TOKYO: Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad criticised a new US-led economic grouping on Friday (May 27), saying it is intended 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 will help the United States work more closely with Asian countries in areas including supply chains, digital trade, clean energy and anti-corruption.
“The US will always want to use groupings like this in order to isolate China,” Mahathir said at an international conference in Tokyo organised by Nikkei.
“Many countries recognise that this is not an economic grouping but it is truly a political grouping.”
The signatories are Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam. Together they represent 40 per cent of the world’s GDP.
“This is 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 US will realise that China is there, it’s not going to disappear, and we have to live with China, which is now richer than most countries in the world,” he said at The Future of Asia conference.
Mahathir, 96, who served as Malaysia's fourth and seventh prime minister, was seen for many years as a de facto spokesperson for less developed countries and frequently criticised the West. He remains an influential figure in Malaysia.
He led an opposition coalition to a historic election victory in 2018 that ousted a corruption-tainted government in the first peaceful transfer of power since Malaysia’s independence in 1957.
Mahathir became the world’s oldest leader at 92 but his rule lasted only 22 months as his government collapsed due to infighting. Mahathir formed a new ethnic Malay party in 2020 to oppose the new leadership.