Malaysian finance minister Lim Guan Eng has said he planned to visit China soon to renegotiate the terms of the deal and said in a statement on Tuesday that the ECRL would only become economically feasible if there was a drastic reduction in costs.
That same day Malaysia Rail Link, the scheme's state-owned delivery body, wrote to CCCC instructing it to suspend all works on grounds of national interest, reports The Edge Markets.
Malaysia has already paid CCCC $5bn toward the ECRL, although in comments this week finance minister Lim said half that could be recovered in a "worst case scenario" if the project is withdrawn.
Weeks later, Mahathir said that his government would review the bullet-train project.
Reuters news service reported that the government was investigating to determine if the administration of former Prime Minister Najib Razak had used funds earmarked for the pipeline projects to pay off debt incurred by the financial scandal-ridden 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) development fund.
'The decisions are exclusively directed towards the related contractors relating to the provisions mentioned in the agreements, and not at any particular country, ' Lim said, in an apparent attempt to allay concerns that Beijing was being singled out.
Najib courted billions of dollars of Chinese investment and was one of Southeast Asia's most enthusiastic supporters of President Xi Jinping's signature Belt and Road Initiative.
Najib was charged Wednesday for criminal breach of trust and corruption arising from investigations into alleged corruption at the 1MDB state investment fund.
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He said the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition had promised to strictly abide by the separation of powers among the three branches of government in the run-up to the 14th general election and would honour its word.
Mahathir's announcement came at the same time the government canceled plans to build a bullet train between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
Mahathir has been vocal about concerns that projects with China could leave Malaysia in serious debt.
"We are upset and concerned about the livelihood of our 2,250 local staff, as well as several hundred subcontractors, suppliers and consultancy firms", the statement read.
"So, we can't accuse Saudi Arabia, unless, of course, there is proof that Saudi Arabia has tried to interfere in Malaysian politics", Mahathir said.
Contractor China Communications Construction Co.
"We hope that both sides will be able to find a win-win solution through honest negotiation with good will".
In addition to the ECRL, the finance ministry yesterday confirmed that two pipeline projects awarded in 2016 to China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau, together worth $2.3bn (9.4 billion ringgits), had also been suspended, The Edge Markets reports.