KUALA LUMPUR — China will offer Malaysia advanced rocket launchers and a radar system, to be based in Johor, reflecting the widening defence and trade ties between the two countries in the South China Sea region, The Malaysian Insight reported sources as saying on Wednesday (Aug 9).
The low-interest offer will be made by a high-level delegation headed by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s special envoy Wang Yong, who was on a three-day official visit to Malaysia this week and attended the launch of Malaysia’s East Coast Rail Link on Wednesday.
“Up to 12 units of the AR3 multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) will be offered to Malaysia in a purchase programme with a loan period of 50 years,” a source told The Malaysian Insight. “The MLRS, which has a top range of 220km, will be located in Johor with a radar system.”
Malaysia previously signed a deal to buy four littoral mission ships from China — its most significant purchase with Beijing to date.
“The view from Beijing is that Malaysia is critical to peace and stability in the region,” a regional diplomat told The Malaysian Insight.
The AR3 multiple launch rocket system is an artillery rocket system, developed by China’s Norinco specially for export and was unveiled in 2011. The military-today.com website describes the AR3 as the most powerful MLRS in the world that launches conventional and guided missiles.
The military portal said the AR3 is a multi-calibre rocket system with two pods and four launcher tubes for 370mm rockets each, or five launcher tubes for 300mm rockets. The AR3 is based on the Wanshan WS2400 8×8 special wheeled chassis — also used for most recent Chinese large-calibre multiple launch rocket systems.
News of the possible deal came as China and Malaysia broke ground Wednesday on the US$13 billion (S$17.7 billion) East Coast Rail Link project linking peninsular Malaysia’s east and west, the largest such project in the country and a major part of Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure push.
The planned 688km route connects the South China Sea, large parts of which are claimed by China, at the Thai border in the east with the strategic shipping routes of the Strait of Malacca in the west. “The ECRL is indeed yet another ‘game changer’ and a ‘mindset changer’ for Malaysia as it will significantly cut travel time to and from the east coast of the peninsula,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said at the ceremony halfway along the route in Kuantan.
Chinese State Councillor Wang Yong, who headed a 100-strong delegation in Kuantan, said: “The China government has attached great importance to China-Malaysia relations and has always considered Malaysia a dear neighbour and trustworthy partner who is committed to seeking mutually beneficial cooperation and common development in the country.”
Mr Najib said the project will be financed with an 85 per cent loan from China Exim Bank and the balance through a “sukuk” Islamic bond programme run by local investment banks. Mr Najib has recently announced a spree of infrastructure projects, many funded by China, as he builds up momentum for a general election that he has to call by next year.
The growing closeness to China has raised eyebrows among opponents who have argued that the country has become too reliant on Chinese funds. But Mr Najib dismissed the concerns in a speech on Tuesday, saying turning away Chinese investment made “no economic sense”. – Today Online/AGENCIES