Malaysia Nears Deal With China to Revive ECRL

  • Malaysia is making progress in talks with China to revive a rail project that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government said it would cancel, according to Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.
  • China is willing to reduce the MYR80bn price tag for the East Coast Rail Link project and talks are “in the last mile,” Saifuddin said in an interview on 19 Feb 19.
  • Discussions have been led by Daim Zainuddin, an adviser to Mahathir, with the aim of reaching a smaller project size and cost, he said.
  • “It is not canceled until and unless we can’t settle on the numbers,” Saifuddin said. “China understands our constraint and they’re willing to scale down the size of the project and the cost. The discussion is probably in the last mile.”
  • There are recent signs that Malaysia wants to ease tensions with China. Mahathir struck a conciliatory tone in Jan 19 and said the government canceled the rail project only due to cost, leading to renewed talks.
  • Members of his cabinet have declined to confirm or deny a Wall Street Journal report that said senior Chinese leaders offered Mahathir’s predecessor help bailing out troubled state fund 1MDB in exchange for stakes in projects. Saifuddin said he hasn’t seen the meeting minutes cited by the Journal.
  • Malaysia has also sought to tread carefully on the issue of China’s alleged human-rights abuses against its Muslim minority, even after releasing 11 of the ethnic Uighurs in 2018 and sending them to Turkey in defiance of Beijing.
  • Malaysia, which prides itself on being a moderate Muslim-majority country, has kept a muted public stance on the issue even as detailed reports continue to emerge over China’s crackdown against the predominantly Muslim population in Xinjiang.

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