KUALA LUMPUR – October 10, 2017: Two and a half years ago, the only thing that sits southwards of Tanjung Kupang, Johor, was the seawater of the Tebrau Strait.
But the view today has changed dramatically and would have been unimaginable just many months ago.
A small man-made island has surfaced from the strait’s depths; and on it rests a hotel, a commercial block and a beach fronting Singapore’s Tuas.
The island is called Forest City, an ongoing mega township project jointly developed by China’s Country Garden Group and Malaysia’s Esplanade 88 Sdn. Bhd.
It is an ambitious project involving the creation of four artificial islands, covering a total surface area of 14 square kilometres, in the western half of Johor’s southern coast.
Although the project has only reached its second year of development, its journey so far has not been free of controversies.
A number of claims regarding the project’s negative impact to Malaysians were heavily mooted by the opposition, with some claiming that local developers will eventually run out of business.
However in an interview with The Mole, Country Garden president Yu Runze maintained that they are not grabbing anyone’s piece of pie.
“Last year, we successfully brought 120,000 foreigners to Johor. Some of them ended up purchasing properties here. We are creating a new demand…. in other words, the pie has grown bigger,” said Yu.
It was also claimed that the people in Johor, especially first home buyers, will suffer from steep property price hikes due to the presence of foreign investors.
Responding to this, Yu argued that the local housing market can be better protected if Forest City was to be designated into an international zone which serves as the only place for foreigners to buy properties in Johor.
“I think it’s a good concept because by doing that, Forest City will not affect the local housing market because we only sell our properties to the global market,” explained Yu, who is also Country Garden’s chief strategy officer.
Nonetheless, he assured Malaysians that Forest City will, in the future, offer affordable products for locals as well.
“Now that we have our own IBS (industrial building system) factory in Malaysia, we will be able to offer Malaysians who want to live here (Forest City) with more affordable products,” he added.
Aside from the aforementioned contentions, politically motivated claims were also aired out by the project’s critics.
They claimed that Forest City undermines Malaysia’s sovereignty because its properties are sold on a freehold basis; an act that former prime minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad claimed was akin to selling the country to China.
“This piece of land will always be a part of Malaysia. In fact, we are actually increasing the country’s territory through the land reclamation we are currently doing,” said Yu.
The suspicion over China’s investment however was nothing new to Yu, adding that Sino-phobia (anti-Chinese sentiment) is a growing global phenomenon.
“People think that we’re making another Chinatown which is not the case for Forest City. We have, since day one, positioned this project as a global city.
“For example, our sales last year came from 24 countries and they will be moving in starting the middle of next year to 2019. You will then see a global township emerging in this part of Johor.”