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CHINA’S BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE: A VIEW FROM A MAHATHIRIST IMAGINARY

Boo Teik Khoo ()
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Boo Teik Khoo: The National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, 7-22-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-8677, Japan

The Singapore Economic Review (SER), 2021, vol. 66, issue 01, 293-312

Abstract: Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad stands in a delicate position vis-à-vis China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI’s Silk Road-like scenarios of transcontinental rail links to extend market-facilitated trade and investment have a place within a ‘Mahathirist imaginary’ that opposes inequities in a western-ruled global order and sees hope for the ‘rise of Asia’. In vision he shares the ‘Chinese Dream’ of resurrecting ancient land and maritime trade routes as an ‘imperative of globalization’ despite attempts by others to entangle the BRI in narratives of geopolitics long repugnant to his deep non-aligned convictions. His unprecedented resumption of premiership in May 2018 gave Mahathir a dream-like chance to engage with the BRI but he has been jolted by some Malaysian-China projects contracted in the name of the BRI by the Najib Razak-headed regime (2009–2018). Concerned that those projects could strain Malaysia’s debt burden and undermine its sovereignty, Mahathir must balance his support for BRI with undoing some of its local manifestations without jeopardizing long-term Malaysia-China trade, investment and diplomatic relations.

Keywords: Mahathir Mohamad; Mahathirist imaginary; Malaysia; China; Belt and Road Initiative; Rise of Asia; East Coast Rail Link (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1142/S0217590819410030

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