On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Let’s think forward, people

Playing the race card and bashing one of our biggest economic partners – China – is like shooting ourselves in the foot.

THE trouble with politicians is that they often let political and personal interests get in the way of facts and very often, national interests.

Johor’s Forest City project has become a controversy out of the blue but the debate is not over whether the sprawling project will become a ghost city or if it would lead to having a glut of apartments in the state but strangely, whether the mainland Chinese have any business building it.

Then, there is the emotional spin, if not a racist one, in the suggestion that Johor Baru will suddenly see an influx of Chinese immigrants.

A day after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad admitted that his remarks that 700,000 Chinese mainlanders would occupy Forest City was based on a news report by Bloomberg, some politicians were again quoting the same figure and fears, based on the same report.

But what has been overlooked is this: the Forest City reclamation project will actually increase the land mass of Johor.

While the noise centres on the purported loss of sovereignty, influx of mainland Chinese and how these Chinese nationals would supposedly rob the rice bowls of Malaysians, naysayers have ignored, intentionally or otherwise, the fact that this project will add 1,386ha of land to the state.

This will add to the current size of Johor which stands at 1,921,771ha, which means Johor will increase its size to 1,923,157ha. Forest City’s 1,386ha will help make up 0.0072% of the state’s new size.

Rather than losing land, this will add a huge tract of land on the sea.

In fact, reclamation could go on right up to the Singaporean border.

To put it in simple language – the Johor state government did not give away land that it already owns but the Chinese company has created its own land to buy and build.

Also, Forest City will be developed over a span of 30 years. By that time, the size of the Malaysian population would have doubled. So, 160,000 new homes or 5,300 units per year over 30 years no longer sounds like such a big deal.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that while we argue over Forest City, Singapore has been reclaiming land right up to our border.

Anyone who has been to any tall building in JB could just look out of the windows and see how close Singapore has actually come.

Check what it has done on the north-east side. It does not take an expert to note that it is too close for comfort.

Reclamation work in Singapore has been carried out extensively on a large scale since the 1960s by the Singaporean government. Since 1965, the island republic’s land mass has expanded by 22%, from 58,000ha to 71,000ha.

According to reports, most of the reclaimed land is in Changi, Tekong, Jurong Island and Tuas areas and the Singaporean government has reportedly planned to reclaim another 5,000ha by 2030.

Forest City, when completed, will sit on four artificial islands deve­loped by Coun­try Garden Pacific View.

Besides creating about 200,000 jobs, its spillover effect includes re­venue for the state go­vernment in terms of taxes.

The total cumulative investment of US$100bil (RM444bil) will attract returns of sufficient proportion. It is expected that Forest City will contribute tax revenue to the Malaysian government in the amount of RM66bil over a period of 20 years.

Forest City plans to create the world’s most advanced smart city – we are collaborating with Cisco, Accenture and Celcom to develop the Smart City Vision.

With the concept of “an integrated city”, Forest City will introduce eight key industries, namely Tourism & MICE, Healthcare, Education & Training, Regional Headquarters, Offshore Finance, E-Commerce, Emerging Technology, and Green & Smart industry. Forest City has been approved as a duty-free zone.

Last week, the Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar asked critics, including Dr Mahathir, “let me ask him this – Forest City is to be built on reclaimed land and most of these units are condominiums. In simple language, these units are up in the air. They are strata units.

“I would like to ask Dr Mahathir if these foreign buyers can just take their apartments back home or carry off an inch of the reclaimed land.”

Last year, the South China Morning Post reported that Country Garden began selling units in Forest City earlier with the first phase of the project including 482 condos and 132 serviced apartments. In a report in The Straits Times in Singapore in 2016, Country Garden said it had received bookings for nearly all of Phase One.

Forest City is the second project for Country Garden in Malaysia, and the Guangzhou-based developer is one of several Chinese companies rushing to build new homes for sale in Malaysia’s Iskandar development zone.

Last year, Country Garden reportedly secured its second project in Australia, paying a reported HK$35mil (RM20mil) to secure a set of private homes for conversion into a high-rise condo development in Sydney’s St Leonards area.

The argument that a foreign builder has no business in Malaysia actually does not hold water. Malaysia’s SP Setia, for example, has built high density apartments in London and was warmly welcomed by the British government with buyers, mainly from Malaysia.

Today’s Chinese buyers are affluent and well-heeled. They would probably have similar investments in other countries especially Britain and Australia.

They are not the types arriving in boats like the ancestors of the Malaysian Chinese and for sure, they don’t need our Malaysian passports or to look for jobs here.

The mainland Chinese have gone past that stage and many are far richer than us Malaysians. It’s a laugh to them when they read about Malaysian politicians alleging that they want to live permanently in Malaysia.

If we can remember, the Petronas Twin Towers was designed by Argentinian architect Cesar Pelli and construction was given to South Korean and Japanese construction companies.

Some of our politicians are now talking about mainland Chinese buyers but lest we forget, what about the thousands of Filipinos and Indonesians who purportedly received blue identity cards in Sabah, an issue that has remained thorny. They were not affluent immigrants. They were of no real benefit to Malaysia except to fulfil political expediency then, perhaps.

It is bizarre to equate Syrian war refugees and illegal immigrants from Mexico with investors from China who would be bringing in money and connections to Malaysia. It is incredible how far some of our politicians are prepared to stretch this issue.

The trouble with some politicians is that they develop amnesia – either partial or total loss of memory – when they switch political allegiance.

It is expected and we are supposed to accept it but playing the race card, and worse, bashing one of our biggest economic partners – China – will only hit us badly.