Malaysian PM Mahathir aims to scrap China deals

Malaysia’s prime minister Mahathir Mohamad took his toughest stance yet on Chinese-backed energy pipelines and a rail project along peninsular Malaysia’s eastern coast struck by his predecessor Najib Razak. (AP)
Updated 13 August 2018

Malaysian PM Mahathir aims to scrap China deals

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: Malaysia’s prime minister said Monday he will seek to cancel multibillion-dollar Chinese-backed infrastructure projects that were signed by his predecessor as his government works to dig itself out of debt, and he blasted Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya minority as “grossly unjust.”
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made the comments during a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press days before the 93-year-old leader heads to Beijing for his first visit there since returning to power in an electoral upset three months ago.
Mahathir said he wants to maintain good relations with China and welcomes its investment, so long as the projects benefit Malaysia.
But he took his toughest stance yet on Chinese-backed energy pipelines and a rail project along peninsular Malaysia’s eastern coast struck by his predecessor Najib Razak, who faces trial on multiple charges related to the alleged multibillion-dollar looting of the 1MDB state investment fund.
“We don’t think we need those two projects. We don’t think they are viable. So if we can, we would like to just drop the projects,” he said.
During his time in office, Najib drew Malaysia closer to China, which sees the multiethnic Southeast Asian country as a key part of its ambitious One Belt, One Road global trade initiative. The former prime minister reached deals for the 688-kilometer East Coast Rail Link and the two gas pipelines in 2016.
Malaysia’s new government has already suspended work on the projects, being built by Chinese state-backed companies, and called for drastic cuts in their ballooning cost, which it estimates at more than $22 billion. Some of that money has already been paid and could be difficult to recoup.
If scrapping the projects altogether isn’t doable, Malaysia will need to at least put them on hold until the future, “where perhaps the need will arise,” Mahathir said.
Mahathir also urged China to respect the free movement of ships throughout the South China Sea, where China and multiple Southeast Asian nations including Malaysia have competing claims on islands and reefs — along with the rich fishing grounds and potential fossil fuel deposits around them.
China claims much of the sea as its own and has built up several man-made islands equipped them with runways, hangers, radar and missile stations to bolster its claim. It has accused the US, which routinely deploys aircraft carriers, other warships and aircraft to the sea, of meddling in a purely Asian dispute. Chinese ships also patrol the sea.
Mahathir cautioned against further militarizing the disputed body of water by reiterating his call for warships to not be permanently stationed there.
“We are all for ships, even warships, passing through, but not stationed here,” he said. “It is a warning to everyone. Don’t create tension unnecessarily.”


Jailed Wikileaks founder Assange no longer in solitary, health improving

Updated 19 February 2020

Jailed Wikileaks founder Assange no longer in solitary, health improving

  • Assange was moved from solitary confinement in the medical wing to a different part of the prison with 40 other inmates
  • WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson: He has improved thanks to the pressure from his legal team, the general public, and amazingly, actually from other inmates

LONDON: Jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is no longer being kept in solitary confinement and his health is improving, his spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told reporters on Tuesday.
Assange, 48, is in Belmarsh high-security prison in London, fighting an extradition request from the United States where he faces 18 counts including conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law. He could spend decades in prison if convicted.
His supporters had expressed concern about the state of his health after he appeared confused during a court hearing in October, struggling to recall his age and name and saying he was unable to think properly.
Assange was moved from solitary confinement in the medical wing to a different part of the prison with 40 other inmates after his legal team and prisoners complained that his treatment was unfair, Hrafnsson said.
“I saw him about 10 days ago — he has improved thanks to the pressure from his legal team, the general public, and amazingly, actually from other inmates in Belmarsh Prison to get him out of isolation,” Hrafnsson said ahead of an extradition hearing that starts next week.
Australian-born Assange made global headlines in early 2010 when WikiLeaks published a classified US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.
WikiLeaks later angered the United States by publishing caches of leaked military documents and diplomatic cables.
Assange has consistently presented himself as a champion of free speech being persecuted for exposing abuses of power. But his critics paint him as a dangerous figure complicit in Russian efforts to undermine the West.
He fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning about allegations of sex crimes which have since been dropped. He spent seven years holed up in the embassy until Ecuador decided to stop giving him refuge and he was dragged out last May.
Earlier, a group of doctors representing 117 physicians and psychologists from 18 nations called in a letter for an end to what they described as “the psychological torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange.”
His father, John Shipton, said Assange’s long confinement indoors had damaged his health and feared that sending his son to the US would be akin to a “death sentence.”
“His situation is dire, he has had nine years of ceaseless psychological torture where false accusations are constantly being made,” he told reporters.