|Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks during an exclusive interview with Xinhua News Agency in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Aug. 18, 2014. (Xinhua/Chong Voon Chung)
By Hu Guangyao, Zhao Bochao
PUTRAJAYA, Aug. 21 (Xinhua) -- "I think Deng Xiaoping is one of the greatest reformists in the history of China and the history of the world," former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told Xinhua in a recent exclusive interview as China marked the 110th anniversary of the birth of its late leader.
Mahathir said Deng brought about tremendous change in the policies of China, which was the start of the reforms took place in China resulting in its present position as the second biggest economy in the world.
As Malaysia's longest serving prime minister, Mahathir took over the position in 1981 and stepped down in 2003 after 22 years of premiership. He met with Deng twice, one in 1978 during Deng's visit to Malaysia, the other in 1985 when he paid his first visit to China.
"I first met him when he came here at the time when I was a deputy prime minister. He was very curious about Malaysia," Mahathir recalled, adding that he had a very long session with Deng talking about development.
"He was very keen on details of every aspect, so much so that sometimes I couldn't answer," Mahathir said. He gave an example that Deng asked him about the tonnage of steel produced in Malaysia, which he did not know.
The former prime minister said Deng asked many questions about Malaysia's progress, which made him realize that Deng was going to learn something from outside for reforms in China.
"Obviously he wanted to change from what was happening in China. He wanted to bring about reform. To bring about reforms he studied very carefully the performance of other countries," he said.
Mahathir said he has seen many other reformists who brought about complete change, but he believed that Deng is among the greatest.
"Because it was not easy to change China. You have a huge population. And obviously he didn't want to see China remain behind other nations of the world," he added.
Mahathir also quoted in admiration Deng's famous saying, which originated from a common idiom of China's Sichuan Province-- "It doesn't matter whether the cat is white or black, as long as it catches a mouse," adding that it showed the man was very pragmatic and saw things not bound by traditional thinking.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said China will proceed with reform and opening up without hesitation, and proposed the concept of Chinese Dream. As to this, Mahathir said China was the most civilized country for a long time and then there was a period of declining, and the Chinese Dream was to realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.