After riding a populist wave to election in May, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has threatened to eliminate major foreign investments in the southeast Asian country by fiat. As Mahathir escalates his threats, the Trump administration must signal it is prepared to retaliate if American investments are jeopardized.
Mahathir’s criticism of investors out-negotiating past administrations on deals and foreigners taking Malaysian jobs is downright Trumpian. The Malaysian leader, who served as prime minister from 1981 to 2003, imprisoned political foes, exploited racial divisions and suppressed the media.
But since assuming office, he has cast himself as a reformer focused on rooting out pervasive waste, fraud and graft. Mahathir recently said he will try to cancel multibillion-dollar Chinese-backed energy pipeline and rail projects in his latest effort to curb corruption, promote economic nationalism and shrink a staggering debt load. Construction of the projects, estimated to cost more than $22 billion, has been indefinitely delayed as Mahathir seeks a better deal with China.
“We don’t think we need those two projects. We don’t think they are viable. So if we can, we would like to just drop the projects,” he told the Associated Press in an interview.
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