Dear Mr Ramon Navaratnam:
We, the Chinese, note with thanks your generous assessment into the state of China-Malaysia relations, in particular the visit by His Excellency Najib Razak to our Motherland and the 143 billion ringgit in investments and MOU agreements. “This is to be fair,” you say, “no mean achievement by any standards. Credit must therefore be given.”
For your information, most of the agreements, the center-piece of which is the East Coast Rail Line corridor (ECRL), were at the drafting and design stages years ago, that is, long before the 1MDB exploded in the international newspaper headlines around mid-2015. (See, for example, essay below, the 2012 Qinzhou for Kuantan industrial park.) China’s material and financial support of foreign infrastructure and investments are precise: tell us your economic objectives (please note the term, economic), and we’ll tell you what we think and, together, we take it from there.
The ECRL is one of those results. As a geographical fact, the peninsula is split down the middle by a mountain range that runs from the Thai border and reaching close to Singapore. There has been no economic integration between these two physical halves, not since ever nor since Zheng He of the Ming era. At the same time, shipping routes must traversed the entire peninsular just to reach both sides of it, an absurd situation but which presents an opportunity to simultaneously generate international trade and domestic integration on both sides of the coast. The question was how?
We have since answered the question by fitting Malaysia’s economic development with China’s One Belt, One Road initiative. Our interests in your domestic projects are direct and straightforward: we will build and finance at a discount. On completion, the projects are yours to keep and to profit from, but, in our shoes, you’d pose the same question with this answer: China, too, must benefit.
If not, those projects have no wider purpose: we lend you money then leave you alone to your project. Fail or succeed isn’t our business so long as you repay. (Remember Perwaja and Proton?) We are reduced to being a pure lender — a chettiar in your lingo — the primary method of western governments, their external development programs and their financial institutions.
Consequently, many western observers see China’s plans as a means for world conquest. We laughed. Opponents of Najib see his collaboration with us as something sinister. We laughed at that, too. Their opposition was, of course, purely political: anybody associated with Najib has to be brought down, China in this case. This is the same political method adopted by Najib: anybody associated with Mahathir Mohamad must be brought down. Hence, when the Chinese in Malaysia alongside Mahathir opposed him, he threatens with his Red Shirt hoodlums to burn Chinese property and kill Chinese. (Next time, if you are so concerned about ‘peace’ and ‘well-being’, remind Najib that. Better yet, tell him to take on our Chinese PLA.)
Too bad, Malaysians, Malays in particular, resort to terror tactics to gain favors. What’s the matter with your kind of assholes because such a tactic raises the inverse of the problem that both sides drum up: What’s in it for Najib and your government, politically? What’s in it for Mahathir to oppose Najib and China? Nothing is truly about people.
As best as we can, and we do try, the projects we do around the world, we do so with a clear heart and an objective mind. Tin-heads or democrats might attempt to bend those projects in their political favor but direct and straightforward participation by us allow for little room to, as you might say, cream off from the proceeds. We are not Goldman Sachs nor the IMF. Nor are we some half Indian chettiar from your motherland.
Our way of doing things, call it what you will, returns us to the gist of your statement to Bernama: “May this Malaysia-China impressive investment deal be the start of a new era of eastern economic well-being and peace.” Peace? Well-being? This is so banal and it is so much tripe, the same sort of thing Najib he himself would say, pointing to the plum tree while scolding the apricot.
You don’t get it, do you? Whatever it is Najib says or promises, nobody trust him — not after 1MDB. Worse than shaking the hands of a Malay, we won’t deal direct with any Malaiyoo, not even the half of you: they can’t get a handle of their sons and families, they want to manage a country? The best we can do is this, nod our heads and pretend to listen. Documents we will sign, so what? Najib, years ago, was witness to lots of paper signing with those desert towel heads, 60 billion ringgit worth. Remember that? In our position, who wouldn’t think: ‘Your Excellency, what’s your next scam?’
Please, dear Ramon, if it weren’t out of deference to Najib’s father and the position he occupies — that’s position not his person — we’d tell you, Sir: You sound like those motherfucking Aussies. So shut the fuck up. You don’t know what it is you are saying.Yours truly,Cina Pendatang
The Peninsula Development Plan
The flipped around L-shaped bold red line known as the East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) sticks out of the map-drawing above like some tall red-head girl in a crowd waiting for the KTM train that is never on time, if ever it arrives.
Forget the red head for a moment.
