What gentlemen’s agreement?

IN "Malaysia to reap rich rewards" published in China Daily (Asia Weekly, May 28 – June 3) Malaysia was recognised as "an important country along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road" and an active participant in the endeavour.

The subtext read: China-led Belt and Road Initiative (CBRI) making key infrastructure projects a reality and helping to improve economic relations. The People's Republic is reported to be our largest trading partner for nine consecutive years. The same issue also covered Singapore and Pakistan under the CBRI theme.

It was not surprising to read about mega-projects sponsored by China through its companies and banks under CBRI. For Malaysia, it includes the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), Exchange 106 (formerly TRX Tower) or the Malacca Gateway.

The major revelation: What has been uncovered so far post-GE categorically contradicts what is purported by the headline.

It is the opposite thanks to the astounding election result that cracked open several tightly held "secrets" of the former government. The notion of a "gentlemen's agreement" is dubious.

The China Daily mentioned one "chairman of the Malaysian Chinese Association" (MCA) acting as "the special envoy" to China asserting that the CBRI could bring "endless" opportunities, and "especially for ethnic Chinese in the country".

It highlighted that the MCA chairman is "a fourth-generation descendant of migrants from East China's Fujian province" – fancy that China still regards Malaysians as "pendatang" who China wants to speak for (MyView, May 23).

The same person reportedly was the "sole representative" from Malaysia at the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference held in March. And during the conference he called on China to be more attentive to SMEs "run by local ethnic Chinese" through the CBRI.

In good faith, if there is any last hope to believe that the MCA is Malaysian first by any slim chance, the article written by a KL correspondent did an excellent job to demolish it once and for all.

Much like how the "association" was hammered during the election which on hindsight is not surprising. It clarifies much of what MCA is all about and why the president of the association took the trouble to erect an election billboard depicting him shaking hands with the president of China, despite infringing on the EC regulations. Implicitly it displayed a "chauvinistic" relationship to swing votes intentionally considering that Singapore was also painted in similar light.

In another article, a prominent Singaporean said to hail from Guangdong province attested that CBRI will bring "great business opportunities and a sense of pride to all Chinese in Singapore".

Hence, in a stroke whatever sinister impression there is on CBRI as a "debt-trap diplomacy" (putting at risk our sovereignty, one way or another) quickly gained credibility, making nonsense of the rhetoric and denials from the locals supposedly representing the Chinese "migrants".

Juxtapose this alongside Tun Mahathir's observations about the ECRL (during an interview with a business tabloid), the sinister elements stand out like a sore thumb.

More specifically, to quote the prime minister on the RM55 billion project: "The contractor must be from China and the lending is from China. And the money is not supposed to come here but (kept in China) to pay the contractor in China" although the work is in Malaysia.

Normally, he argued, the loan would have been drawn down in Malaysia since the project is here. Worse, payments are made not on the basis of work done but according to a pre-determined timetable, and the contract has no GST making all these a "strange" one – unheard of despite his vast leadership experience.

Such strangeness invariably invites even more suspicion as to how naive (desperate?) Malaysia's "ex-leaders" were. It fuels speculation of under-the-table negotiations with hidden terms attached to the GST-free projects.

This is in contrast to local charitable organisations like Makna and Mercy that are burdened with GST despite repeated appeals for exemption.

How Malaysia will "reap rich rewards" is baffling especially when it looks like it is China that stands to gain much more by design. It is obviously lopsided going against "ancient" Chinese practices that hinge on fairness and justice.

More so when some sources said that the ECRL can be built at an even lower cost if not for the overinflated contract signed in 2016 by the Economic Planning Unit through direct negotiations with China Communications Construction Co (CCCC). Even the entity (Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd) set up to spearhead the project was formed only a month after the award to CCCC.

Unlike other countries ranging from Mexico to Hungary, and even neighbouring Indonesia and Myanmar, similar railway projects awarded to Chinese state-owned companies allegedly have yet to take off. Otherwise, "stalled" due to the demands for increased transparency and fear of the country being saddled with unserviceable debt.

That such "anxiety" is globally more the rule than exception should have alerted us as to the huge risk associated with it and lurking behind is a divide-and-rule strategy to hoodwink the host country as in the classic case of Sri Lanka.

This cannot be more real as it stands today, as more scandals are being uncovered.

The latest is a whooping RM9.4 billion scam hidden in a "red file" where 88% of fees paid for only 13% work done to lay a petroleum and gas pipeline covering some 700km.

With all these emerging out of the woodwork the CBRI is beginning to sound like a sugar-coated "scam".

Let us be reminded that when President Xi issued a warning not to make China swallow what is not good for them, a question is raised why is Malaysia treated differently? No doubt it violates emperor Han's "yuefa sanzhang" (gentlemen's agreement).

With some four decades of experience in education locally and internationally, the writer believes that "another world is possible". Comments: letters@thesundaily.com