Rocky times ahead for China FDI in Malaysia


Li: ‘Malaysia must remember that by targeting Chinese investors in an unreasonable way, this will scare away not only FDI from China, but also from other countries.’ – credit: Malaysia Today

Great wall of controversy: Dr Mahathir’s criticism of Alliance Steel’s barricade for its RM6bil integrated steel
complex has upset some Chinese investors.

A series of attacks on China-funded projects in Malaysia by the Prime Minister is causing anxiety not only to Chinese nationals but also locals.

INVESTMENTS and mega contracts linked to China will have to brace for rocky times ahead if Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad continues unchecked with his incessant tirade against Chinese endeavours in Malaysia.

The golden era for Chinese investments, which possibly peaked during the rule of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, seems to have come to an unceremonious end.

The future of foreign direct investment (FDI) from China is now seen as unpredictable – at least for the next 3-5 years – under the new government of Dr Mahathir, according to Datuk Keith Li, president of China Entrepreneurs Association in Malaysia.

Li: ‘Malaysia must remember that by targeting Chinese investors in an unreasonable way, this will scare away not only FDI from China, but also from other countries.

“The series of comments made on Chinese investments by the PM have affected the confidence of Chinese investors. Those who originally wanted to come are adopting a wait-and-see attitude, while those already in are careful about their expansion plans,” says Li in an interview with Sunday Star.

The outspoken leader of Chinese firms notes that businessmen from the mainland are “worried”, although some comments of the Prime Minister were later “clarified” by other Cabinet Ministers or the PM’s Office.

“Malaysia must remember that by targeting Chinese investors in an unreasonable way, this will scare away not only FDI from China, but also from other countries as well,” adds Li.

Since his five-day official visit to China that ended on Aug 21, the 93-year-old Malaysian leader has caused anxiety to all by making shocking announcements.

While summing up his China trip on Aug 21, he declared he would cancel the RM55bil East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and two gas pipelines being built by Chinese firms.

As the ECRL is of strategic importance to China’s Belt and Road Initiative – the policy which Dr Mahathir has repeatedly voiced his support for, Beijing would expect a renegotiation of the contract terms rather than an outright cancellation.

Dr Mahathir had reasoned that with national debt of over RM1 trillion, Malaysia could not afford these projects. In addition, these contracts are tainted with unfair terms and smacked of high corruption.
Although the Prime Minister said Chinese leaders understood Malaysia’s situation, reactions of Chinese nationals on social media were unforgiving with many suspecting Dr Mahathir “has other motives”.

Many see Dr Mahathir as attempting to raise Malaysia’s bargaining power in the negotiation for compensation for the cancelled projects. China, according to social media talk, is asking for RMB50bil as compensation.

On social media, there are also suggestions that Dr Mahathir is aiming at his predecessor as most China-linked projects were launched during the rule of Najib.

During the rule of Najib, Malaysia-China relations were intimate.

This has resulted in the influx of major construction and property companies from the mainland, followed by banks and industries.

But on May 9, Dr Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan coalition toppled the Barisan Nasional government of Najib after the most bitterly fought general election in local history.

The second-time premier has put the blame on Najib for the massive 1MDB financial scandal, which Najib has denied, and mismanagement of the country’s finance.

And while the Chinese nationals are all riled up by the cancellation of ECRL, Dr Mahathir came up with an ill-advised statement.

Last week he ordered a wall surrounding Alliance Steel, which is investing US$1.4bil (RM6bil) for a massive steel complex, to be demolished. This was seen as unreasonably targeting a genuine FDI.

Although the foreign ministry later clarified that the leader had mistaken the wall to be built around the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park (MCKIP), the anger of Chinese nationals lingers on.

The industrial park is a G-to-G project to jointly promote bilateral investments. There is an even bigger sister industrial park in China that houses many Malaysian firms. All these were built during Najib’s reign.

Dr Mahathir’s statement has also caught the attention of China’s Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China.

In an editorial on Aug 28, the news portal warned: “Many words of Kuala Lumpur can spread to China via the Internet, causing different reactions. How the Chinese public sees China-Malaysia cooperation is by no means inconsequential to Malaysia’s interests.”

