PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia is still negotiating with China over the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project and a decision on the issue will be made "as soon as possible", says Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The Prime Minister, however, said that he could not disclose any more information until the final outcome of the negotiations.
"The status of the project right now is being negotiated.
"I cannot say what is happening because I have to wait for the results," he told reporters at the Perdana Leadership Foundation on Friday (Feb 1).
Dr Mahathir added that the outcome of the negotiations would be made "as soon as possible".
It was reported that China offered to nearly halve the cost of the US$20bil (RM81bil) rail project to save the centrepiece of its infrastructure push in South-East Asia, two sources said on Thursday (Jan 31), but contradictory remarks by Malaysian ministers leave the outcome uncertain.
Asked to comment on China's proposal to halve the cost, Dr Mahathir said: "Hypothetically speaking, I answer you, hypothetically, I don't accept you," he quipped, drawing laughter from the floor.
The conflicting statements made over the past week on the status of ECRL underscore the political and diplomatic challenges facing the Pakatan Harapan government in renegotiating the contract.
Contractor China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC) had offered to cut construction costs of RM67bil for the 688km project by as much as half, Reuters reported quoting sources.
Expenses on interest and land acquisition help make up the rest of the total cost.
Despite the proposed discount, Dr Mahathir's government decided to cancel the contract this month, said the sources, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic.
After coming to power last May, Dr Mahathir, a critic of China's investments in Malaysia, vowed to renegotiate or cancel what he calls "unfair" Chinese projects authorised by his predecessor Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, and suspended the ECRL in July.
However, on Wednesday (Jan 30), Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said Malaysia was pursuing more talks with China.
That news came days after another minister said the Cabinet had decided to terminate the contract and a day after Dr Mahathir sought China's understanding over the planned cancellation.
Negotiations have continued since the July suspension, with Malaysia indicating that it was looking for cheaper proposals on what would have been China's biggest Belt and Road venture in South-East Asia.