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Malaysia not being ‘sold off’ to China, says Najib

BEIJING — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Friday (Nov 4) dismissed claims that Malaysia was being “sold off” to China after both nations inked 14 agreements worth RM144 billion (S$47.5 billion) during his visit to Beijing this week, saying his country’s sovereignty remained firmly intact.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (left) meets China's President Xi Jinping at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, in Beijing. Photo: REUTERS

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (left) meets China's President Xi Jinping at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, in Beijing. Photo: REUTERS

BEIJING — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Friday (Nov 4) dismissed claims that Malaysia was being "sold off" to China after both nations inked 14 agreements worth RM144 billion (S$47.5 billion) during his visit to Beijing this week, saying his country’s sovereignty remained firmly intact.

In addition to the 14 agreements, Malaysia signed 16 government-to-government Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) and Mr Najib said these represented a "huge vote of confidence" in each others’ economies, as well as a showcase of goodwill and trust between both nations.

The deals will also result in deep and lasting benefits for Malaysia, he added.

"Some have scare-mongered that Malaysia is being sold off. This is absurd and absolutely false," said Mr Najib in a statement on Friday. "The infrastructure projects will remain owned by Malaysia and operated by Malaysians."

Describing the deals as "for all our people", Mr Najib said the agreements were an investment to the Malaysian economy that will translate to more jobs, the upgrading of skills and overall improvement in people’s livelihoods.

"The agreements will result in ever stronger economic ties between China and Malaysia, and bring tangible benefits to our people for decades to come. Not just new jobs and improved transport, but also more sustainable power sources and greater security along our coastline," he added.

Among the deals inked was one to buy four Chinese littoral mission ships, Putrajaya’s first significant defence deal with Beijing.

Another key deal signed will see China build and help finance an east-coast railway link in Malaysia that is estimated to cost RM55 billion.

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has waged a campaign against Mr Najib following financial irregularities in state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), had on Wednesday raised concerns about the country’s over-reliance on borrowings from a single source, such as China, warning that this could jeopardise sovereignty.

This, however, has been refuted by Malaysian ministers including Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who said China’s multi-billion-dollar investments to the country would not affect the nation’s sovereignty.

Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Aziz said Dr Mahathir’s latest criticism was because the statesman was "jealous" of Mr Najib’s ability to secure such a large investment.

Some analysts have said Mr Najib’s visit to China signalled a potential strategic shift by his administration. This comes as Malaysia’s ties with the United States cooled after a lawsuit was filed by its Department of Justice to recover more than US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) in assets said to be embezzled from 1MDB.

His visit also comes amid rising tensions in the South China Sea, and as the US and China compete for influence in the region.

Mr Najib is the second leader from South-east Asia with rival territorial claims in the South China Sea to visit China in recent weeks.

Two weeks ago, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte visited China, where he announced his country’s "separation" from ally US as he declared he had realigned with Beijing, with both countries agreeing to resolve their South China Sea dispute through talks.

Meanwhile, a top American diplomat has chided Mr Najib for reported comments critical of the West that "sounded a little bit more like" Dr Mahathir, following an editorial by Mr Najib that was published in the state-run China Daily on Wednesday.

However, Mr Daniel Russel, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, said he did not see evidence of a tilt towards China.

"I read something attributed to the Prime Minister in the China Daily that sounded a little bit more like former prime minister Mahathir than current Prime Minister Najib; but, okay, there may be some special circumstances," said Mr Russel when asked about signs of Malaysia seeking a closer relationship with China after Putrajaya signed the defence deal.

"As far as Malaysian purchases from China, that’s not tilting to China, that is making a commercial deal. Everybody does it. The very idea that third-country cooperation with China is somehow a bad thing — is adverse to our interests — it’s ridiculous." AGENCIES

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