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Malaysian PM Mahathir warns against 'new version of colonialism'

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, left, and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang chat during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, on Aug. 20, 2018. (How Hwee Young/Pool Photo via AP)

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad Monday commented on China's rising economic clout in the region by saying he does not want to see emerge a "new version of colonialism."

Mahathir, who returned to power as prime minister in May after stepping down from the post in 2003 following a 22-year rule, also emphasized the importance of "fair trade" at a joint press conference with China's Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing.

"You don't want a situation where there's a new version of colonialism happening because poor countries are unable to compete with rich countries in terms of just open, free trade," he said. "It must also be fair trade. Then I support free trade together with (Li) because I think this is the way to go for the whole world."

While China has been trying to bolster its influence globally by boosting overseas infrastructure investment, Mahathir has promoted omnidirectional diplomacy, not excessively depending on China.

At the news conference, Mahathir asked China, which has become an economic superpower, not to overemphasize its own interests.

Beijing has sought to expand infrastructure networks in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa to achieve its goal of connecting nations along the ancient Silk Road trade routes more closely, under the "One Belt, One Road" initiative.

Some Southeast Asian nations have become increasingly economically reliant on China, raising fears that they may be subject to Beijing's political influence.

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