Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has blamed the “American provocation” for increased tensions over Taiwan and has urged Southeast Asian countries to move closer to China.
The 97-year-old, the country’s longest-serving leader who last stepped down as prime minister in 2020, told the Financial Times in an interview that China was a “big market” for Malaysia and the region and maintained that economic relationship. was crucial.
Mahathir added that China’s philosophy – unlike the west – was not to conquer and occupy nations.
“Yes, China claims the South China Sea as their property, but they have not invaded us. . . They want to influence the methods in the ASEAN countries, but they have not occupied us, they have invested in us,” he said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a political and economic bloc. “China is a very good trading partner.”
The Asean, which includes the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, must stay away from China’s “provocation” by the US and the west, Mahathir said, referring to this month’s controversial trip by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to Taiwan.
The visit infuriated China, which claims the island as its territory and launched a series of unprecedented military exercises across the country in response.
Mahathir’s comments emphasized the commitment of Southeast Asian countries that have long relied on the US for security and China for trade. Many governments in the region are struggling to deal with the heightened tensions between the rival superpowers.
The Mahathir government from 2018 to 2020 strengthened ties with China, though it had called for greater scrutiny of Beijing’s investment in the country.
Malaysia has been plagued by political unrest since Mahathir stepped down. The country has had two prime ministers in as many years, hampering the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and sparking intense jockeys and infighting between factions. Elections are expected to be held this year.