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Mahathir tones down anti-China rhetoric during visit to Beijing

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad struck a conciliatory tone during his visit to Beijing Monday, a s...

Posted: Aug 20, 2018 12:37 PM
Updated: Aug 20, 2018 12:37 PM

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad struck a conciliatory tone during his visit to Beijing Monday, a stark contrast to his earlier sharp language on China.

In the past year, Mahathir has spoken harshly about Chinese investment in his country, alleging that his predecessor hurt Malaysia's sovereignty by signing multibillion-dollar deals with China.

Asia

Beijing

China

Continents and regions

East Asia

Malaysia

Southeast Asia

But on Monday, the Malaysian leader said his nation could "learn a lot" from Beijing. "I believe in cooperation with China because China has got a lot that will be beneficial to us," Mahathir told reporters after holding talks in Beijing with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

For his part, Li said both sides were willing to further expand trade between China and Malaysia. "China is willing to further increase imports of Malaysian goods to satisfy the needs of the Chinese market," the Chinese premier said.

The 93-year-old Malaysian leader started his five-day visit on Friday. He toured a Chinese car plant and e-commerce giant Alibaba, and rode China's fastest high-speed train from the tech hub of Hangzhou to Shanghai, before arriving at the Chinese capital.

Although Mahathir has long spoken about renegotiating the terms of Beijing-funded large-scale infrastructure projects in his country, documents signed between the two governments Monday only touched on more modest items, such as cross-border accounting cooperation, and durian and palm oil trade.

Mahathir later met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, during which he said Malaysia welcomes Chinese investments to benefit both nations.

'An old friend of the Chinese people'

When he joined the opposition to topple then-Prime Minister Najib Razak last year, Mahathir strongly criticized the Najib government's business deals with China, especially a massive loan from China to build a rail link.

He warned such agreements could threaten Malaysia's independence -- including its claim in the South China Sea, where an increasingly aggressive Beijing is locked in a bitter territorial dispute with its smaller neighbors.

"We already have big debt, now we are going to owe such a large sum from a single source," Mahathir was quoted as saying last November. "It appears as if we are changing our approach to the South China Sea, that we are willing to give up our claims."

In July, citing their high costs, Mahathir suspended two China-backed projects worth over $22 billion -- the East Coast Rail Link as well as gas pipelines -- that were approved by Najib, who had pulled Kuala Lumpur close to Beijing.

But speaking on Sunday at an elite business forum in Beijing, Mahathir blamed Malaysia's huge debt to China on Najib, who is now awaiting trial for alleged corruption.

"It is not about the Chinese, it is about the Malaysian government," he said. "We are not against Chinese companies, but we are against borrowing money from outside and having projects which are not necessary and which are very costly."

China has been careful in addressing Mahathir's statements since he took office in May, describing the elder statesman as "an old friend of the Chinese people" and praising his "support and participation" in the Belt and Road Initiative, a global trade and investment program championed by Xi.

Mahathir -- who had earlier led Malaysia from 1981 to 2003 -- appears to have softened his stance on China as well, after scoring a stunning electoral victory and returning to power.

In an interview with CNN last month, Mahathir, who still voiced doubts over China's "spreading influence through money," said that Malaysia has to accept the reality of a dominant China in the region and cannot go to war with Beijing over the South China Sea.

"They are more powerful, and we cannot fight against them," he said. "How do we benefit from their wealth and their power? That's what we are looking at now."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 482902

Reported Deaths: 9425
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33063488
Hinds31021589
DeSoto30610358
Jackson23687348
Rankin21340370
Lee14909220
Madison14166271
Jones13404227
Forrest13160240
Lauderdale11601305
Lowndes10443176
Lamar10214130
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Washington7102150
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Monroe6514164
Neshoba6475201
Warren6464164
Pontotoc630393
Panola6250126
Marshall6126123
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Union574186
Pike5613136
Alcorn537290
Lincoln5303131
George471472
Scott459196
Leflore4476140
Prentiss446779
Tippah446480
Itawamba4444100
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Tate4394101
Simpson4335112
Wayne433066
Copiah431787
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Clay296473
Chickasaw287065
Clarke282190
Calhoun266141
Holmes262187
Smith250649
Yalobusha221047
Tallahatchie220450
Walthall211058
Greene209045
Lawrence206833
Perry199953
Amite198452
Webster196542
Noxubee178939
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Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162137
Tunica153334
Benton142535
Kemper138640
Choctaw127026
Claiborne126834
Humphreys126637
Franklin116728
Quitman103926
Wilkinson101936
Jefferson91333
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1926
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 789054

Reported Deaths: 14022
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1115991765
Mobile708511234
Madison49865633
Shelby36274315
Baldwin36242495
Tuscaloosa33931548
Montgomery33190678
Lee22680220
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Morgan19816335
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Cullman14602258
Limestone14581188
Elmore14480264
Lauderdale13520281
Talladega12958236
DeKalb12199237
Walker10588330
Blount9720157
Autauga9667137
Jackson9385158
Coffee8882175
Dale8609173
Colbert8534184
Tallapoosa6673181
Escambia6591121
Covington6452167
Chilton6385144
Russell607255
Franklin5795101
Chambers5416134
Marion4800120
Dallas4705189
Clarke463279
Pike462397
Geneva4413117
Winston425895
Lawrence4117108
Bibb409381
Barbour347270
Marengo326285
Monroe320053
Butler318290
Randolph305956
Pickens305274
Henry301858
Hale292685
Cherokee289855
Fayette279673
Washington245448
Crenshaw238470
Cleburne235851
Clay228565
Macon220158
Lamar197743
Conecuh182046
Lowndes170758
Coosa170235
Wilcox159736
Bullock149243
Perry136537
Sumter124536
Greene121443
Choctaw73427
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