KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will start a five-day trip to China on Friday to renegotiate infrastructure projects signed by his predecessor, hoping to reduce the nation's financial dependence on Beijing without antagonizing the key economic partner.
This marks Mahathir's first trip to China since returning to office in May. On the first day, he will meet with Alibaba Group Holding founder and Chairman Jack Ma Yun at the company headquarters in Hangzhou. Talks with Premier Li Keqiang and a joint news conference are scheduled for Monday. A meeting with President Xi Jinping is also being negotiated.
Mahathir has repeatedly criticized predecessor Najib Razak's heavy dependence on China. He has called off or downsized China-backed projects, including a $20 billion rail project along Malaysia's eastern coast pushed by Xi.
"We cannot afford to take on too much debt from China," Mahathir has said upon returning to the prime minister's post.
Other Chinese-backed projects include reclamation and redevelopment of areas off the coast of Malacca. Mahathir will seek to cut China's financial stakes and increase involvement of Malaysian companies.
Mahathir fully recognizes the importance of cooperation with Asia's economic giant. When he meets with Alibaba's Ma, he will play up the joint development of a logistics and export hub in Malaysia. Mahathir aims to use the facility that taps the Chinese e-commerce leader's expertise and resources to boost exports by small and midsize companies.
Situated between the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait, Malaysia is of strategic importance to China's security and its Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Malaysia Aug. 1 to meet with Mahathir and lay the groundwork for his visit.
Mahathir has repeatedly spoken out to defuse U.S.-China tensions in the South China Sea. Beijing wants to leverage Mahathir's visit to showcase the countries' close bilateral ties.