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(File pix) Panos Mourdoukoutas. Pix from Forbes website

THE new East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project deal is a big win for Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and it sets the country apart from other nations dealing with the Asian super power, a United States economist said.

Long Island University Post’s Economics Department chairman Panos Mourdoukoutas, in an opinion piece for Forbes, said Malaysia had dared to do something Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and the Philippines did not: bring China back to the negotiating table to cut the cost of the projects assigned to Chinese contractors.

He said Dr Mahathir had made good on his election campaign promise to renegotiate China’s investments in the country, which had served the interests of Beijing more than the interests of Kuala Lumpur.

“The ECRL project is one of the dozens of China’s infrastructure projects around the world — a bid to write the next chapter of globalisation and advance Beijing ’s geopolitical agenda,” he said.

He said the trouble was that many of Chin a’s infrastructure projects were not economically viable as they were built at inflated costs and left the countries involved heavily indebted to Beijing.

“It is this debt trap that Dr Mahathir has been trying to avoid.”

He said Dr Mahathir had postponed the project in August, forcing China back to the negotiating table.

“And he is winning, as evidenced by the new deal, which has cut the cost of the project substantially.”

Last week, Council of Eminent Persons chairman Tun Daim Zainuddin announced that the ECRL project would resume, with the cost reduced by RM21.5 billion from the original projection of RM65.5 billion.

Daim, who led the negotiations with China, said the outcome was achieved after nine months of complicated and challenging negotiations with the superpower. -- Bernama

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