KUALA LUMPUR July 25 — Officials from Wisma Putra were not invited to join Tun Daim Zainuddin’s meetings with Chinese premier Li Keqiang and other Chinese officials in Beijing, an extremely rare occurrence given the high status of the meetings.
Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah told Malay Mail that Daim, head of the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP), was a special envoy to China appointed by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad with “very specific” terms of reference.
“TD reports directly to PM,” Saifuddin said.
“MOFA had a meeting with TD before he left for China. TD’s office debriefed MOFA upon his return. This trip was meant to be low-profile.”
Saifuddin declined to comment on what was briefed to Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) on Daim’s July 18 meetings with Li, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Ning Jizhe, a ministerial-level vice chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, in the capital of China.
Ning had attended the ground-breaking ceremony of the Gemas-Johor Baru electric double-tracking railway project in Segamat, Johor, last April 3, whose main contractor is a consortium comprising China Railway Construction Corporation, China Railway Engineering Corporation and China Communications Construction Company.
Dr Mahathir said last week that Daim visited China to try to renegotiate loans and contracts that the previous Barisan Nasional government had signed with firms there.
Although Chinese premier Li does meet foreign officials below the level of prime minister, it is rare for such meetings to be publicised.
According to the Chinese foreign ministry’s report on Li’s meeting with Daim at the Zhongnanhai Leadership Compound — the headquarters of the Communist Party of China and the cabinet, State Council, in central Beijing — Li said Daim’s visit showed that the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government placed great importance on Malaysia’s relations with China.
“China is willing to work with Malaysia to maintain a sound momentum of bilateral ties based on mutual respect and equal treatment, and better synergise the Belt and Road Initiative and development strategies of Malaysia," Li was quoted saying.
Daim was quoted saying that Dr Mahathir paid high attention to relations with China and that Malaysia would like to work with China to forge development in both countries, in other Asian countries, and in the China-Asean cooperation.
In the Chinese foreign ministry’s report on Daim’s meeting with Wang, the former finance minister under Dr Mahathir’s first term in office was quoted saying that the PH government fully supported China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The Belt and Road Initiative mooted by Chinese president Xi Jinping is a massive development campaign that aims to boost trade and economic growth across Asia and beyond through major infrastructure projects, in a bid to create a “modern Silk Road” trading route.
The PH administration suspended the China-backed East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project on July 3 pending a review, with Dr Mahathir saying the terms of its contracts must be renegotiated to reduce costs.
Singaporean daily the Straits Times reported yesterday growing apprehension within the PH coalition and investors over the influence of the CEP headed by Daim, an informal body formed on May 12 to advise the largely inexperienced PH government in its first 100 days of office.
Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin from Umno questioned in Dewan Rakyat yesterday Daim’s visit to China and asked when the government would disband the CEP.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong replied that Daim had gone to China on Dr Mahathir’s orders and stressed that reports by the CEP handed over to the government were not binding, as the CEP was not a legislative body.
Khairy told reporters that Daim’s visit to China prior to an official visit by Dr Mahathir exceeded the CEP’s responsibility, questioning why the CEP chairman should go to China before the prime minister and foreign minister.
The CEP comprises Daim, economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram, former Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, business tycoon Tan Sri Robert Kuok, and former Petronas president and CEO Tan Sri Mohd Hassan Marican.