May 14, 2018 10:33 PM

Chinese Developer Reaching Out to New Malaysia Government

A view of the construction at the Country Gardens' Forest City project in Johor Bahru, Malaysia February 21, 2017. Photo: VCG
A view of the construction at the Country Gardens' Forest City project in Johor Bahru, Malaysia February 21, 2017. Photo: VCG

China’s largest real-estate developer by sales says it has reached out to Malaysia’s new prime minister to smooth out possible obstacles to its $100 billion project in the Southeast Asian country.

Country Garden Holdings Co. Ltd. is “actively seeking conversations” with the new government, but doesn’t expect any changes to the development of Forest City, a source familiar with the matter told Caixin on Monday.

Forest City is a mega-complex consisting of high-end residences and hotels, as well as hospitals and schools. Situated in Johor, a southern state bordering Singapore, the 1,386-hectare (3,425-acre) project is scheduled to be completed by 2040.

Chinese investments in Malaysia have come under scrutiny after the country last week saw its first change of ruling party since independence in 1957, when a coalition led by Mahathir Mohamad secured a stunning election win against the government of Najib Razak, returning Mahathir to the leadership post he previously held from 1981 to 2003. 

Shortly after his win, the 92-year-old Mahathir told a news conference that he supports China’s Belt and Road Initiative, but that Malaysia “reserves the right to renegotiate terms of some agreements with Beijing, if necessary.”

Chinese mega-projects have raised eyebrows in Malaysia over issues that include sovereignty and economic inequality, and some have expressed concern that the influx of such investments could have been a consequence of corruption during Najib’s tenure.

Mahathir in April told Bloomberg that he has concerns about Forest City, in which apartments cost at least 1 million ringgit ($251,650). 

“We don’t have enough people with wealth to buy all those very expensive flats, so you’re bringing in foreigners,” Mahathir was quoted as saying. “No country wants to have an influx of huge numbers of foreign people into their country.”

Country Garden said its project has helped to buoy the Malaysian job market, as 80% of its workforce is locals. An official told Caixin that in addition to Chinese homeowners, Forest City aims to draw in buyers from other countries as well as locals.

Another major Chinese deal that Mahathir has bemoaned is the 49.9% stake purchase by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. Ltd. in struggling Malaysian automaker Proton Holdings Berhad.

“Proton has been sold. It has been sold to foreigners. Yes. I am sad. I can cry. But the deed is done. Proton can no longer be national. No national car now. We Malaysians are glad to be rid of this pesky car,” Mahathir wrote in May 2017 in his blog after the sale was announced.

Proton was set up in 1983 during Mahathir’s first tenure as prime minister, and he is also a former chairman of the company.

Geely and Malaysian conglomerate DRB-Hicom, the owner of Proton, declined to comment on the potential impact of Mahathir’s election.

Contact reporter Jason Tan (

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