Dr Mahathir Mohamad has penned a letter in response to Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, who accused the former prime minister of crossing the line with his remarks.
In an exclusive interview with The Star, the sultan challenged Mahathir to show Johor the big investors from Arab countries, Australia or the United States “instead of China bashing”.
Mahathir, in a letter published in page 33 of the The Star's letter section today, said he is not sure if it is true whether the sultan issued a challenge to him, or if the English daily had interpreted the ruler's remarks as such.
“But unless HRH (His Royal Highness) denies he is challenging me, I will take the report of The Star as the truth,” he said, adding that he was also in a disadvantaged position.
“While people can say what they like about me, and I welcome their freedom to say so, I hope that in responding to HRH's challenge I will not be arrested and jailed without trial.
“If it is with trial, I welcome the arrest,” he added.
Mahathir claimed that his statement, which incurred the wrath of Sultan Ismail, was nothing more than repeating a report by Bloomberg with regard to the development projects in Johor.
“What did Bloomberg say in its report on Nov 22 last year?
“It said that a China Chinese company will build Forest City in JB, which can accommodate 700,000. It went on to say that planeloads of China Chinese are being flown in to view the man-sized model (with pictures) and they have and will buy most of the properties in Forest City.
“I doubt if many Johor Malays and Chinese are buying or going to buy these apartments. There just aren’t that many Malaysians to buy all these properties.
“Bloomberg, in the same report, mentioned 60 other developments similar to Forest City, and these are also being sold to mainland Chinese,” he added.
'Part of Johor now a foreign country'
Looking back to 1819, Mahathir said when Sultan Ali of Johor did not lease Singapore to the British, the Temenggong signed the lease.
“And look at Singapore today. A part of Johor is now a foreign country – well developed no doubt, but a foreign country,” he added.
Mahathir pointed out that there would be more than a million foreigners living in JB Forest City and the 60 other developments.
While these new places would not become a foreign country, he said, they would have an inordinate percentage of foreign people.
“If they stay long enough, they will be entitled to become citizens of Malaysia,” he added.
Mahathir conceded that while he promoted foreign direct investment, it was not about buying land in Malaysia, developing them and selling them to foreigners who will stay here.
“FDI is about investment in the manufacturing industry. Malaysian companies will construct the buildings and Malaysians will work in the industries. They will acquire skills and start their own manufacturing business.
“Malaysian contractors are completely capable of building all kinds of buildings and developing land. We don’t need foreigners to do this. Look at Malaysia today. Ninety percent or more of these new buildings and development are by Malaysian companies. Majority of the buyers are Malaysians, and they are the people who stay there.
“But when foreigners buy land, there is not even an inflow of capital. Much of the money will be borrowed locally. And they can do their business with their own banks,” he added.
Mahathir said whatever foreign companies earn would be expatriated, and would result in outflow of capital.
“When the scheme is introduced, wherein you can buy property in China and get one flat or house free in Malaysia, no profit will be made in Malaysia, therefore no taxes will be paid to the Malaysian government,” he added.
Be transparent, publish all documents
Mahathir called for all transactions to be made transparent.
“Publish all documents about the investments, the number of workers, their home countries, the buyers, the banks which finance and all expatriation of funds. Do this honestly. No hiding.
“So let the truly international Transparency International examine the exposed official documents. Let the people see the documents to prove their genuineness,” he added.
As for his Looking East policy, which was cited to repudiate his recent remarks, Mahathir said it was not about asking the countries of the East to buy land in Malaysia, develop and sell to the people from these countries.
“Yes, we have encouraged foreigners to make Malaysia their second home. But their numbers are very small. Looking East is not about mass immigration of hundreds of thousands. It is about Malaysians learning about how these Eastern countries developed themselves,” he added.
Responding to those who label him as racist, Mahathir said it is easy to accuse him of such, and noted that he had been described as an ultra-Malay as well.
“This labelling, this demonising actually exposes the lack of credible arguments against what I do or say. It reflects a fundamental lack of basis for the arguments against me.
“This is a multiracial country. People of different ethnicities, languages, religions, cultures and even economic wellbeing have lived in this country in peace.
“In many countries, even a slight difference in the interpretation of their common religion has resulted in violent conflicts and wars. But relatively speaking, Malaysia is stable and peaceful.
“It is stable and peaceful because we accept each other as we are. During my 22 years as PM, there were no significant racial clashes. Differences, yes, but no violence. And the country grew.
In his letter, Mahathir also dared The Star to publish his letter in full.
“I will accept this article being totally blacked-out because we are living in a kleptocratic country where truth is anathema, only to be whispered but never said aloud.
“I am a Malaysian born in Kedah. Malaysia is my home and the object of my loyalty. If I have to be accused of lese majeste for what I say, so be it,” he added.