Consider instead the map-drawing then recall the days of Mahathir Mohamad. Then, most of the projects (Twin Towers, Putrajaya, airport) were centered in the Klang Valley and along a swathe of land stretching from there to Sepang for roughly 60 km. Many of Mahathir’s projects require a large domestic population for their continued viability (Putrajaya/Cyberjaya); they depend on external resources (Perwaja, iron and steel); and you hope to be profitable with minimal competition (Proton). Numerous of these projects have since stalled, floundered or failed.
Now, consider the peninsula’s physical location within Asia and the world in general (Asia map above). It is an oddball. It gets in the way of sea traffic, except that today western reporters and their copycat minions at Malaysiakini, their liberal heads saddled with and poisoned by useless academics, by Hans Morgenthau and balance of power theories, called the location ‘geo-strategic’. If life’s activities were reduced to strategy, then the way out of the land blockade is to sink the Tanah Melayu (along with all the Malaiyoos living there). Short of that the Tanah‘s only useful purpose, its raison d’etre, in the world scheme of things, is to the ease the passage of movement for everybody: rangkai 让开. Out of our way Malaiyoo!
What then is the purpose of the ECRL? Ostensibly nothing other than to tie together some infrastructure, chiefly, rails, ports and industrial/agriculture zones. Those infrastructure have two features:
- they are dispersed along the peninsula then gathered up and linked back by rail, road and ports along the ECRL as if it were holding together the land’s two disparate parts, the East and West Coasts; this is a feature of work and planning ignored by politicians since Merdeka; and,
- other than the ECRL, there is no apparent industrial connection between Singapore and West Coast on the one part and south Thailand and the East Coast, on the other. One side has the money, but what has the other side except coconut huts and petroleum when it is still there, hopefully? Certainly not markets. So, what are the rails and ports suppose to ship that can’t be shipped now?
Peculiar to these two features is that industrial and agricultural developments are not entities constructed independent in themselves and independent of the rest of the world — the sort of economic planning and heavy industries conceived in Mahathir’s days. No, instead they are hitched to the world, specifically to a sea trade between the east (East Asia, Indonesia) and the west (India and Europe).
Mahathir’s fallacy was to imagine that a stand-alone factory, never reliant on the world, is a model of independence. If independent, therefore successful, as if to embody a sort of towering, super Malaiyoo. Yet Perwaja became a model of a failed Malaiyoo, the price you pay for tying (race) politics to economic objectives. So, too, MAS and Cyberjaya and Putrajaya. Admit it, they are like ghost towns today as opposed to the vibrancy of a thriving metropolis.
China’s idea inverses all that’s sacred to Mahathir. And it is willing to bet on them by committing both material and financial resources. Malaysia’s own resources are depleting; its markets are too small to promise its people the kind of future envisaged.
So, to make up for both, an anomaly of international geography is turned into a domestic opportunity. The East Coast belt of Kertih, Kemaman and Kuantan is an example: no resources but offshore petroleum nearby; neither industrial nor consumer markets but a jumping off point for markets in the rest of Southeast Asia and East Asia, China in particular.
The Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park is a microcosm of those larger objectives. It is actually a trade-off. In 2012 April, Malaysia had already received, near Nanning, Guangxi province, the Qinzhou China-Malaysia Industrial Park (中马钦州产业园区), an area of some 50km by 60km (location and photos below). To-date, China is still waiting for Malaysia to keep its end of the bargain. To make such a park worthwhile and profitable, the Kuantan Park was fitted into the ECRL planning and into China’s market needs as well.
There is nothing China cannot get at home and from elsewhere without going through Kuantan. But, in the spirit of promoting of joint development — and, as Malaysians would say, putting money where your mouth is — China committed a part of its own future industrial dependence on Kuantan, the ECRL by extension.
The problem, as the years unfolded, wasn’t China keeping its bargain. It understands Najib Razak had been busy elsewhere (Mongolia? Caspian Sea? Argentina?) and would wait. When, at last, he came to China, willing to commit ideas to contracts, it was post-1MDB debacle and everybody in Malaysia, from Mahathir Mohamad down, was seeing it as some China-Najib-1MDB conspiracy, the ECRL smack in between. Then, worse for it, making the plan a sort of Malay fighting Chinese race politics, and bringing US political and South China Sea geo-strategic considerations into the picture.
Malays (Mahathir not the least) have, in effect, muddled the entire waters of the South China Sea on what’s really had been in its origins and its purpose a straight and honorable deal.
Why are Malaiyoos so stupid? The stupidity of Malays raises doubts in China: Are they a good bet? Can they be trusted? Why are they so willing to jeopardize the future of an entire society simply to smack one man?
明人不用细说，响鼓不用重锤: A person of good sense needs no convincing, a resonant drum needs no heavy beating.