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Mahathir: China, Singapore will always be key trade partners

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Mahathir says differences with the two nations will not dampen economic ties

KUALA LUMPUR China and Singapore will always be Malaysia's key trade partners despite differences in views, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told international investors at a conference here.

This was the latest assurance to the two countries that their ongoing disputes with Malaysia will not dampen economic ties with the country, the Malay Mail reported yesterday.

"We may have differences of views - as with Singapore and China - but let me tell you we see them as close partners," Dr Mahathir said in his keynote address at the Invest Malaysia 2019 conference, according to the report. "They are our top two key trading and investment partners."

Singapore and Malaysia have been trying to iron out their differences over their long-standing water supply deal.

Both have also locked horns in recent months over their maritime and airspace borders.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's initial decision to cancel Chinese-funded large-scale infrastructure projects, including the RM80 billion (S$26.5 billion) East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), was said to have upset Beijing.

Dr Mahathir changed his mind and said the ECRL would continue if the developers agree to reduce the cost. Talks over the new terms are still ongoing, with Malaysia saying it expects to close the deal by mid-year.

Yesterday, Dr Mahathir told investors Malaysia remains committed to trade with all key partners, particularly nations with "close and strongest links".

"We wish to reiterate that Malaysia is committed to friendly economic ties," he was quoted by the Malay Mail as saying.

Dr Mahathir also said Malaysia may list certain state-owned entities to cut government debt and liabilities, Reuters reported.

Dr Mahathir has blamed the previous administration of Najib Razak for saddling Malaysia with debt and liabilities of more than RM1 trillion.

A government panel to cut debt is looking at strategies, such as "identification of opportunities on potential asset monetisation, which means mature unlisted government entities may be listed in the stock market," he said.

State-linked companies could also pare equity stakes.

"The key guiding principles for monetising any of our assets is that the disposal or monetisation must never be done at fire-sale prices, and any disposal of shares, monetisation of assets, auctions or other measures will be done in an orderly manner."

He did not identify specific companies or fix a time frame for the plan, Reuters reported.

Sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional announced a new strategy this month, saying it was gearing up to be a "long-term real return provider" to the government through its commercial investments.

Some analysts have also speculated the government could list a small portion of its stake in state energy firm Petronas to generate revenue. Petronas is the sole manager of Malaysia's oil and gas reserves.