Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Monday his country will remain friendly with China, which invested billions of dollars during the previous Najib Razak government but will not be "indebted to China.” Mahathir, in Tokyo on his first foreign trip since winning a shock election last month, urged the revival of the idea of an East Asia economic group which he said would be useful in the face of China’s surging economic power. "We have to deal with China whether we like it or not. We should deal with it as a group," Mahathir told an international seminar in Tokyo.He added that different economies need different rules so as to compete fairly with giants such as the US and China.
Mahathir said he was not against pacts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, but he said the TPP should be renegotiated so smaller economies like Malaysia can compete against giants China and the United States.
Mahathir said the ideal would be a broad trade pact such as the East Asia Economic Caucus (EAEC), which he proposed during his previous term in office. "Yes, I am still in favour of EAEC," he said. "In the past, of course, we were not able to do this due to the objections of America, but now America seems to have become isolationist again so it is not in a position to demand that we cannot form EAEC," he added.
Mahathir, 92, returned as premier last month after a stunning election victory over Najib, promising to stamp out corruption and to lower the cost of living. His decision to visit Japan first was seen by some analysts as an example of the government's desire to put some distance between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing.