Will China's investments affect our 'sovereignty'?

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COMMENT In 1980, then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced the “Look East Policy”, aiming to learn the industriousness of Japanese and South Koreans. That opened the door for candid cooperation between our enterprises and those from these two countries.

Many mega projects were also awarded to Korean and Japanese enterprises, with not much fuss over the issue of national sovereignty and security.

Now, will China’s investments in Johor and in the rest of Malaysia be more worrying than other foreign investments in regard to our national sovereignty?

Race-based nationalism can no longer provide the remedies for all current ailments faced by our country today. Our own politicians and civil servants actually preside over the country’s administration today. The only element that can erode our sovereignty is none but corruption.

Some have equated Forest City, Johor, as another Singapore, meaning it is going to be another Chinese-majority dominant physical entity, and hence it would be a threat to “Malay sovereignty”.

At times, the subject matter of sovereignty seems to be peculiar and inconsistent, especially of those who engineered Singapore’s separation from the Federation of Malaysia in the interest of “national sovereignty”.

Being a part of the Malay Archipelago all along in history, how could Singapore’s separation from the Malaysian federation be seen as upholding the Malay sovereignty?

In the past, almost all equated Umno’s hegemony as good as Malay sovereignty. Any seemingly threat to Umno’s political hegemony was perceived as a threat to the very survival of the Malay race.

Ironically, Singapore has provided adequate housing and better quality of life for all citizens, including their Malay and Muslim citizens. On the contrary, here, there is a shortage of descent housing, not only for Malays but for the lower income Malaysians as well.

We have to learn how to view our economic development from a non-racial but logical perspective. The issue of socio-economic development matters to all Malaysians. Our rights lie in the purview of the People’s Sovereignty or Ketuanan Rakyat, a concept rightfully proposed by Anwar Ibrahim.

The impact of China’s investments

We should be concerned about how China’s investments, such as Forest City, would impact our demographic and socio-cultural changes, including the impact on the mangroves, Ramsar (wetlands) sites and sea creatures that are our heritage, damages to the long standing fishing industry and the effects on our local property market in meeting up the local demands.

Nonetheless, will this actually affect our “national sovereignty”?

In general, foreigners are allowed to buy real property costing RM1 million and above. That has created some bubbling effects on the local Johor property market. Moreover, the majority of local residents of lower middle income group are longing for houses costing less than RM200,000.

The issue of sovereignty concerning foreign land and real property ownership is monitored under Section 433B of the National Land Code. As long as that power lies in the hands of various state governments and their agencies, it shall be exercised to the best interest of the people, presuming that corrupt officers would not get in the way.

Corruption is actually the threat to our sovereignty. If laws made to protect our land ownership and people’s sovereignty are not properly enforced, the people’s land and property ownership would therefore be undermined.

As at Dec 31, 2016, a total of 9,739 of the 1.4 million landed properties in Johor were owned by foreigners - making up about 0.7 percent of the total landed property ownership in the state.

Among the foreign property owners, 85.7 percent are Singaporeans, needless to say a substantial number of them being Singapore Malays. There are only four percent who are Chinese nationals, two percent Indonesians and one to two percent each for Britons, Japanese, Americans and Koreans.

Currently, the ownership of foreign strata properties constitutes only 2.1 percent, or 2,166 out of a total of 101,574 lots. Various Chinese developers’ projects, done in conjunction with Johor state GLCs in building apartments and office blocks of mainly strata properties in Iskandar Malaysia, would eventually number about 160,000 units.

Foreign ownership of properties to hike

Of these, currently 70 percent have been bought up by China’s nationals, including 9,539 apartments at Danga Bay Waterfront, Tebrau; 3,000 housing units at Tanjung Puteri and another 120,000 units at Forest City.

As compared with another increase of 350,000 houses to be built in Johor State, this would increase foreign ownership of both landed and strata properties from 0.8 percent to seven percent, of which only a portion would be owned by Chinese nationals.

Chinese property ownership is much less a menace to our national security and sovereignty than the uncontrolled influx of illegal immigrants, who make up almost 10 percent of the population due to certain administrators’ corrupt practices and lackadaisical attitude towards law enforcement. The threat to national security and sovereignty lies in none but corruption itself.

The concerns over Forest City should not be race-oriented, but instead should be more people-oriented as to how people’s sovereignty is affected. The 1,386-hectare Forest City will be made up of four reclaimed islands lying over the Tebrau Straits.

It is estimated that as much as 162 million cubic metres of fill material have been used at the reclamation sites, composed mainly of sand and soil mined at Johor’s river banks and forest reserves. However, there is no information with regard to the protection of the sites of sand mining involving rainforests and rivers.

Unchecked sand mining and forest logging have caused intermittent and severe floods, droughts, river water pollution and water supply shortage in Johor since the year 2000. All these have severely affected the Johor people’s quality of life and damaged our properties over the last two decades.

Hence, water supply in Johor has been erratic, with the highest and yet ever-increasing water tariffs and deposits in the country. On the other hand, Syarikat Air Johor Holdings Sdn Bhd handed handsome dividends, amounting to RM 62 million in 2012 and RM 146 million in 2013.

In other words, GLCs have not been working for the people’s benefits due to mismanagement. The people’s sovereignty is at stake due to a decreasing leverage in their voice to be heard, and their quality of life has been undermined.

The Chinese investments should not be viewed as a racial and international conflict, but all infrastructure projects developed by Chinese investors must take Malaysia’s sociopolitical culture into account.

Malaysia has long been a cosmopolitan entity, and Forest City has to build up a more cosmopolitan outlook, in terms of both its investors and house buyers, notwithstanding that its impact on our own basic necessities, such as descent housing, reasonably priced and readily availability of clean water, should be duly addressed.

Not only the local Chinese Chambers of Commerce should be involved, but Malay and Indian Chambers of Commerce should be involved too in all these China investment projects, so as to ensure the investors are more sensitive to the local needs. It is not China’s vast investments that pose a more dire threat to our national security but it is corruption, from top down, that results in inconsistency of policy implementation.

The recent arrest of the state executive councillor for housing by the MACC reflects the failed policy of reserving the high-end properties’ 15 percent bumiputera discount. The policy not only incurs economic cost on the lower income house buyers, but it has further created good enough red tapes and legal loopholes for corruption.

A Johor Housing and Real Property Board has been proposed to provide affordable housing to all citizens, especially the lower income group, regardless of race rather than insensible and discriminatory housing policies favouring the rich at the expense of the lower income group.

The proposed Housing and Real Property Board is supposed to play the vital role of reasserting the People’s Sovereignty by making sure that more affordable houses are readily available.

The Johor Housing and Real Property Board Enactment Bill that was passed in the State Assembly in 2014 is still pending enforcement. It should play a role in monitoring housing and real property development in the state by making sure that upper-end real property development would go hand-in-hand with the much greater middle and lower spectrum of housing demands.

It is obvious that unlawful practices and corrupt leaders are the real threat to our national sovereignty, more than anything else. If we have governed our country’s economy in a sound and transparent way all the while, shall we be worrying about foreign investments and immigrants from any other countries, including the People’s Republic of China, as a matter of fact?

DR BOO CHENG HAU is the state assemblyperson for Skudai, Johor.

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

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