Ties with China: Fake news and fearmongering

Opinion  |  Dennis Ignatius
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Fake news and fearmongering are being taken to new heights these days. Civil servants and servicemen have been told they could lose their jobs and their benefits if the opposition came to power. As well, the Royal Malay Regiment could be disbanded; bumiputera institutions like Mara and Felda closed down and our cherished monarchical system abolished.

All this, of course, feeds into the larger narrative that an opposition victory will have disastrous consequences for the Malays. It is a replay of the politics of fear and division that has long been a staple of Malaysian elections. It seems to matter little that it is all nothing but fake news and fearmongering.

Going by their own definition (as per the fake news bill passed yesterday in Parliament), has the government become the largest purveyor of fake news in the country?

Now bilateral relations with China are being added to this toxic mix of fake news and fearmongering with the government warning that our relations with China will suffer if the opposition wins and carries out a promised review of China projects.

China is undoubtedly our most important economic partner. Good political and economic relations and security cooperation with China are not an option but a necessity. Any government that comes to power will not be so foolish as to needlessly jeopardise relations with such a key economic partner.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad, for one, did much to promote relations with China during his term in office and understands full well the importance of the relationship. Any suggestion that he, or others in the opposition, would be willing to undermine the relationship just to score cheap points with the electorate makes no sense at all.

At the same time, a responsible government must ensure that all projects built with taxpayer funds serve the national interest. Foreign countries are free to invest their own money in Malaysia (subject to the relevant regulations) but when it involves taxpayers, the government must ensure that their interests are protected.

That’s what good governments do; only vassals are fearful of doing whatever is necessary to protect the national interest.

As for the projects themselves, many have been controversial right from the start. Economists and others have been deeply concerned with the lack of transparency, the potential for corruption, inadequate proof of viability and insufficient attention to local requirements.

The issues involved are economic rather than political; economists sounded the alarm long before they became a political issue. To suggest that opposition politicians are somehow trying to politicise this issue is simply disingenuous.

China to gain more from ECRL

The East Coast Railway Line (ECRL) is a case in point. Originally estimated to cost less than RM30 billion, the project is now valued at RM55 billion. Critically, no satisfactory data has been provided to indicate that the project is viable.

If KTM, operating along the far more developed and prosperous west coast corridor, still cannot turn a profit (it suffered accumulated losses amounting to RM1.87 billion between 2000 and 2015), what hope can the ECRL have of becoming viable along the less developed east coast corridor even with the most optimistic growth forecast?

Furthermore, from what can be ascertained, PRC companies stand to gain far more from the project than Malaysian companies. If taxpayers are funding a project, shouldn’t Malaysian companies profit more from it than foreign companies?

No surprise then that the opposition wants to review the ECRL project if it takes power in Putrajaya. If this and other projects are found to be truly viable, if there are no indications of corruption and impropriety, and if the interests of Malaysian companies are adequately protected, there is no reason why these projects should be cancelled.

If there’s nothing to hide, no party should have any reason to fear a review. On the other hand, the strident attacks and fearmongering concerning a possible review of projects and contracts might indicate that perhaps everything is not as kosher as it should be.

Whatever it is, it does appear unseeming that we have come to the point where we cannot discuss our relations with China in an open and honest manner without being afraid of upsetting China. It’s this kind of vassal mentality that is especially worrying.

China, like any other country, is intent on advancing its own national interest; shouldn’t Malaysia be doing the same?

DENNIS IGNATIUS is a former ambassador. He blogs here.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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