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Distrust, disconnect cause Johoreans to spurn China, embrace Singapore

JOHOR BARU — When it comes to foreign investment, not all currency is created equal in the eyes of Johoreans.

Distrust, disconnect cause Johoreans to spurn China, embrace Singapore

Visitors view the scale model of development at Forest City in Johor. China’s growing presence in Johor are viewed with mild disdain by locals, who instead favour investments from their southern neighbours in Singapore. Photo: TODAY file picture

JOHOR BARU — When it comes to foreign investment, not all currency is created equal in the eyes of Johoreans.

Despite having invested hundreds of billions of ringgit into property development in Johor, China’s growing presence in the Malaysian state are viewed with mild disdain by locals, who instead favour investments from their southern neighbours in Singapore.

The main reason for this is the apparent disconnect between China’s multi-billion-ringgit property developments and the average Johorean.

Mr Zayani Ismail said while Johoreans generally welcomed foreign investment, the rollover effects in Johor from Chinese investments in the local property market were unlike those felt Malacca, Penang and Selangor.

“We don’t feel the positive effects,” said the 32-year-old executive.

“The only thing they have done is drive up the local property prices and make it harder for people like me to buy a home in Johor Baru.”

Mr Zayani’s views reflect the findings of a survey conducted last month by pollster Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research.

The poll showed that only 56 per cent of 1,007 respondents in Johor favoured investments from China, compared with 69 per cent for investments from Singapore.

The survey also showed that dissatisfaction with Chinese investments was higher at 29 per cent compared with 18 per cent with Singaporean investments.

The animosity towards Chinese investors currently contrasts sharply with local feelings for the Singaporean firms and Singapore-based multinationals involved in the development of Pasir Gudang back in the 1980s, said ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow Dr Francis E Hutchinson.

The investments in Pasir Gudang industrial area were well-received by locals who saw them as having a direct benefit to Johoreans, he said.

“Beyond the jobs created, an important new township was developed in a sparsely-populated part of the state.”

He said the historical relationship between Singapore and Malaysia also played a part in Johoreans having a more favourable impression of their neighbours.

In contrast, many locals viewed Chinese investments with a mixture of disinterest and suspicion, mainly because the bulk of these investments were in high-end real estate, he said.

“The perception is that this drives up housing prices and many of those buying the newly-completed units will not be local.”

Singaporean investments in the state are also viewed as more relevant to Johoreans.

Nine in 10 locals polled said there should be a high-speed rail between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur; 81 per cent said there should be a third link between the two countries; 88 per cent said Johor and Singapore should be linked by an MRT service.

Singapore and Johor are currently linked by two bridges in Woodlands and Tuas.

To improve connectivity, Malaysia and Singapore had signed a bilateral agreement to build the 350km-long Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) project where it will have three stations in Johor.

Additionally, the two countries also inked a pact on the Rapid Transit System (RTS) linking Singapore and Johor. Construction of the RTS is set to begin after the tenders are awarded by early next year at the latest. Passenger service is due to start by December 2024.

Higher property prices aside, there was also the belief that Chinese projects did not provide enough job opportunities as the investors did not explicitly commit to a certain percentage of the work to be apportioned to locals, said Dr Hutchinson.

This was reflected in criticisms directed at the Forest City mega project.

Critics have charged that the development was not benefiting locals, prompting its Chinese developer Country Garden Pacific View (CGPV) to say that more than 40 per cent of its capital expenditure went to pay local firms.

CGPV said it spent RM4.7 billion (S$1.59 billion) on the services of local consultancy, law and architecture firms and on construction materials.

CGPV’s investment in Forest City is valued at RM444 billion. CGPV’s other investments in Johor are in Danga Bay and Central Park. THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT

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