KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is having government-to-government level negotiations with China over the RM81 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project and any statement will be released only by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, said Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng on Wednesday (Jan 30).
His comments come amid mixed signals from Putrajaya, with Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali stating on Jan 26 that the project had been cancelled, only for other officials, including Dr Mahathir, to later indicate that no final decision has been made.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Mr Lim said the Cabinet has decided that only Dr Mahathir will speak publicly on the status of the project.
"We should allow the discussions which will now be held between government to government, and away from the public glare,” he said.
"Let's discuss the matter in a confidential manner. I think this is normal and there is no need for media hype."
“I would urge the media to wait for the official statement to be issued by the Malaysian government when we are ready."
After winning power in a shocking victory last May, Dr Mahathir has vowed to renegotiate or cancel what he has called "unfair" Chinese projects authorised by his predecessor Najib Razak, who was voted out after nearly a decade in power amid a massive financial scandal.
Last week, Mr Azmin said the Cabinet had decided to cancel the deal with China Communications Construction, one of the biggest deals signed under China's Belt and Road initiative.
Mr Azmin said at the time that the government was still working out the cancellation fee.
On Tuesday, however, Dr Mahathir said that no final decision has been made on the project.
He also asked for China's understanding over Malaysia's plan to cancel the project, saying Kuala Lumpur could not afford it.
The contract could cost the country more than RM100 billion, Dr Mahathir had said, adding that Malaysia would still have to pay a cancellation fee.
TERENGGANU CHIEF MINISTER CALLS FOR SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO STUDY ECRL
Meanwhile, Terengganu Chief Minister Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar has called on the federal government to form a special committee to look into whether the ECRL should continue.
He said the federal government should perform a detailed study before deciding whether to continue with the project. He also said that state governments should be consulted.
"The Terengganu government is very open and ready to engage in any discussion, especially in matters that benefit the state," he was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times on Tuesday.
"We need to think about what to do with the infrastructure, including excavation works of railway tunnels, some of which are ready, while others are in the process of being completed.”
He added: "These also include location of stations which are being designed and the construction head office."