It noted “while Dr Mahathir advocates pursuing a policy of expanding friendly cooperation with China … but when it comes to specific China-funded projects, his remarks gave rise to confusion. Like this time, it is startling to equate the controversy surrounding a factory wall with state sovereignty.”

Global Times added: “When such remarks are heard by Chinese people, the latter find it piercing. They will definitely make Chinese investors worry about Malaysian public opinion and whether such an atmosphere will affect investment in the country.”

In fact, it would be unwise for the government to disrupt MCKIP. Co-owned by Chinese, IJM Corporation and Pahang government, this industrial park has lured in Chinese FDI of over RM20bil.

It is an important economic driver in the East Coast and has aimed to create 19,000 jobs by 2020.

While the “wall” statement might be seen as a minor mistake, Dr Mahathir’s flawed announcement last Monday that foreigners would be barred from buying residential units in the US$100bil (RM410bil) Forest City stirred another uproar.

On Aug 27, Reuters quoted Dr Mahathir as saying: “That city that is going to be built cannot be sold to foreigners. Our objection is because it was built for foreigners, not built for Malaysians. Most Malaysians are unable to buy those flats.”

Currently being developed by Country Garden Holdings of China, this 20-year long project, built on reclaimed land in Johor Bahru, aims to house 700,000 people. As about 70% of the house buyers are Chinese, some locals fear this could turn into a China town.

Unlike Alliance Steel that has stayed silent, Country Garden fought back by seeking clarifications from the PM’s Office.

In a statement, the major Chinese developer said all its property transactions had complied with Malaysian laws.

Citing Section 433B of the National Land Code, it added a foreign citizen or a foreign company may acquire land in Malaysia subject to the prior approval of the State Authority.

In addition, it said Dr Mahathir’s comment did not correspond with the content of the meeting he had with Country Garden founder and chairman Yeung Kwok Keung on Aug 16.

During the meeting, Dr Mahathir said he welcomed foreign investments which could create job opportunities, promote technology transfer and innovations.

In fact, this forest city project – along with ECRL – were the main targets of attack by Dr Mahathir before the May 9 election.

Opposition to these projects had helped drive Dr Mahathir’s election campaign, during which he said was evidence of Najib selling Malaysia’s sovereignty to China.

These projects, together with major construction contracts won by Chinese and the inflow of industrial investments, place the total value of Chinese deals at more than RM600bil in Malaysia.

But few would expect Dr Mahathir to use his powerful position to resume his attacks on China-linked projects so soon after his so-called “fruitful visit” to Beijing.

During his official visit to Beijing, the Malaysian leader was accorded the highest honour by China, due mainly to respect for “China’s old friend” and strong Malaysia-China relations built since 1975.

Dr Mahathir was chauffeured in Hongqi L5 limousine, reserved for the most honourable leaders, and greeted in an official welcome ceremony by Premier Li Keqiang. He was also guest of honour at a banquet at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse hosted by President Xi Jinping.

But beneath these glamorous receptions, there were reservations exuded by the Chinese for this leader whose premiership is scheduled to end in two years.

There were no exciting business deals signed in Beijing. There was absence of high diplomatic rhetoric that “Malaysia-China ties have been elevated to another historic high”, oft-repeated during Najib’s past visits.

Many even notice that Premier Li and Dr Mahathir had a cool handshake after their short joint press conference in Beijing.

And although China promised to buy Malaysian palm oil, the statement was qualified with “price sensitivity”, which means it will not buy above market price.

In addition, there was no mention of “buying palm oil without upper limit”, which was promised to Najib last year.

If Dr Mahathir’s original intention was to target Forest City and its owners, his move has certainly backfired. The country will have to pay a price for his off-the-cuff statement.

The “new policy” will have serious ramifications as it would hit the value of the properties not only in Forest City but also in other China-linked and non-Chinese projects.

Country Garden’s Danga Bay project will also be hit. It now faces a more daunting task of selling the balance of about 2,000 units in Danga Bay, according to a Starbiz report.

Other Chinese developers like R&F Princess Cove and Greenland Group will be affected.

VPC Alliance Malaysia managing director James Wong told Starbiz there may be legal suits against the government.

“That may force Country Garden to scale down because it has invested a lot with its industrial building systems factory and an international school, among other investments. It will impact Country Garden and Malaysia’s property sector negatively,” Wong said.

