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Malaysia wants to be friendly, not indebted, to China, says Mahathir

Reuters  |  TOKYO 

By Elaine Lies

(Reuters) - Malaysian said on Monday his country will remain friendly with China, which invested billions of dollars during the previous government, but will not be "indebted to China".

Mahathir, in on his first foreign trip since winning a shock election last month, sought to revive the idea of an economic group which he said would be useful in the face of China's surging economic power.

"We have to deal with whether we like it or not. We should deal with it as a group," Mahathir told an international seminar in

Mahathir said he was not against pacts such as the (TPP) trade deal, but he said the TPP should be renegotiated so smaller economies like can compete against giants and the

Mahathir said the ideal would be a broad trade pact such as the Economic Caucus (EAEC), which he proposed during his previous term in office.

"Yes, I am still in favour of EAEC," he said.

"In the past, of course, we were not able to do this due to the objections of America, but now seems to become isolationist again so it is not in a position to demand that we cannot form EAEC," he added.

Mahathir, 92, returned as premier last month after a stunning election victory over Najib, promising to stamp out corruption and lower living costs.

His decision to visit first was seen by some analysts as an example of the government's desire to put some distance between and

The new government has said some Chinese companies are possibly linked to the graft scandal at state fund (1MDB) that contributed to Najib's downfall. Mahathir made no reference to 1MDB in Tokyo.

Speaking at a conference, Mahathir referred to the Chinese investments and projects during the Najib era which he believes will leave Malaysians with billions of dollars in debt.

"That was his particular way of conducting friendship with China," Mahathir said. "We will be friendly with China, but we do not want to be indebted to China".

The new government is reviewing a $14 billion local rail line to be built by Chinese companies, and has already withdrawn from a high-speed rail project with neighbour

Mahathir said he hoped to begin a new national to follow Proton, the company founded in 1983 during his first term but has struggled in recent years.

bought 49.9 percent of last year, marking the Chinese automaker's first push into

had the skills and technology needed to design and produce the new car, Mahathir said, but he added that some were very expensive and could be sourced from other countries, including

On his own political future, Mahathir said he would stay in power as long as the people of wanted him.

"I am willing to serve, if that is the wish of the people, as long as they want me, but of course I don't know how long I will last," he said.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by and Darren Schuettler)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, June 11 2018. 15:26 IST