torsdag 15. november 2018

Malaysia’s bold play against China

In the coming days, as world leaders travel to Singapore for the annual Southeast Asian summit, China will likely have a rather unpleasant development on its mind: increasing pushback across Southeast Asia of its growing economic influence, led by none other than Malaysia, a traditionally China-friendly nation.

When Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made a surprise return to power earlier this year at the age of 92, it precipitated a qualitative shift in Sino-Malaysian relations as he pushed for more transparent and equitable economic deals with Beijing. As Mahathir said at the time, he views China’s leadership as “inclined towards totalitarianism” and unashamed to “flex [its] muscles” in order to “increase [its] influence over many countries in Southeast Asia.” He characterized the new assertiveness in China’s behavior as “very worrisome,” particularly for smaller neighbors such as Malaysia. And he lashed out at China’s major infrastructure deals, even warning against its “new colonialism” during an August trip to Beijing.