World

Mahathir: High-speed rail 'postponed' not scrapped

Mahathir says there is need for the rail link but Malaysia 'cannot afford it' now

The high-speed rail (HSR) link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore has been "postponed", not scrapped, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said in Japan on Monday.

Dr Mahathir, on his first trip abroad since his Pakatan Harapan coalition won the general election last month, told the Nikkei Asian Review that the HSR had to be temporarily shelved because of high costs.

He reiterated in a press briefing for Malaysian media yesterday that his new administration needs to study the multi-billion dollar rail project.

"In a way, it is postponed. At this moment, we need to re-study and, if we are short of funds, we can delay the implementation of the project or reduce the scope of the project," he said in Tokyo.

His comments come less than two weeks after Malaysia announced that it was axing the RM72 billion (S$24 billion) HSR project as it moved into austerity mode and sought to slash its RM1 trillion federal debt.

Dr Mahathir had said then that the HSR and other mega projects signed off by the previous administration would be revisited once Malaysia's finances improved.

In his interview with Nikkei, Dr Mahathir acknowledged the need for the high-speed rail but said Malaysia "cannot afford it at this moment".

"We cannot say we will never have high-speed rail in Malaysia," he told the Japanese publication.

The HSR deal was signed by Malaysia and Singapore in December 2016, with the 350km link scheduled to begin services in December 2026.

It would cut travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes, from four hours by car currently.

The line was to have eight stations, with one in Singapore's Jurong East.

Singapore's Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, in a statement on June 1, said Singapore has "requested the Malaysian government through diplomatic channels to clarify Malaysia's position on the project".

Mr Khaw said should Malaysia cancel the project, Singapore will study the implications and exercise its rights - including any right to compensation for expenses - in accordance with the terms of a bilateral agreement signed in 2016.

COMPENSATION

Malaysia had earlier indicated there was a RM500 million compensation payment to be made if the deal was cancelled.

Mr Khaw, who is also Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure, added: "Singapore continues to support the HSR project and to fulfil all its obligations under the agreement."

Malaysia has said Dr Mahathir will personally handle negotiations with Singapore and it was not completely shutting the door on the rail link.

Dr Mahathir met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday, and said Malaysia had sought yen credit from the Japanese government as part of measures to resolve its debt problem.

Japan has agreed to study Malaysia's request for the soft loan, but the amount was not discussed, said Dr Mahathir.

Malaysia and Japan also agreed to keep the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea free for navigation for all countries.

"Japan is willing to cooperate with any country to support this concept with Malaysia," Mr Abe said at a joint press conference with Dr Mahathir.

"I am resolved to further strengthening cooperation conducive for regional peace and stability, including in the maritime safety area."

After the event, Mr Abe presented Dr Mahathir with a Japan World Cup team jersey printed with Dr Mahathir's name and the No. 7 as he is the seventh prime minister of Malaysia.

Dr Mahathir presented Mr Abe with a book on himself, and said it would enable Mr Abe to know him better.

WORLD