| KUALA LUMPUR
KUALA LUMPUR Feb 5 Chinese firms will invest
more than $1.6 billion to build steel, aluminium and palm oil
processing plants and expand a port in a new industrial zone on
the Malaysian east coast, Malaysia announced on Tuesday.
The Chinese spending is part of total joint investments of
10.5 billion ringgit ($3.5 billion) expected by 2020 in the new
Kuantan Industrial Park as Beijing moves to deepen its ties with
the Southeast Asian nation.
China has rapidly moved to expand its diplomatic, cultural
and economic influence in Southeast Asia in recent years, from
funding mega-dams and casinos in the Mekong region to pushing
its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The signing comes a day after Malaysia was criticised by
Human Rights Watch for what the group said was the deportation
to China of six asylum seekers from the Uighur ethnic minority.
A dozens-strong Chinese delegation led by Jia Qinglin, a
senior member of the Communist Party Politburo Standing
Committee, was also to sign an agreement on Tuesday to set up
the first major Chinese university campus on foreign soil in
Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony, Prime Minister
Najib Razak said Malaysia had been "ahead of the curve" in
enhancing economic and diplomatic cooperation with China.
"Over the past decade, the world has come to terms with a
model where China's need for resources has driven new patterns
of trade and influence," he said at the ground-breaking ceremony
for the industrial park in the eastern state of Pahang.
"Now it is beginning to recognise that Chinese innovation
and domestic demand will prove just as potent a force in the
Chinese firm Guangxi Beibu International Port Group will
partner with Malaysia's IJM Corporation Berhad in a 3
billion ringgit investment to deepen and expand Kuantan port.
Guangxi Beibu will also lead investments of 5 billion
ringgit ($1.6 billion) to build the steel, aluminium and palm
oil plants. Those investments would be 100 percent owned by
Chinese firms, Ong Ka Ting, Najib's special envoy to China, told
Joint investments in a "master" project to develop the
industrial zone would amount to another 2.5 billion ringgit.
"The relationship with China is getting better and better,"
GROWING TRADE, INVESTMENT
China is Malaysia's largest export market, and accounts for
a sixth of its imports. Najib said Malaysia expected more than 1
billion ringgit of Chinese foreign direct investment this year,
with two-way trade expected to grow about 10 percent to $100
China's Xiamen university announced in January that it would
open its first overseas campus in Malaysia. State news agency
Bernama said it would initially take in 10,000 students, a third
of them Chinese nationals.
Human Rights Watch condemned on Monday what it called
Malaysia's "secret forced return" to China of six Uighurs with
pending asylum claims. Rights groups have accused Beijing of
detaining and intimidating ethnic Uighurs in the far western
region of Xinjiang for speaking out on rights abuses following
riots in the regional capital three years ago.
"They (China) are running these guys down, they are doing it
in Southeast Asia with the support of governments like
Malaysia. Are these quid pro quo arrangements?" said Phil
Robertson, deputy Asia director at the group.
The prime minister's office did not respond to a request for
comment on the allegations. Ong also declined to comment.
(Reporting By Siva Sithraputhran and Stuart Grudgings; Writing
by Stuart Grudgings; editing by Ron Popeski)