Skip to main content



Johor Sultan slams Dr Mahathir for playing ‘politics of fear and race’

JOHOR BARU — Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar has reprimanded former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad over claims that the state was losing its sovereignty to investors from China.

Johor Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar. Photo: Facebook/Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar

Johor Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar. Photo: Facebook/Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar

JOHOR BARU — Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar has reprimanded former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad over claims that the state was losing its sovereignty to investors from China. 

In an interview with English daily The Star published on Monday (Jan 16), the Sultan accused Dr Mahathir of fearmongering by playing racial politics that he said had no place in the southern state. 

“Enough is enough. I have so far restrained myself from commenting on the controversy on Forest City generated by Dr Mahathir and his supporters,” the Sultan told The Star in an interview held at Istana Bukit Serene, Johor Baru. 

“He is giving the impression that Johor is surrendering land to the Chinese and that we are giving up our sovereignty, comparing even how we gave up Singapore to the British,” he added.

Dr Mahathir had previously claimed that more than 700,000 Chinese nationals will be brought into Forest City, alleging that the Chinese citizens would be given identity cards to enable them to vote in the coming general election. 

The former premier also claimed that in most countries foreigners are not allowed to buy land and would only be granted contracts to carry out developments. 

However,  he said this did not appear to be the case in Malaysia, which he described as “generous”. 

Forest City is a US$100 billion (S$143 billion) property development by Chinese firm Country Garden. The firm has partnered with Esplanade Danga 88, an associate company of Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor (KPRJ), which is the southern state’s investment arm. The largest shareholder of Esplanade Danga 88 is Sultan Ibrahim. 

The 1,386-hectares Forest City encompasses the development of facilities for business, tourism, hotel, residence, services and others, built on four man-made islands in Iskandar Malaysia. 

Construction began in February last year and about 8,000 apartments have been sold, the company said. 

Sultan Ibrahim said the project will help extend Johor’s land bank and boost development by creating over 200,000 jobs.

He also dismissed Dr Mahathir’s claim that it was reserved for wealthy Chinese.
“(Dr Mahathir) is playing the politics of fear and race which have no place in Johor as I do not believe in racial politics,” said the Sultan.

He is insulting the rich Chinese property investors. They are not hard-up for Malaysian citizenship. Many of them have properties in other countries including Australia and the United Kingdom,” he added.

“They buy homes here because they can see the strategic importance of Johor. JB is just minutes away from Singapore and Batam — two different countries.” 

Defending Johor’s decision to sell prime land to Chinese investors, Sultan Ibrahim pointed out that neighbouring Singapore also adopts a similar strategy by opening up property sales to foreigners.
“Take a look at the number of foreigners who have bought properties in Singapore. Are the Singaporeans in that tiny island republic worried? No, they are not and they, in fact, welcome affluent expatriates there.” 

Sultan Ibrahim also said that land matters were under the purview of the state government and not the Federal Government.

“Does Dr Mahathir or his children own properties overseas?” the ruler questioned. 

“Here, we have Dr Mahathir creating fear, using race, just to fulfill his political motives. He’s not stupid, he’s just selfish and opportunistic,” he said.

“Let me ask him this — Forest City is to be built on reclamation land and most of these units are condominiums. In simple language, these units are up in the air. They are strata units,” the Sultan said. 

“I would like to ask Dr Mahathir if these foreign buyers can just take their apartments back home or carry off an inch of the reclaimed land.” 

Aside from Dr Mahathir, former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin in a recent interview with a Chinese newspaper, Sin Chew Daily, had also accused Prime Minister Najib Razak of inviting mainland Chinese investments into the country. 

Mr Muhyiddin, who is the president of Dr Mahathir’s new party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, claimed that these investments were “robbing the rice bowl” of Malaysians.

The Chinese embassy has weighed in on the dispute, attacking the Malaysian opposition for its stance. 

“Somebody applauded Sino-Malaysian cooperation when in office but fanned the flame of anti-Chinese sentiment after,” it said in a statement last week.

“Saying China’s investment is stealing job opportunities from Malaysia is a complete lie with a secret agenda behind it.” AGENCIES


Read more of the latest in




Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.