THE Najib administration’s tilt towards Beijing is a fallout from the 1MDB debacle and Malaysia’s need for find new engines of growth for its economy, said the Straits Times today.
In a commentary, the Singapore newspaper sketched the growing influence of Chinese state-owned enterprises and private companies in infrastructure development, steel plants, railway ventures, port projects and noted that Beijing’s burgeoning presence is stoking domestic unease.
“There are suggestions that the leaning towards China is a direct result of the fallout from the debacle at state-owned 1Malaysia Development Berhad,” said the ST, noting that Najib Razak’s brainchild is at a centre of a global money-laundering probe in several countries, including the United States and Singapore.
“China has not only ignored the international tarring of the Najib administration over the financial scandal, but has also stepped up to the plate to take over assets linked to 1MDB as part of a plan to help the state-owned entity deal with its mountain of debt,” said the commentary.
It also noted that the China tilt is also aimed at helping Malaysia deal with its economic challenges. Once a regional manufacturing powerhouse, Malaysia is facing stiff competition from more attractive destinations, such as Indonesia and Vietnam.
To compound the economic picture, the country had to deal with lower revenue from oil and commodity exports.
“By grafting on to China, Malaysia is hoping to generate new growth drivers that will help turn it into a key player in the wider Asean economic community,” said the Straits Times.
So, what’s in it for Beijing?
China sees Malaysia as a cornerstone of its strategy to dominate the South China Sea and build leverage over the Malacca Straits.
The paper said China already has virtual control over the Mekong and its next step is to develop fresh infrastructure for land and sea to spread its influence in Asean, which Beijing considers as its hinterland.
This is where Malaysia with its strategic positions along the Straits of Malacca and South China Sea fits in.
The Malaysian Insight reported that Malaysia’s closer ties with China is likely to present some challenges in its bilateral ties with Singapore.
For long, the island state has been China’s closest partner in Asean but the ties tanked after Beijing concluded that Singapore had aligned itself more closely to Washington on several major issues, including China’s design in the South China Sea.