Tag Archives: sports

China-Malaysia Relations Pass Into A Chilly Phase

RELATIONS BETWEEN MALAYSIA and China have a history of blowing hot and cold. Malaysia’s new prime minister, if new is an appropriate adjective for the 93-year old Mahathir Mohamad, has brought a renewed chill, even though he has been a longtime friend of China by dint mainly of his criticisms of the West.

Mahathir has halted several high-profile, big-ticket infrastructure projects involving Chinese firms for review, including:

  • the $20 billion East Coast Rail Link under construction by China Communications Construction Co. and mostly financed by Export-Import Bank of China;
  • the $10 billion Melaka Gateway project , which involves three artificial islands and a cruise ship terminal, being developed by PowerChina International; and
  • the $2.5 billion trans-Sabah natural gas pipeline led by a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corp.

Restrictions have also been imposed on the sales of units in Forest City, a $100 million real estate development on four artificial islands aimed at buyers from China.

There is also a report that three pipeline projects suspended in July have been cancelled outright, an oil and gas pipeline in peninsula Malaysia and another on Borneo, and a pipeline linking a Petronas refinery and petrochemical plant in Johor to Malacca. They had a combined cost of $2.8 billion.

Mahathir has several reasons for applying the brake.

One is purely financial. The first three are expensive projects that saddle the country with even more debt. Malaysia can just about manage its foreign-currency debt, but only just about. It cannot afford to let its financial position deteriorate, which, if the troubles of Argentina’s peso and Turkey’s lira spillover into other emerging market currencies, it could do quickly. Furthermore, Mahathir had long held that the country’s debt holds back its development. Nor does he want to risk Malaysia going the way of Sri Lanka, which had to yield control of a new port to China to settle debt it could not repay.

A second is political. In the wake of the 1MDB scandal. Mahathir is cracking down on what it believes is a whole raft of corruption-tainted deals struck during the previous administration of Najib Razak. The three deals mentioned above were all made within Najib’s time, and Mahathir has criticised them for being opaque.

A third is geopolitical. Mahathir is concerned about China’s increasing activity in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, where Malaysia has claims of its own over a dozen Spratly islands and a large acreage of oil and gas. Being in hock to China, which is also Malaysia’s largest trading partner, weakens Kuala Lumpur’s hand in pushing back against Beijing’s maritime assertiveness. Mahathir is strengthening relations with Japan and Australia to counterbalance China’s influence.

A fourth reason Malaysia’s relationship with its city-state neighbour, Singapore. The two nation’s relations with China tend to be the inverse of each other. Singapore’s relations with China are currently on the up.

Mahathir has said he will hand over the presidency to his deputy Anwar Ibrahim at some point, but may choose to make that point further into the future than he initially indicated (within two years). Anwar, though he has backed the review of the Chinese investments, would likely be more favourably disposed towards China. The further out the hand-over, the longer Malaysia-China relations will remain chilly.

Update: The Financial Times is reporting that Pakistan is initiating a similar review of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. That would have greater weight for Beijing than Malaysia’s review because of the corridor’s strategic importance, including its access to Gwadar, the port on Pakistan’s south coast on the Arabian Sea.

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An Unintended Indian Consequence Of China’s Tainted Food

China’s problems with adulterated foods and medicines have shown up in India in an unlikely if sensational way. Our man in Delhi sends word that India’s sporting world has been consumed not for once with cricket but with eight of its top athletes failing drugs doping tests. These include three of the women’s 4×400 meters relay team that won the gold medal at the Asian Games held in Guangzhou earlier this year and at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. They are currently competing in the Asian Athletics Championships in Japan but the failed tests followed a domestic meeting in Bangalore.

All eight–six female 400 meters runners, a female shotputter and a male long-jumper–tested positive for banned steroids. It is considered India’s worst doping scandal and the story has moved off the sports page onto the front and editorial pages of India’s newspapers as it involves star names such as Ashwini Akkunji, who as well as winning Asian Games gold with the relay team won the women’s 400 meters hurdles event. Turns out, though, that the source of the banned substance was kianpi ginseng supplements the coach of the runners, a now sacked Ukranian, bought or told his runners to buy during the Guangzhou competition. He wanted the women to take the supplement to aid with protein recovery after training.

