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KUALA LUMPUR, July 7 — Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s visit to China next month could be between August 13 and 21, according to the South China Morning Post.
The Hong Kong daily quoted two diplomatic sources in giving the dates, noting that both Beijing and Putrajaya have to ensure the bilateral meeting does not clash with two other key events on the calendar.
One is the “secretive annual gathering of Chinese leaders at the Beidahe resort — usually held sometime in August” and the other is Hari Raya Haji, also known as Hari Raya Aidiladha; both sides need to ensure there is no conflict before a firm date can be agreed upon.
Dr Mahathir confirmed yesterday that he would be flying to China next month, saying the trip was to renegotiate what he called “unfair” contract terms and loans for several infrastructure projects, most notably the US$20 billion East Coast Railway Link (ECRL) and two oil and gas pipeline projects worth US$2.3 billion (RM9.2 billion).
The 688km ECRL will connect the South China Sea off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia with the strategic shipping routes of the Straits of Malacca to the west.
The two pipeline projects, one a 600km multi-petroleum product line connecting Melaka and Port Dickson to Jitra, Kedah, and the other a 662km gas pipe from Kimanis Gas Terminal to Sandakan and Tawau in Sabah, came into the Finance Ministry’s cross hairs last month due to the high draw down amount.
But Shahriman Lockman, senior analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, told the Hong Kong paper that the prime minister’s visit was not only limited to bargaining better deals for Malaysia but to strengthen bilateral ties because “China is a country Malaysia simply cannot ignore”.
Shariman noted that Dr Mahathir has had to beat back accusations that he is “anti-China” since his electoral victory in May.
Dr Mahathir’s China visit will be his eighth as prime minister overall. He had gone to Beijing seven times during his first turn as Malaysia’s prime minister from 1981 to 2003.