Business & Economy

Forest City: a symbol of China’s failed urban planning dream in Malaysia

By Paloma Almoguera

Iskandar Puteri, Malaysia, Dec 19 (EFE).- Rising from the trees just after crossing the strait between Singapore and Malaysia, Forest City is an imposing sight, the tall apartment blocks clashing with the surrounding landscape.

These homes are part of the most ambitious foreign project in the country by debt-ridden Chinese property developer Country Garden.

“Welcome Home” reads the sign at the gates of this city in the southern Malaysian state of Johor, which was built from scratch on land that was reclaimed from the sea, a mere 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from the border with Singapore.

Construction began in 2015 – 60% of the project was funded by Country Garden, once China’s largest real estate company which is now in debt, while 40% was put up by a local Malaysian firm – with the aim of housing 700,000 residents across four artificial islands.

Nearly a decade later, the city occupies part of a single island and, according to Xi Yue, Country Garden’s brand manager, is home to some 10,000 people.

“Of the 28,000 existing homes, we have sold 80%,” he tells EFE from the Forest City showroom.

“Tropical life can be enjoyed right here, surrounded by facilities,” Xi says.

“We have an international school, a mall – as yet unopened –, a shopping street, a beach and a water park.”

Despite Xi’s optimistic outlook, the city looks dreary.

On a Thursday morning, most of its few shops are closed, its streets deserted except for security personnel or cleaners tending to its image as a grotesque holiday resort: the water park empty and the beach populated by a boarded-up beach bar and a “no-swimming” sign warning of crocodiles.

The only people are a Malaysian couple relaxing on a couple of concrete deckchairs, drinking beer.

“We live half an hour away and we come here sometimes, on weekends it’s more crowded… Some people stay at the hotel,” Sunderi, 33, tells EFE, making no secret of the reason for his visit: its duty free shops, which are very appealing in a country with high taxes on alcohol.

“I like to come here for a while, but I wouldn’t live here…. The roads are very dark at night,” he says.


Forest City, which is administratively under Iskandar Puteri, is about half an hour’s drive from the state capital, Johor Bahru, and although Singapore is visible from the shore, the crossing can take about three hours due to traffic jams at border control.

“At first there were no buses, I had to fight hard to get them chartered (one line to the Singapore crossing and another to Johor Bahru),” Wang Ying, a 71-year-old Beijing woman who moved to Forest City with her husband in May to be closer to their only son, who lives in Singapore, tells EFE.

The septuagenarian and her husband, Yu Hong, bought a 60-square-meter flat for 1 million yuan (about $190,000).

While it is six times less than they would have paid for a similar flat in wealthy Singapore, the cost is unaffordable to most in Malaysia, where the average monthly salary is about 700 dollars.

Wang has just finished her morning walk, a routine she says keeps her fit and busy, as she says they hardly have any neighbors.

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