MP SPEAKS Investments from China is now a hotly debated subject after Chinese state-owned entities allegedly bailed out 1MDB, and in the wake of the mega deals announced during Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s visit to China in November 2016.
Broadly, we welcome China’s investments, just like we welcome investments from any other country as long as they are aligned with Malaysia’s national interests. Of course, what our national interests are is another matter for debate.
In recent weeks, attempts have been made to portray the Umno-Barisan National government as the party that is ‘pro-investments’, with MCA acting as if it were an agent of China Inc, while the opposition is denounced as being anti-Chinese investment.
The actual difference between the two is something else. While the Umno-BN government prefers blanket and free-for-all investments from China, the opposition is urging caution and emphasises the need to be selective in these deals.
Those who defend blanket and free-for-all acceptance of China’s investments expectedly argue that Malaysia does not really have much choice if it desires Chinese funds to rekindle the sluggish and slow economy.
But throwing caution to the wind when scrutinising foreign investments, wherever they are from, is a dereliction of duty by the government.
It is wrong to adopt the attitude that we must not be choosy, because the Chinese economy is huge and growing while Malaysia’s is weak. In fact, I would argue that China needs Malaysia more than Malaysia needs China. It is a fact that Beijing needs our participation in order to realise its Belt and Road Initiative. Our problem as a nation right now is that Prime Minister Najib needs China to bail him out of his allegedly failed ventures, especially 1MDB.
The Belt and Road Initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping in September and October 2013 included the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ covering mostly Central Asian states, and the ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ that mainly covers South-East Asia.
It is a brilliant grand strategy that combines geopolitical realignment with economic realities, and is aimed at projecting China’s power outwards through infrastructure construction, which in turn helps China to dispose of its excess capacity. China is a proven leader in building infrastructure at relatively low cost.
Much as the developing countries in the region under the Belt and Road Initiative are in need of infrastructure renewal, it has nevertheless been difficult for China to attain such projects.
One of the latest challenges to China is that the Trump administration is moving to realign with Russia. During the Barack Obama years, the emerging great power China worked closely with the retreating great power Russia to mount a challenge against the United States. The prospect of a US-Russia alliance threatens the viability of the ‘Belt’ part of the initiative.
Alongside this, Beijing has to deal with the North-East Asian region, which is not always a region that is friendly towards China.
This leaves South-East Asia. It is here that China can possibly achieve both strategic and economic gains. As it is, states such as Laos and Cambodia, and to a certain extent, Myanmar, have been heavily dependent on China for trade and investments, with or without the Belt and Road Initiative.
If there are any new gains to be made for China’s new policy outlook, it will have to come from bigger and more developed South-East Asian states such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.