KUALA LUMPUR (June 19): Malaysia wants to strengthen its “good relations” with Beijing, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) in an interview, but he said Chinese companies investing in the country should refrain from using only on materials, capital and labour from China and denying Malaysia any real benefits.

The 92-year-old premier said he too wanted to have good ties with Beijing and would welcome any foreign investment that added jobs at all levels, transferred technology and skills, and broadened the global market for Malaysian products, according to SCMP's report.

He said this was why he welcomed ideas by Chinese tycoon Jack Ma for technology transfers when they met in the Mahathir's office on Monday.

Dr Mahathir was also quoted as saying that his less-than-favourable view of some Chinese-backed deals, deemed overpriced and lopsided against Malaysian interests, did not mean he was hostile towards Beijing.

He pointed out that Malaysia and China had developed “a very good relationship” during his first tenure in power.

"We sometimes become a spokesman for China, because everywhere I go, people ask me, ‘What do you think about China? Aren’t you afraid?’," he said in the report.

“I say, ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of’. We have been neighbours for 2,000 years. You haven’t conquered us yet.”

In the report, Dr Mahathir also said he has always regarded China as a good neighbour and also as a "very big market for whatever it is that we produce".

"Malaysia is a trading nation. We need markets, so we can’t quarrel with such a big market,” he added.

SCMP reported that Dr Mahathir made it clear that sketchy deals will not pass muster under his leadership.

It noted that one of the key issues that Dr Mahathir used to target Datuk Seri Najib Razak was the case of the RM55-billion East Coast Rail Link that will connect the East Coast to Kuala Lumpur.

Said Dr Mahathir: “When it involves giving contracts to China, borrowing huge sums of money from China, and the contract goes to China, and China contractors prefer to use their own workers from China, use everything imported from China, even the payment is not made here, it’s made in China...that kind of contract is not something that I welcome.”

SCMP said among Dr Mahathir's top gripes are property developments like Forest City, the US$100 billion mixed development project being constructed on artificial islands off Johor.

He was quoted as saying, “We don’t want to have whole cities built in Malaysia [by developers who then bring in] foreigners to stay there. That is what I am against. I am against it even if [the investment is] from India or from Arab countries or from Europe. Foreign immigrants in huge numbers, nobody will welcome, certainly not in Malaysia.”

According to SCMP, Mahathir also reiterated his support for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative.

He retold an anecdote of how he had previously written to the Chinese leader to suggest the building of “super trains” with expanded capacity that could ply the Asia-Europe route and complement sea trade, it added.

Dr Mahathir told SCMP that the inclusion of a sea element to the belt and road was positive — the initiative backs the development of ports across Asia.

In the report, the Malaysian leader also expressed his confidence it was “not [Xi’s] intention to prevent other ships from passing through the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea”.

On his meeting with Ma, co-founder of Alibaba, which owns the SCMP, Dr Mahathir said the Chinese tycoon had spoken of the kind of investments that would get his approval.

“So his way of talking and presenting his case is totally different from the other Chinese big contractors who want only a contract here, not even hiring our workers; the workers are also imported from China,” Dr Mahathir said in the report.

Dr Mahathir also said he was “surprised” Ma knew about the Multimedia Super Corridor which he started in the 1990s during his first stint in power.

This story first appeared on The Edge Malaysia