KUALA LUMPUR: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad believes that Malaysia stands to benefit from the trade war between the United States and China, even though the conflict has triggered concerns over a global economic slowdown.
The prime minister said while he is aware that the trade war could have a negative impact on Malaysia, there are certain advantages to be had, as the United States’ loss in the Chinese market could open up opportunities for Malaysia.
“The US’ inability to use China as a manufacturing base could see them turn to other countries, including Malaysia,” he said in an interview with ThaiPBS, which focused on international issues.
He said Malaysia and its Asean allies must be prepared to handle the negative impacts and adapt to change.
“We are not strong enough to tell China or the US to stop this silly trade war. This trade war will not benefit them.
“We need to find a way to adapt (to the effects) of the trade war in this region so that our economy is not badly hit,” he said.
During his recent five-day official visit to China, Dr Mahathir sought to attract investment from China, on top of discussing the postponement of several mega projects funded by the republic.
In the interview, Dr Mahathir also stated that Malaysia will continue its role in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) signed by the previous Barisan Nasional government.
He said his administration also aims to press on with the Chinese-led alternative trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
“We feel that we need to go ahead with it because we cannot exclude China.
“You may not like China, but the fact is that China is a big country which is very powerful and rich,” he said.
Touching on China’s claim on the South China Sea, Dr Mahathir said it would not be wise for Asean nations, including Malaysia, to adopt a confrontational stand against China.
He said Asean nations can protest against the claim but the superpower can easily disregard it.
“This is why Malaysia has a slightly different attitude in this case. We accept that China is a powerful country and we cannot be in conflict with it.
“As such, we need to use diplomatic means to negotiate with China,” he said.
Dr Mahathir also reiterated his appeal to China to ensure that the South China Sea remains open to all ships, even though China has staked a claim to the territory.
Nevertheless, he maintained that the US’ provocation of China is something that Malaysia is uncomfortable with.
“China claims that the sea, including the islands, are theirs. But why do we need to provoke them?
“Malaysia also has an island there. The most important thing is to ensure that there is freedom of movement for the ships.
“There is freedom of movement now but American warships tend to provoke China by sailing close to the latter’s islands,” he said.
Throughout the interview, Dr Mahathir also stated his opposition to any form of violence as a resolution.
“Wars are no longer a means of resolving conflict as they will become disasters; modern weapons can now lead to millions of deaths in war.
“We’ve already had World War 2 where millions died and an entire country could have been wiped out,” he said.