SINGAPORE – Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is opposed to the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR), a project for which China is among the contenders.
Citing financial constraints, the former prime minister, who is chairman of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, said the HSR contract signed between Malaysia and Singapore may not be a done deal if the Opposition comes to power.
“We need to do a study whether it is feasible or not because we don’t have the money and we have to borrow money, and that is not something the Government can bear at this moment.
“We have to know whether we really need this HSR or not,” he told The Sunday Times in an interview.
On Dec 13, Malaysia and Singapore signed an agreement to build the 350km high-speed rail link estimated to cost between RM50bil and RM60bil.
The Opposition has questioned the viability and cost of the project.
Dr Mahathir said that despite his doubts about the HSR project, Singapore should not worry about its relations with Malaysia.
“There were differences between Malaysia and Singapore during my time but we didn’t go to war. We were trying to find ways of solving those things in a peaceful manner,” he said.
Instead, Dr Mahathir warned that the tense relationship between Singapore and China may potentially force Malaysia to distance itself from the island republic.
“If we have a lot of Chinese investment in Malaysia, they will want to secure their investment and influence the Malaysian Government to help them in whatever way we can.
“They will want to make sure that we do not side with Singapore in any dispute with China,” he added in the interview.
Singapore-China relations have been in choppy waters since last year over the former’s stance on the South China Sea dispute.
Last September, China’s state-owned newspaper Global Times was embroiled in a war of words with Singapore Ambassador to China Stanley Loh, criticising Singapore diplomats for raising the South China Sea issue at an international summit. Loh denied the charge.
Its editor Hu Xijin claimed Singapore “had gone too far” in openly siding with the United States and Japan over the territorial dispute, although the city-state was not among the claimants.
During the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Peru last November, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was reported to have said “there is no country which is the middle kingdom” when asked about the future of China’s Belt and Road initiative.
On the same day, nine Singapore armoured vehicles on board a container ship that was in transit in Hong Kong were detained, aggravating ties between Singapore and China.