Kianpi ginseng, an enhanced version of the plant, is reputed to be especially potent. Bodybuilders often use it to put on muscle. Previously the Indian women athletes had taken regular ginseng supplements but which were sourced from the U.K. and they had never had problems with doping tests. The first ones they took since starting to consume the Chinese ginseng they failed.

The clue to the source of the steroids apparently was that the one 400 meters runner who didn’t fail her drugs test didn’t take the Chinese ginseng as she gets hers from Amway. How the kianpi ginseng got adulterated and whether steroids are a regular part of the concoction that goes into a kianpi ginseng supplement pill or whether they were a spiked batch, intentionally or not, is unclear.

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Li Na, Tennis Star Not Sports Revolutionary

Li Na’s weekend victory in the French Open Tennis Championship, the first Grand Slam singles win for any Asian player, is bitter-sweet for China’s Soviet-era sports system. For Li’s greatest successes are not a product of it. She, with three other players, fought to break away from the state-run system in 2008, demanding the right to manage her own career, choose her coaches and pick the tournaments that she would play in. She also gets to keep a bigger cut of her winnings. Now 29, her time at the top has come relatively late for a professional player.

Sun Jinfang, the country’s top tennis official, says more Chinese athletes should follow suit. Yet so extensive are the tentacles of the state sports system, which was so triumphant at the 2008 Beijing Olympics where Chinese athletes topped the medals tables even though they didn’t win one track and field gold, that dismantling it seems almost inconceivable. As ever, reform runs into the brick wall of embedded and widespread vested interest.

Tennis, of course, is a minor sport in China, compared to badminton or table tennis, so it might be given a little leeway, at least for a time. Only 12 million play the game. And while Li has become a national sporting hero, she is not one on the same scale as Yao Ming, Liu Xiang or Ding Junhui. That she will give the sport’s popularity a boost in China is without doubt. Who doesn’t like a winner? And China’s sports system has not produced too many in those sports where professional rewards are high and the international quality of competition deep.

Li has a determination and petulance given to few others. No other players since the original 2008 quartet have been prepared to chance leaving the embrace of the system, even though it is focused on Olympic success and not the professional championships that are tennis’s highest prizes. As in so many sports, China, does not have strength in depth at the top level (only 12 of the top 500 women in professional tennis are Chinese; France has twice as many, Russia four times.) That Li will be the agent of change for the state’s labyrinthine sporting administration that has produced that state of affairs seems unlikely.

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Cleansing China’s Corrupt Football

If China is to have any realistic expectation of bidding for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, it will have to clean up the endemic corruption, match-fixing and illegal gaming in its domestic game. It now looks likely that early next year Chinese football will have the opportunity of a public cleansing with the trials of seven former Chinese Football Association officials on charges of bribery and match-fixing.

For more than a year, police have been cracking down on the rot within the game with a couple of teams-worth of players, referees and administrators across the country detained for questioning. Last September, Xie Yalong, the former head of the CFA was taken into police custody for questioning along with Wei Shaohui, a former manager of the national team, and Li Dongsheng, the CFA official who headed the referees’ commission. Police were said to be investigating whether the men had any connections to Xie’s successor, Nan Yong, and two of his colleagues at the CFA, Yang Yimin and Zhang Jianqiang, who had been detained early in the year on suspicion of bribe-taking and match-fixing. Now all six plus a seventh CFA official, Fan Guangming, whose arrest in November 2009 started it all, are to be prosecuted, according to reports earlier this week in the Guangdong-based newspaper Soccer Monday (via China Daily).

Xie, who was installed as head of the CFA in 2005 from outside the sport to clean up the domestic professional league and improve the standing of the national team, is reportedly accused of taking bribes to secure hosting the East Asian Football Championship for Chongqing in 2006. It is said he, along with Nan and Yang, will not face match-fixing charges, only those of bribery and malfeasance — which may make a conviction easier to obtain as, legal experts say, the law does not define match-fixing clearly. There may be a loophole if matches are shown to be fixed by nobbling referees rather than players.

That is likely to be fixed along with the same purpose as handing out some exemplary high-profile sentences. For a country that is investing a lot of money and effort into reflecting its national pride in its emerging global power in the mirror of its sporting prowess, the confluence in football of corruption and low sporting standing is of too great importance to the Party leadership for it to be a mere spectator even if 2026 or even 2030 still seem a long way off.

 

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