Malaysia has always prided itself to be a progressive nation which built its foundations the principles of justice and moderation. Even before our own independence, we have always been on the on the right side of history, fighting the Axis powers during the World War II and was part of the coalition to halt the rise of communism in Southeast Asia.
Even during the worst of times during the Mahathir’s era of an authoritarian regime, we have never been regarded as a basket case like Cambodia, Burma, Iraq or God-forbid, North Korea.
Our leaders have been reasonably well-educated and speak with the right tones to ingratiate ourselves well in a world led by the United States, Europe and Japan. Even our current Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak had tried extremely hard to be part of international elite fraternity with his constant, albeit rhetorical preaching of the “global movement of moderates”.
Who can forget, how hard our Prime Minister tried to be buddies with President Obama and how proud he was when he had the rare opportunity to have a round of golf with the American President in Hawaii not too long ago in December 2014?
How quickly things have changed in less than 2 years.
In July this year, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has labelled Malaysia a kleptocracy, with the single largest seizure of assets purchased with funds laundered in the United States which were misappropriated from 1MDB. While Dato’ Seri Najib Razak was not an owner of the assets to be seized, the DOJ explicitly disclosed that he received US$731 million of these misappropriated funds in his personal bank account in Malaysia.
Despite the severity of the accusation by the US Attorney-General, Dato' Seri Najib has refused to deny the allegations and has chosen to remain silent.
Instead today, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak has decided that it is now in his best interest to pucker up to mighty China. After all, China doesn’t pass judgement on who they deal with, regardless of whether it’s a rogue nation like North Korea or a Western counterpart like United States. China’s investments for influence policy reaches out far and wide to third world countries all around the world, especially in Africa like, Nigeria, Sudan and Angola.
After the much-hyped promise of Middle-Eastern petrodollars-led investment boom in Malaysia failed to materialise, the Prime Minister is turning to Beijing to not only jumpstart our economy, but also to help him clean up his multi-billion dollar 1MDB mess.
It is one thing eschewing open tenders for mega-projects in the past to local Malaysian cronies of the ruling parties. Now, the Prime Minister has decided that we should eschew open tenders and award mega-projects at inflated prices like the RM55 billion East Coast Rail Link to Chinese state-owned companies without any tender, or even the pretence of one.
Dato’ Seri Najib has decided to award of the above project to China Communications Construction Company Limited at a price more than double the price per kilometer of rail ever awarded in Malaysia with borrowings from China’s Export-Import Bank. It is a clear attempt to siphon cash to payoff 1MDB’s outstanding debts, especially those embroiled with Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Corporation.
In exchange, Dato’ Seri Najib yields to Chinese geo-political and economic supremacy. When the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal ruled that “there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line” in South China Sea, Malaysia has strangely refused to endorse the ruling despite the fact that we are ourselves laying claims on parts of the Spratlys archipelago in the area.
Worse, Malaysia together with Cambodia, has frustrated the attempts by ASEAN nations to recognise the ruling which had resulted in a meaningless water-down statement with regards to the disputes in South China Sea.
Yesterday, as if to hammer the nail into the coffin, the Prime Minister wrote in his special column in China Daily chastising the West including the “former colonial powers”, that “it is not for them to lecture countries they once exploited on how to conduct their own internal affairs today.”
It is a not so subtle statement to tell these Western powers that how Malaysia is a kleptocracy today isn’t any of their business. If they are not happy with him, he is more than happy to embrace China, who couldn’t care less about how the Malaysian government leaders plunder the nation.
Dato’ Seri Najib Razak’s stand has much bigger implications to Malaysia than merely an attempt to play off one Superpower against another. The Prime Minister’s brazen foreign policy switch will lead Malaysia, intentionally or inadvertently, down the road of becoming a rogue nation, globally snubbed and internationally derided.
As basket cases like Burma, Vietnam or even Iran redeems themselves with greater rapprochement with the international communities, it is frightening that a Prime Minister, consumed with the need to save himself is taking actions which will lead us down the slippery slope.