By Hadi Azmi
Malaysia will push through with a multibillion-dollar property project that was shelved two years ago and it will be built by the original contractors, including a Chinese-owned company, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Friday, just days before a scheduled trip to Beijing.
Mahathir said members of his cabinet had decided on Wednesday to reinstate Bandar Malaysia, a 486-acre (197-hectare) mixed-use project in Kuala Lumpur that was expected to cost 140 billion ringgit (U.S. $33.8 billion).
“After due deliberations, the government has decided to reinstate Bandar Malaysia,” Mahathir told reporters.
The project would include 10,000 low-cost homes and a people’s park. It was originally envisioned to house the main terminal for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail line, which was among infrastructure deals canceled by Mahathir’s government last year, after it defeated the government of Najib Razak in the May 2018 general election.
Mahathir made the announcement just days after his government resumed construction of the China-backed East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project after the contractor agreed to slash its cost by about one-third to 44 billion ringgit (U.S. $11 billion).
He justified Bandar Malaysia’s revival by pointing out in a statement that it would significantly boost foreign investments and tighten economic ties with Beijing, as he cited the newly renegotiated ECRL, which was signed with China on April 12.
“These two major projects will also be a significant contribution to the Belt and Road Initiative which Malaysia expects to be able to tap on,” Mahathir said, referring to China’s massive One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative to finance and build infrastructure projects around the globe.
“It will draw major international financial institutions, multinational corporations,” he said, naming Chinese tech giants such as Alibaba and Huawei as among those that showed interest to establish offices in Bandar Malaysia.
Mahathir is expected to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping during the second OBOR forum in Beijing next week. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the forum would gather 37 heads of state and government.
Najib Razak, the nation’s former leader who first approved the Bandar Malaysia deal back in 2011, ridiculed Mahathir’s announcement over its revival.
“So does this mean that the country has been sold off? Has the project been swindled? Bowed to China?” Najib posted on his Facebook page.
“They did say all these to the previous government,” he said, referring to past criticism of his government’s deals with China that was leveled by Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan coalition. “Now we can ask them back the same thing.”