As the war of words intensifies over former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s attack on surging Chinese investment in his country, he has denied he is against the Chinese as a community or race.
A vocal critic of current Prime Minister Najib Razak, Mahathir insisted he was only opposing the regime’s foreign investment policies when he spoke out against over-reliance on Chinese investors and criticised the leader for destroying the nation’s “Asian Tiger” image.
In a blog posting titled “Kong Hee Fatt Choy” that offered greetings to the community ahead of Lunar New Year, the 91-year-old insisted he had maintained a warm relationship with the local Chinese community. He wrote that he and his wife had received many New Year’s greetings from Chinese friends at shopping centres and other gatherings.
“I would like to thank my Chinese friends and supporters for their support during and after my term as prime minister of our country Malaysia,” he wrote. “I am not anti-Chinese. I am pro multiracial Malaysia and Malaysians.”
Strongman Mahathir ruled multiracial Malaysia for 21 years until 2003.
Over the past few years, he has taken aim at his nemesis, Najib, who faces mounting allegations that he is linked to a corruption scandal at the state investment arm 1MDB.
Recently the royal ruler of the state of Johor, the Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, lashed out at Mahathir for his constant attacks on Chinese investment in Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy. Malaysia is a federal system comprising 13 states.
The sultan accused the former premier of “creating fear, using race, just to fulfil his political motives”.
Mahathir countered by declaring he was not afraid of being sued or taken to court for lese-majesté or treason for taking on the ruler.
Analysts have since warned that the issue of Chinese investment – and thus the role and place of the Chinese minority in the country – would likely become the political football of choice during elections that are expected to be called this year.
Ibrahim, 58, is an investor in Johor’s US$38 billion Forest City property project involving Guangdong-based developer Country Garden. The project is one of several foreign-funded projects in a special economic zone in the state that the government hopes will become the next Shenzhen.
In November, Najib returned from a visit to Beijing with US$34 billion in deals, including an agreement to purchase four Chinese naval vessels – the first major defence deal between the two Asian countries.
On his blog, Mahathir showed he was not about to let the issue rest, saying the attempts to label him as “anti-Chinese” only served his critics own political agendas.
“They know they are lying,” he wrote. “They want the Chinese not to support the [Democratic Action Party] and the other parties who want to remove Najib as prime minister. They want to perpetuate Najib’s kleptocracy.”
The DAP is Malaysia’s largest opposition party, and the second-largest after the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
Mahathir himself is leading a new party. Last year, he quit the UMNO – the cornerstone of the country’s ruling coalition since independence in 1957 – and formed the Parti Bribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), a Malay nationalist party made up of anti-Najib allies including Mahathir’s son Mukhriz.
The former leader posted that he was not against foreign direct investment (FDI) from China.
“I am against mass immigration from any country. No country allows mass immigration,” he wrote.
“Selling land for foreigners to build cities for people from their own country is not FDI. The [Barisan Nasional] and UMNO in particular should declare that they want to flood this country with foreigners.”
He again called for Najib to be removed from office to restore Malaysia’s prosperity and Asian Tiger image. “Now Malaysia is known as one of the most corrupt countries in the world,” he wrote. “All races are suffering because of Najib. We all have to work for his removal.”