Deputy trade minister: Countries wishing to do mega projects should ensure financial sustainability

Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry Ong Kian Ming speaks during a forum on China’s Belt and Road initiative in Kuala Lumpur March 8, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry Ong Kian Ming speaks during a forum on China’s Belt and Road initiative in Kuala Lumpur March 8, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, March 8 — Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Ong Kian Ming said all countries including Malaysia who wish to undertake mega projects should ensure their financial sustainability and viability.

He said the lesson learnt from China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects is the importance of strengthening internal processes in terms of frameworks, before undertaking projects.

“I would say this is an indication that standards of transparency and good governance need to be practised by all countries who want to undertake projects, be it the BRI or not,” Ong said during the launch of the Standard Chartered Belt and Road Relay.

He recapped the three main points in his speech, starting with the refined focus on transparency and good governance for BRI projects, which are expected to be discussed at its forum in Beijing next month.

“The second is the push for more Chinese investments to go out and invest in different countries, including South-east Asia.

“This is in part due to the ongoing China-United States trade war which increases costs in China, as well as its desire to have a greater global footprint,” Ong said.

The third point is the increased opportunities for Malaysia and other countries to invest in China as well. He cited the Greater Bay Area in Hong Kong and southern China as an example.

“Hong Kong is being used as a platform for outsiders to invest in China, which is a good thing,” Ong said.

His remarks on the lessons learned from the BRI is in reference to rising concerns about its participating countries falling into debt traps.

Ong had said countries including Pakistan and the Maldives have leased its ports to Chinese GLCs for a lengthy duration so as to reduce their debt burden, which in turn have led to questions about national sovereignty.

“However, it is not fair to place the blame on BRI-related projects incurring debt only on the Chinese side.

“These projects were approved by the respective sovereign governments, with China not in a position to control all negotiations made by the companies involved in BRI projects,” he said, adding these instances highlighted the need for transparency and good governance.

Separately, Ong said although the US remains an important investor and trading partner to Malaysia, it is a realistic fact that China is its largest trading partner overall.

“That is the reality now, in terms of volume. So we can expect this trend to continue,” he said.

Ong was referring to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s remarks earlier today in an interview with the South China Morning Post, in which he said Malaysia would favour “rich” China over an “unpredictable” US if forced to take sides, out of purely economic consideration.