Why Mahathir dared to say ‘no’ to China

Opinion  |  Phar Kim Beng
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, when pressed by Australia’s former prime minister Kevin Rudd to take a firmer stance against China over issues relating to South China Sea, once replied: "How do you deal toughly with your banker?"

By 2012, China was the largest purchaser of the US Treasury Bills, in order to exercise more leverage on the White House, Congress and the Senate. This is a practice learned from Japan, to keep the Washingtonian establishment happy - invariably delirious with a strong US dollar and a low interest rate to keep the American economy churning. Whether this worked or not, no one knows.

Between 2008 and 2016, the Barack Obama administration did try its best to pivot to Asia, indeed, to rebalance the preponderance of China over the entire Asia Pacific.

Mahathir, the region's last post-colonial leader who outlasted Sukarno, Suharto and Lee Kuan Yew, just taught Clinton how to say the most difficult word in high diplomacy.

Not only did Mahathir say ‘no’ to three China projects in Malaysia, he said them in Beijing before flying back to Kuala Lumpur.

To those who are not familiar with saying no to China or anyone powerful, Mahathir had just crossed the line. How did he do that?

To the cynics, Mahathir had gone from gutsy and bold to being literally mad. One certainly does not say no to the great powers, let alone China.

There are US$134 billion worth of Chinese commercial endeavours spread over 11 projects throughout Malaysia....

Sign in

Welcome back,

Your subscription expires on

Your subscription will expire soon, kindly renew before

Your subscription is expired
  Click here to renew

You are not subscribed to any subscription package
  Click here to subscribe now

Any questions?
  Email: [email protected]
  Call: +603-777-00000