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Will China come to Malaysia's rescue?

  • A country's work culture will determine how successful it will become.

By LIM SUE GOAN
Sin Chew Daily

It is good that prime minster Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad visited China to spruce up Malaysia's economy. The bad thing is that the Pakatan Harapan government has taken almost a whole year to try to mend its bruised relationship with Beijing.

Before the 14th general elections, Mahathir argued that the Forest City project by Country Garden of China would bring in some 700,000 Chinese nationals. He even visited the Kuantan industrial park and alleged in a video that the “Great Wall of China” was encircling Kuantan industrial park, in an attempt to raise the fears of the Malays ahead of the election.

Mahathir didn't forget about the Forest City and “Great Wall” during PH's early days in Putrajaya, claiming that the government would allow Chinese nationals to buy the properties at Forest City but would not grant them resident status.

He also said he would urge the Chinese government to dismantle the wall encircling Kuantan industrial park during his visit to China last year.

Mahathir also warned of China's “debt trap” during his visit to the Philippines in March and urged Manila not to allow mass influx of foreigners that could “disturb the political equations”. The pro-Beijing administration of President Duterte had allowed large numbers of Chinese laborers to work in the country.

No one actually knows why Mahathir trusted Beijing during his previous premiership but has become so skeptical this time. It could have spawned from the fact that former PM Najib signed a number of “unreasonable” contracts with China.

However, after suffering the third consecutive by-election defeat, Mahathir realized that the pressing task now would be to revitalize the ailing economy.

So he now says China is Malaysia's friend and hopes more Chinese investors will come to the country.

Some of the things he said when he was in the opposition were meant to fish electoral votes, but now that he is the prime minister, he should prioritize the country's interest and not to say anything that could hurt foreign investors.

Prior to this, Mahathir had pinned his hopes on Japan to lend a hand, but Tokyo is only willing to provide low-interest loans and does not have a sizable domestic market to absorb Malaysia's palm oil nor the financial strength to satisfy our thirst for foreign capital.

Several Chinese companies signed a total of four MoUs in early March to purchase 1.62 million tons of Malaysian palm oil worth US$891 million or RM3.6 billion.

During Mahathir's most recent visit to China, Chinese companies pledged to buy additional 1.9 million tons worth RM4.56 billion over the next five years until 2023.

Mahathir said China had a massive market of 1.4 billion people, and Malaysia would become very rich if each Chinese would consume only one teaspoonful of palm oil a day.

More importantly, this would also help lift some 1.2 million struggling Felda settlers and 650,000 smallholders out of poverty.

Despite the wealth of China, it is questionable whether we have the ability to lure more Chinese investments to this country, especially in the high tech sector.

Besides the fact that many of our politicians customarily make Chinese investors their political targets, are Malaysians willing to change their work attitude in order to meet the high expectations of foreign investors?

A country's work culture will determine how successful it will become. A Chinese investor has told me that Malaysians in general work much shorter hours than Chinese in a year.

Unfortunately, our politicians love to grant additional holidays to please the people. A public holiday can be declared if our football team wins a tournament, and this kind of practice does not augur well for the establishment of a diligent workforce.

Without a strong spirit and resolution, we will not be able to command the most sophisticated technology even if we manage to lure some high tech investments here. We can only be an OEM at best and never an innovator.

For instance, tertiary education should be geared towards grooming our young generation to become competent and competitive workers. However, for fear of losing the Malay support, PH has shied away from reforming our education sector and will continue to keep the 90% bumi quota for matriculation admission.

Pursuant to the protest from the local Indian community, education minster Maszlee Malik announced that the 25,000 matriculation spots would be expanded to 40,000 beginning this year.

While on the surface this solution seems to please everybody, it has nevertheless created new problems.

The matriculation program has been designed to help bumi students get admitted into local public universities, but this is achieved at the expense of the country's overall education standard.

If the national education continues to be bound by the racial shackle, there is no way our economy can take off.

I have no idea how our ministers would feel witnessing the tremendous economic progress made by China, but they should ponder out of the political frame why China has been able to experience such a dramatic transformation within only one short year.

A year in office, the PH administration is still struggling whether to institute the promised reforms. From Najib's over-dependence on China to Mahathir now, it looks like we are still singing the same old tune. Are we actually serious about becoming a strong and self-reliant nation?

 

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