment," Dr Mahathir, 92, said in his office in Kuala Lumpur. "We don't welcome that." Dr Mahathir's comments reflect broader concerns about Chinese investment across Asia that have stoked political tensions from Australia to Sri Lanka. While many countries are eager to benefit from President Xi Jinping's plan to facilitate hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment throughout the world, they are also wary of becoming too dependent on China.

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In Malaysia, Chinese investment has raised concerns over sovereignty and economic inequality. Dr Mahathir referenced plans by Country Garden Holdings Co Ltd to invest US$100 billion in Johor state to build apartments that cost upwards of one million ringgit (S$339,000). The median annual income in Malaysia was 62,736 ringgit in 2016.

"We don't have enough people with wealth to buy all those very expensive flats, so you're bringing in foreigners," Dr Mahathir said. "No country wants to have an influx of huge numbers of foreign people into their country."

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is seeking to extend his premiership for a third term in the general election, has dismissed the opposition's concerns on Chinese investment as "irresponsible politicians' scare-mongering."

"Remember that Malaysian investment in China used to be bigger than Chinese investment in Malaysia, and that we have more Malaysian investments overseas than foreign direct investments in this country," Mr Najib said at the Invest Malaysia 2018 conference in Kuala Lumpur in January. "So this is a two-way street. FDI levels vary over time, and such connections are part of, and key to, a healthy and diversified economy."

China is Malaysia's top source of foreign direct investment, contributing 7 per cent of the total 54.7 billion ringgit it received last year.

In the interview, Dr Mahathir cited Sri Lanka as a country that "lost a lot of land" because it couldn't pay back money from China. Last year, Sri Lanka's government gave a joint venture led by a Chinese state-run company a 99-year lease to the southern port of Hambantota in return for debt relief.

"Lots of people don't like Chinese investments," Dr Mahathir said. "We are for Malaysians. We want to defend the rights of Malaysians. We don't want to sell chunks of this country to foreign companies who will develop whole towns."

Polling date out on April 10

MALAYSIA'S Election Commission (EC) will announce the polling and nomination dates for the country's upcoming election on Tuesday. The Star online newspaper said the EC will be having a meeting relating to the general election at their main headquarters in Putrajaya at 10am. The meeting will be chaired by EC chairman Mohd Hashim bin Abdullah, with a press conference to be held afterwards at noon.