Exploring Malaysia’s Chinese-Constructed ‘Ghost City’

    Forest City: The Abandoned Chinese-Built Housing Complex in Malaysia

    “I managed to escape this place,” laughs Nazmi Hanafiah, a 30-year-old IT engineer who rented a one-bedroom flat at Forest City in Johor, Malaysia. He describes the sprawling housing complex as a “ghost town” and couldn’t wait to leave. Forest City, a $100 billion mega-project launched by China’s largest property developer, Country Garden, in 2016, was meant to be an eco-friendly metropolis housing nearly one million people. But today, only 15% of the project has been built, and just over 1% of it is occupied.

    The isolated location of Forest City, built on reclaimed islands far from the nearest major city, has deterred potential tenants and earned it the nickname “Ghost City.” The once-promising development, with its ambitious plans of a golf course, waterpark, offices, bars, and restaurants, now stands as a barren reminder of China’s property crisis. Country Garden, facing debts of nearly $200 billion, remains optimistic about completing the project but struggles with a lack of cash flow.

    Residents like Mr. Nazmi and Joanne Kaur, who live in the tower blocks, describe the place as eerie and lonely. They highlight the lack of facilities and activities, leaving them with little reason to stay. The once-vibrant shopping mall now has closed shops and restaurants, and the only glimpse of life comes from pockets of local drinkers taking advantage of the area’s duty-free status. At night, Forest City becomes pitch dark, with only a few apartment units lit up in the entire complex.

    Forest City’s situation reflects the broader property crisis in China. The government’s efforts to curb speculation and control borrowing have left major developers struggling to finish projects. Travel restrictions and financial controls have further hampered overseas ventures like Forest City. Buyers who have invested in Forest City and other similar developments express frustration and regret, with some even seeking refunds due to plummeting property prices.

    Country Garden insists that Forest City is “safe and stable” and that it will benefit from being included in a new special economic zone between Malaysia and Singapore. However, without access to sufficient funds and the uncertainty surrounding the Chinese property market, completing projects and attracting residents remains a daunting challenge.

    The fate of Forest City and other projects across China ultimately rests in the hands of the Chinese government. Reports suggest that Country Garden may receive financial support, but the extent of assistance is unclear. Meanwhile, disillusioned tenants like Mr. Nazmi vow to choose more carefully in the future and are relieved to have escaped the isolated and desolate Forest City.

    In conclusion, Forest City serves as a stark reminder that ambitious development plans alone are not enough to lure residents. The Chinese property crisis has exposed the flaws in the overly speculative market, and the success of projects like Forest City depends heavily on government support and financial stability.

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