Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Friday criticized a new US-led economic grouping, saying it aimed to isolate China and would not benefit regional economic growth without Beijing.
US President Joe Biden launched the 13-nation Indo-Pacific Economic Framework during a visit to Japan earlier this week. He said it would help the United States work more closely with Asian countries in areas such as supply chains, digital trade, clean energy and anti-corruption.
“The United States will always want to use groupings like this to isolate China,” Mahathir told an international conference in Tokyo. “Many countries recognize that this is not an economic grouping, but a political grouping.”
The signatories are Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, United States and Vietnam. Together, they represent 40% of global GDP.
“It’s not good for their own economic development,” Mahathir said of the countries in the grouping.
“China is a big trading partner for Malaysia, we don’t want to see any tension, any conflict with China and we hope that the United States will realize that China is there, it is not going to disappear, and we must live with China. , which is now richer than most countries in the world,” he said at “The Future of Asia,” a conference organized by Nikkei Inc.
Later on Friday, Malaysia’s current Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is also in Tokyo, met with his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida. They welcomed the launch of the economic framework and affirmed their cooperation in areas including digital transformation, cybersecurity, emerging technologies and supply chain resilience, the Japanese foreign ministry said.
Kishida sought Malaysia’s support in achieving a “free and open” Indo-Pacific, a vision promoted by Japan and the United States to counter China’s military and economic rise in the region, the official said. ministry.
Mahathir, 96, who served as Malaysia’s fourth and seven prime ministers, was seen for many years as a de facto spokesman for less-developed countries and was a frequent critic of the West. He remains an influential figure in Malaysia.
He led an opposition coalition to a historic election victory in 2018 that toppled a corrupt government in the first peaceful transfer of power since Malaysia’s independence in 1957.
Mahathir became the world’s oldest ruler at 92, but his reign only lasted 22 months when his government collapsed due to infighting. Mahathir formed a new ethnic Malay party in 2020 to oppose the new leadership.