“Foreign buyers and other foreign companies will shy away,” Wong added.

The change in government and the insensitive comments on China-funded projects have turned Malaysia into a high-risk investment destination for the Chinese, according to Li.

“We don’t know which China projects will be targeted next. Looking back, it’s a blessing in disguise that we were pushed out of the RM200bil Bandar Malaysia project. It is also lucky that Chinese money has not gone into the RM30bil Melaka Gateway project,” says Li, who owns a travel agency in Malaysia.

“In the immediate future, more tourists from China are likely to shy away from Malaysia.

“Malaysia may not hit the target of having three million visits from China this year,” Li adds.

Credit: Ho Wah Foon The Star

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Malaysia Bans Foreigners From Project https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2018-08-28/malaysia-bans-foreigners-from-project-video ..

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Foreigners Not Welcome as Malaysia Joins Property Clampdown


 

Malaysia Bans Foreigners From Project

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2018-08-28/malaysia-bans-foreigners-from-project-video

 

 

 

 

  • Mahathir’s planned crackdown taps into nationalist rhetoric
  • Housing affordability has driven restrictions around the world

Hanging a ‘foreigners not welcome’ sign on a giant real estate development, Malaysia’s prime minister this week appeared to add to housing curbs around the world fueled by soaring home prices and populist politics.

Describing the Chinese-backed $100 billion Forest City as “built for foreigners” and beyond the reach of ordinary Malaysians, Mahathir Mohamad tapped into the nationalist rhetoric that helped secure him an election victory — and global angst over housing affordability. Around the world, post-financial crisis property booms driven by low interest rates have left locals struggling to buy homes.

“The tension around foreign investment is always going to be much more acute when affordability is getting worse,” said Brendan Coates, a researcher in Melbourne at the Grattan Institute think tank. When locals get “priced out of the market,” foreign buyers may be blamed even when their effect is small, he said, commenting on the global picture.

Hanging a ‘foreigners not welcome’ sign on a giant real estate development, Malaysia’s prime minister this week appeared to add to housing curbs around the world fueled by soaring home prices and populist politics.

Describing the Chinese-backed $100 billion Forest City as “built for foreigners” and beyond the reach of ordinary Malaysians, Mahathir Mohamad tapped into the nationalist rhetoric that helped secure him an election victory — and global angst over housing affordability. Around the world, post-financial crisis property booms driven by low interest rates have left locals struggling to buy homes.

“The tension around foreign investment is always going to be much more acute when affordability is getting worse,” said Brendan Coates, a researcher in Melbourne at the Grattan Institute think tank. When locals get “priced out of the market,” foreign buyers may be blamed even when their effect is small, he said, commenting on the global picture.

A wave of restrictions or taxes on foreign purchases already stretches from Sydney to Hong Kong to Vancouver. Measures targeting foreign home buyers have included stamp duties, restrictions on property pre-sales to non-residents and limits on the types of homes that can be purchased.

‘New Colonialism’

New Zealand is banning foreigners from buying existing residential properties after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern campaigned in last year’s election on pledges including affordable housing. Canada and Australia have rolled out one restriction after another, and Singapore just ramped up a tax on overseas buyers. Denmark and Switzerland have restrictions, a Grattan report shows.

The 93-year-old Mahathir’s comments came at a late stage of the game. Globally, property shows signs of cooling from the post-crisis boom. His concern seems to be sparked not by property market overheating but, rather, foreign investments that don’t benefit Malaysia and what he terms the risk of “a new version of colonialism.”

Late Tuesday, a statement from Mahathir’s office said the nation welcomes all tourists, including from China, as well as foreign direct investment that “contributes to the transfer of technology, provides employment for locals and the setting up of industries.” It didn’t refer to Forest City.

“Mahathir has never liked the idea of Forest City or the idea of many foreigners buying up property in Malaysia,” said Ryan Khoo, co-founder of Alpha Marketing Pte Ltd., a Singapore-based real estate consultancy.

Foreigners will be blocked from buying units at the project, on artificial islands in Johor, and refused visas to live there, Mahathir said at a press briefing on Monday. That left analysts and local officials parsing his words to guess at how bans might work. The Chinese developer, Country Garden Holdings Co., said his comments clashed with past assurances. The project’s targeted buyers have included people in mainland China.

