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Malaysia PM Cancels Chinese-Funded Projects

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (C) speaks to Chinese President Xi Jinping (not pictured) during their meeting at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, 20 Aug. 2018.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says he has cancelled three Chinese-backed multi-billion infrastructure projects.

Mahathir made the announcement Tuesday in Beijing at the end of his five-day visit to the Chinese capital. He told a group of Malaysian reporters that he explained to Chinese President Xi Jingping and Premier Li Keqiang that his country's ballooning $250 billion debt made it impossible to continue.

"It is about borrowing too much money, which we cannot afford, we cannot repay, and also because we do not need these projects for Malaysia at this moment," Mahathir said.

Before traveling to China last week, Mahathir suspended the three projects funded with Chinese loans worth more than $20 billion, including an ambitious rail line and two energy pipelines.

During a joint news conference Monday with Premier Li, Mahathir said he hoped China will understand his country's "internal fiscal problems."

But he also warned against "a new version of colonialism happening because poor countries are unable to compete with rich countries in terms of just open free trade."

The cancelled projects were initiated under Mahathir's predecessor, Najib Razak, who has been charged with several counts of corruption in the embezzlement scandal involving the state-owned 1MDB sovereign wealth fund.

The scandal led to a stunning electoral loss in May of Najib's National Front coalition, which had ruled Malaysia uninterrupted since gaining independence in 1957 — 22 of those years under 92-year-old Mahathir, who led the coalition that ousted Najib and the National Front.