Mahathir says China will sympathise with Malaysia's problems

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and China’s Premier Li Keqiang attend a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

During a question and answer session with Chinese executives who expressed concerns about investing in Malaysia given its recent change in power, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad insisted it still welcomed companies willing to do deals that help employ the country's workers and improve its efficiency without harming local manufacturers in industries like steel production.

Mahathir's remarks come as a growing number of worldwide critics are accusing China of practicing "debt colonialism" through its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, helping to build and finance massive infrastructure projects in developing countries which are then unable to actually support the oversized projects and fall into China's "debt trap" where they are forced to sell ownership to Chinese companies.

"Our relationship is mutually beneficial", Mahathir said.

Days before heading to Beijing, Mahathir said Malaysia wants to cancel a Chinese-backed $20 billion East Coast Rail Link and two energy pipelines worth $2.3 billion.

"I agree with you that free trade should be the way to go but of course free trade should also be fair trade", Dr Mahathir said.

Malaysia's leader said Monday that he hoped China would sympathise with his country's fiscal problems as he met with the country's leaders after suspending multi-billion-dollar construction projects financed by Chinese loans.

In an interview with CNN last month, Mahathir, who still voiced doubts over China's "spreading influence through money", said that Malaysia has to accept the reality of a dominant China in the region and can not go to war with Beijing over the South China Sea. He toured a Chinese auto plant and e-commerce giant Alibaba, and rode China's fastest high-speed train from the tech hub of Hangzhou to Shanghai, before arriving at the Chinese capital. The company owns 49.9% of Proton, a Malaysian automaker.

On the South China Sea, both sides underscored the importance of maintaining peace, security, and stability, as well as safety and freedom of navigation in the sea.

"We are ready to increase the imports to a fairly large extent of competitive Malaysian goods that meet the needs of Chinese people, especially palm oil products", Li told reporters. Meanwhile, its national debt stands at $250 billion.

Dr Mahathir noted that Malaysia had had a relationship with China for nearly 2,000 years.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad says China has been a long-standing trading partner of Malaysia.

Asked about the case at a daily news briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he had no specific information, but that, "in principle, we would like to carry out normal judicial cooperation with other countries based on consultation".

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