Malaysia reviews China infrastructure plans

Malaysia’s former PM Najib Razak (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2018
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Malaysia reviews China infrastructure plans

  • Malaysia's scandal-mired former PM Najib Razak signed a string of deals for Beijing-funded projects, including a major rail link and a deep-sea port.
  • New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has announced a planned high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and neighboring Singapore will not go ahead as he seeks to reduce the country’s huge national debt.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has been a loyal partner in China’s globe-spanning infrastructure drive, but its new government is to review Beijing-backed projects, threatening key links in the much-vaunted initiative.

Kuala Lumpur’s previous regime, led by scandal-mired Najib Razak, had warm ties with China, and signed a string of deals for Beijing-funded projects, including a major rail link and a deep-sea port.

But the long-ruling coalition was unexpectedly voted out last month by an electorate alienated by allegations of corruption and rising living costs.

Critics have said that many agreements lacked transparency, fueling suspicions they were struck in exchange for help to pay off debts from the financial scandal which ultimately helped bring down Najib’s regime.

The new government, led by political heavyweight Mahathir Mohammed, has pledged to review Chinese deals seen as dubious, calling into question Malaysia’s status as one of Beijing’s most cooperative partners in its infrastructure push.

China launched its initiative to revive ancient Silk Road trading routes with a global network of ports, roads and railways — dubbed “One Belt, One Road” —  in 2013.

Malaysia and Beijing ally Cambodia were seen as bright spots in Southeast Asia, with projects in other countries often facing problems, from land acquisition to drawn-out negotiations with governments.

“Malaysia under Najib moved quickly to approve and implement projects,” Murray Hiebert, a senior associate from think-tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told AFP.

Chinese foreign direct investment into Malaysia stood at just 0.8 percent of total net FDI inflows in 2008, but that figure had risen to 14.4 percent by 2016, according to a study from Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

However, Hiebert said it was “widely assumed” that Malaysia was striking quick deals with China in the hope of getting help to cover debts from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Najib and his associates were accused of stealing huge sums of public money from the investment vehicle in a massive fraud. Public disgust at the allegations — denied by Najib and 1MDB — helped topple his government.

Malaysia’s first change of government in six decades has left Najib facing a potential jail term.

New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has announced a planned high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and neighboring Singapore will not go ahead as he seeks to reduce the country’s huge national debt.

The project was in its early stages and had not yet received any Chinese funding as part of “One Belt, One Road.” But Chinese companies were favorites to build part of the line, which would have constituted a link in a high-speed route from China’s Yunnan province to trading hub Singapore, along which Chinese goods could have been transported for export.

Work has already started in Malaysia on another line seen as part of that route, with Chinese funding — the $14-billion East Coast Rail Link, running from close to the Thai border to a port near Kuala Lumpur.

Mahathir has said that agreement is now being renegotiated.

Other Chinese-funded initiatives include a deep-sea port in Malacca, near important shipping routes, and an enormous industrial park.

It is not clear yet which projects will be amended but experts believe axing some will be positive.

Alex Holmes, Asia economist for Capital Economics, backed canceling some initiatives, citing “Malaysia’s weak fiscal position and that some of the projects are of dubious economic value.”

The Chinese foreign ministry did not respond to request for comment.

Decoder

What is the "One Belt, One Road" initiative?

The “One Belt, One Road” initiative, started in 2013, has come to define the economic agenda of President Xi Jinping. It aims to revive ancient Silk Road trading routes with a network of ports, roads and railways.


Former Nissan chairman Ghosn appears in Tokyo court

Updated 23 May 2019
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Former Nissan chairman Ghosn appears in Tokyo court

  • It is the first of a series of hearings to iron out logistics for Carlos Ghosn’s actual trial
  • Nissan’s former chairman has hired a strong legal team as he fights to clear his name

TOKYO: Nissan’s former chairman, Carlos Ghosn, appeared in a Japanese courtroom Thursday for a hearing ahead of his trial on accusations of financial misconduct.
It was the first of a series of hearings to iron out logistics for Ghosn’s actual trial. The trial date has not been set, and experts say it could be months away.
Ghosn, who led the Japanese automaker for two decades, was arrested in November and charged with underreporting his income and breach of trust. He was released on bail in March, rearrested in April on fresh accusations and then released again on bail on April 25.
Ghosn insists he is innocent and says he was targeted in a “conspiracy” by others at Nissan Motor Co.
Nissan, which is allied with Renault of France, has seen profits nose-dive amid the fallout from Ghosn’s arrest.
Ghosn has hired a strong legal team as he fights to clear his name. One of his top lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, was seen walking into the courtroom Thursday with Ghosn.
One of the conditions of Ghosn’s release on bail is that he is forbidden to contact his wife. Prosecutors say that’s to prevent evidence tampering.
Ghosn’s lawyers challenged that restriction, saying it is a violation of human rights, but the Supreme Court rejected their appeal Tuesday.
The lawyers can appeal again to have the restriction removed.
In a briefing Thursday, Deputy Chief Prosecutor Shin Kukimoto welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision.
“For married people to be together is important, but I feel there was enough reason for the Supreme Court to support us in this restriction,” he said.
Kukimoto declined comment on the hearing, which was closed to reporters and the public.
Kukimoto also said the maximum penalty upon conviction of all 15 counts of the charges Ghosn is facing is 15 years in prison and a fine of ¥150 million ($1.4 million).