With a wall of Chinese money blamed for pushing up prices around the world, local lawmakers, media and the public can
struggle to disentangle xenophobia from legitimate efforts to constrain inflows of capital. In Australia, “populist reporting” exaggerated the role of Chinese investors, according to Hans Hendrischke, a professor of Chinese business and management at the University of Sydney.

Read more on global property:

Chinese buyers had the “bad luck” of becoming overly visible in markets around
the globe, said Carrie Law, chief executive officer of Juwai.com, a Chinese international property website.

Foreign buyers get blamed for soaring home costs even when the evidence is minimal. More than 60 percent of Sydney residents cite foreign investment for price increases,
according to a survey from University of Sydney academic Dallas Rogers. That’s despite research by Australia’s Treasury showing only a marginal impact. Likewise, data suggest foreign buyers play only a small role in New Zealand’s housing market.

(Updates with Mahathir statement in seventh paragraph, chart on global restrictions.)

No Chinese belt, road or bedrooms for Malaysia

Construction works going on normally at the mammoth Forest City project in Gelang Patah in Johor

PERPLEXED, wounded, indignant or still optimistic. The Chinese developer Country Garden Holdings Co can put any spin it wants on its Forest City project, a US$100bil Malaysian township whose fate suddenly has been thrown into doubt after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s pointed refusal to let foreigners buy apartments or live in them long term.

One thing is clear, though: The prime minister is not acting impulsively. The project claims to be a “new global cluster of commerce and culture,” and a “dream paradise for all mankind.” However, in Malaysian political discourse, Forest City is just a gigantic Chinatown of 700,000 residents.

Taking on the developer is part of Mahathir’s broader plan to redefine Malaysia’s relationship with Beijing, pulling Kuala Lumpur away from the client-state mindset introduced by his predecessor.

Already, the 93-year-old leader has cancelled the Chinese-funded East Coast Rail Link, dealing a blow to China Communications Construction Co, which was building the US$20bil belt-and-road route. Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, ousted in May, claimed the link would bring prosperity to eastern Malaysia.

But Dr Mahathir, who spoke bluntly in Beijing this month against “a new version of colonialism,” took a very different view of the railway, which would have connected areas near the Thai border along the South China Sea to busy port cities on Malaysia’s western coast, near the Strait of Malacca.

He also shelved a natural-gas pipeline in Sabah, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. Dr Mahathir justified the cancellations on the grounds that they were too expensive.

However, the abrupt message to Country Garden, which is neither linked to the Chinese state nor would add a dollar to Malaysia’s national debt, shows that sovereignty – and Malaysia’s racial politics – are Mahathir’s real concerns.

Two-thirds of the homebuyers in Forest City are from China. Last year, as a trenchant critic of Najib’s policies, Dr Mahathir flagged the risk that anybody living in Malaysia for 12 years would be able to vote.

Country Garden should have seen the political risk in marketing the flats to mainland Chinese, who were separately lapping up long-stay visas under Najib’s Malaysia My Second Home programme. Najib’s generosity toward the mainland wasn’t the natural state of affairs. In 1965, the country expelled Singapore from the Malaysian federation out of fear that the peninsula’s majority Muslim Malays could lose their political dominance to the island’s ethnic Chinese.

If Country Garden misread the political tea leaves, it’s also wrong to bark up the legal tree after Dr Mahathir’s outburst. So what if Malaysia’s national land code permits foreign ownership? Approval of global investors may not matter all that much to a politician who has, in his previous innings, trapped their money at the height of a financial crisis.

The new prime minister isn’t as reliant on Beijing as his predecessor. If anything, he has to reward local businessmen and contractors for switching their allegiance from Barisan Nasional, the erstwhile ruling coalition that suffered its first loss of power in six decades.

It’s a given then that Malaysia under Dr Mahathir will have little appetite either for One Belt, One Road – or, for that matter, three- and four-bedroom apartments that could create a new political constituency.

Forest City could still be salvaged, but as a predominantly local project. If Donald Trump can unilaterally change the rules of game for China and Chinese businesses, so can, in his limited sphere, Dr Mahathir. As far as Country Garden is concerned, he just has.

Credit Aandy Mukherjee— Bloomberg

 

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