Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says he hopes China will understand his country’s “internal fiscal problems” as he seeks to renegotiate billions of dollars worth of Beijing-funded projects.
Mahathir spoke Monday in Beijing during a joint news conference with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Before traveling to China last week, Mahathir suspended three major infrastructure projects that are funded with Chinese loans worth more than $20 billion, including an ambitious rail line and two energy pipelines. The prime minister said he halted the projects due to Malaysia’s massive national debt, which has ballooned to $250 billion.
The projects were initiated under Mahathir’s predecessor, Najib Razak, who has been charged with several counts of corruption in the embezzlement scandal involving the state-owned 1MDB sovereign wealth fund.
The scandal led to a stunning electoral loss in May of Najib’s National Front coalition, which had ruled Malaysia uninterrupted since gaining independence in 1957 – 22 of those years under 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, who led the coalition that ousted Najib and the National Front.