As Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad — a critic of Chinese investment in his home country — visits the world's second-largest economy, he's expected to renegotiate a number of Beijing-backed deals that were signed before he entered office.
The 93-year-old leader, who marks his first 100 days in office this weekend, has repeatedly criticized Chinese ventures for being too expensive and not supporting Malaysian labor. He lands in Beijing on Friday and will be in the country until next Tuesday.
A former authoritarian leader who first ruled Malaysia from 1981 to 2003, Mahathir took his predecessor Najib Razak to task over the issue, accusing the scandal-ridden politician of "selling off" the country in exchange for Beijing's help in settling debts linked to troubled state fund 1MDB. Kuala Lumpur has received billions through the Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese President Xi Jinping's continent-spanning infrastructure venture.
Mahathir, the world's oldest prime minister, has also suspended three China-backed projects worth around $22 billion — two gas pipelines and a rail link — that were signed under Najib's watch. Explaining his decision at a news conference last month, the veteran politician said the contract and loan terms behind the deals were unfair, noting that the interest rates on China's loans were much higher than the 3 percent figure at which the government normally borrowed, the Associate Press reported.
Mahathir, whose approval ratings stand at 71 percent, is now expected to use his five days in China to win better terms on the agreements.
"A lot of people in Malaysia think most of those deals were overpriced so if the Chinese are willing to take a price cut, I suspect we'll hear some good news coming out of Beijing," said James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania.