A FEW months before the end of last year, I wrote on the state of the economy in an article chiefly directed at market investors and the business community, “Budget 2017: Stock market impact and the coming Chinese wave”.
In my article, I touched on the Chinese investment wave and noted that this was a most important partnership emerging between Malaysia and China which would boost our nation’s economic fortunes.
I followed this up with another on “The China X Factor in Malaysia’s Future” (http://koonyewyin.com/2016/11/04/the-china-x-factor-in-malaysias-future/).
In my second article, I noted that the Chinese are investing here for their own benefit and not out of charity. I wrote: “Let’s make no mistake. This is not about PM Najib’s, Malaysia’s or Malaysian Chinese interests that China is making these deals. China will be the X factor in Malaysia’s development in any transformation programme for our nation. If we want to make it a win-win deal, we have to work to pursue our national advantage.”
I had also written: “The most important thing we can learn from the Chinese example is that we have to free the creative enterprise and spirit of the people, especially the young.
“No freebies – just hard work, a no-nonsense, fair and competent government, and incorruptibility which was high on the governance agenda – has made China the power to respect throughout the world and in Malaysia.
“But there is also a lot wrong in China now that mainland Chinese are trying to eradicate. Let us learn from that too.”
I had hoped that our leaders would take my advice in the right spirit.
Imagine my shock then to see that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has chosen to focus on the subject of Chinese investment and to use it as a political football in his effort to bring down the Najib government.
But I should not be surprised as Dr Mahathir is a political animal par excellence. Since he has not been able to topple the Prime Minister on the 1MDB and personal donation issues, he has to find another issue. And the Chinese investment in Johor is a ready made one for political mischief and trouble making.
Here I must express my strong agreement with the Sultan of Johor who has rightly, in my opinion, condemned Dr Mahathir for going too far in twisting the issue.
Firstly, the land being sold to Chinese investors is not existing land or land that is being taken away from existing Johor residents.
It is reclaimed land. Even if it is existing land, it is obvious that vacant land will remain vacant, unused and of little or no value if no one is prepared to spend money to develop it.
Secondly, there are positive multiplier effects from the sale of land to foreigners.
No sensible leader from any country in the world – except perhaps North Korea – will object to foreigners buying up property and taking up residence.
In fact, even developed countries such as Australia, Canada and Britain are doing exactly the same in trying to attract foreign investment, including in the property sector. The result of this is that many Malaysians – including most likely Dr Mahathir himself and his children – have bought property abroad.
Just as Dr Mahathir has come out with various challenges in his latest letter on the Forest City issue, including the need to “let all transactions be transparent. Do this honestly. No hiding”, I would like him to tell us how many properties and details of other assets he and his family members have kept abroad.
The estimated cost for the Forest City is RM440bil.
Everybody, except Dr Mahathir, can see that this astronomical amount will be a big boost for our economy. The amount of Chinese money from investment in Johor will definitely have trickle-down effects in terms of employment generation, GST revenues, etc.
At the same time, the continuous spending by the Forest City residents – presumably not only Chinese but also Singaporeans and other foreigners – will surely benefit the local economy.
Hopefully, this initial wave of Chinese property investment will benefit other sectors.
Personally, I think the figure of 700,000 mainland Chinese staying in JB and becoming citizens is being used by Dr Mahathir as a scare tactic to frighten the Malay electorate.
But even if a small fraction does invest in JB, we can expect benefits to the local work force in tourism, education, construction, food and entertainment industry, etc.
And if even a smaller proportion decides to stay on and invest in manufacturing and the higher-end sectors, in which the Government has had little success attracting investment, then the gain not only to the economy but also to society will be even greater.
Finally, I must say that I support Dr Mahathir and others in wanting to see justice done in other important issues.
But when he or any of the other leader plays racial politics, it is necessary to stand up and speak against them.