- File photo of Ong Ka Ting, Najib’s special envoy to China
SHANGHAI – Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak attaches great importance to his country’s relationship with China and is sincere about expanding bilateral ties, said Ong Ka Ting, Najib’s special envoy to China, during his first visit to the nation’s commercial hub since taking on the newly created position last October.
Ong, who previously served as the third-ranking Malaysian Cabinet minister, is a fluent Mandarin speaker and one of the Southeast Asian nation’s foremost authorities on Chinese affairs. He doubles as chairman of the Malaysia-China Business Council, a Kuala Lumpur-based organization that works to strengthen economic ties between China and Malaysia.
Ong traveled to Shanghai over the weekend to meet with local Malaysian business leaders and Dr Meng Xiaosu, chairman of the China National Real Estate Development Group (CNREDC). CNREDC is a leading developer in the nation’s property industry. Ong and Meng discussed the implementation of affordable housing projects in China.
A cornerstone goal of China’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) is the creation of more affordable housing for low-income urban residents.
As Housing Minister in the 2000s, Ong oversaw a successful program that helped thousands of low-income, long-term residents of Malaysian cities become homeowners.
Ong has been a key player in Sino-Malaysian relations since the 1990s, when as Parliamentary Secretary and later Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Home Affairs he played an instrumental role in liberalizing Malaysia’s policy toward Chinese visitors.
With fluency in Mandarin and a strong understanding of Chinese affairs, Ong has represented the Malaysian government during the official visits of several generations of Chinese leaders to the Southeast Asian nation, including Li Ruihuan, former chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in 1995, former vice premier Zhu Rongji in 1996, Wu Bangguo, China’s top legislator, in 2005 and Jia Qinglin, the nation’s top political advisor, in 2006.
One of Ong’s main objectives in his new capacity as the prime minister’s special envoy to China is to help bolster trade and investment between Malaysia and the world’s second-largest economy.
Total annual trade between the two countries reached nearly $90 billion at the end of last year. They aim to reach $150 billion by 2015.
Within China, one of Ong’s principal tasks is overseeing the development of a joint Sino-Malaysian industrial park in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region during the next 10 to 15 years. A memorandum of understanding regarding the project was signed at the Nanning ASEAN Expo last October.
“Jointly developing this industrial park will help further interlink our two nations’ economies and expand the scope of our commercial relations,” Ong said.
The park will be constructed on a 55 square kilometer piece of land in the city of Qinzhou near Guangxi’s capital Nanning, with the Qinzhou government holding a 51 percent share and Malaysian companies led by the Sarawak-based Evergreen Group the remaining 49 percent. The Qinzhou government will use land as equity while the Malaysian side will provide cash.
“We expect the joint venture to be finalized by the end of February, and construction to begin later this year,” Ong said.
Ong also aims to help facilitate more Chinese investment in Malaysia in the coming years, particularly in the manufacturing and services sectors.
“Large Chinese manufacturers can come to Malaysia and set up high-tech factories which are not overly labor intensive,” he said. “That will help them move up the value chain.”
At the same time, Chinese logistics companies can use Malaysia as a transportation hub, Ong said.
Malaysia’s Port Klang and Tanjung Pelepas are Southeast Asia’s busiest ports in terms of container traffic after Singapore.
The Kuantan Port facing the South China Sea enjoys a strategic location and has potential to be expanded in the future, Ong added.
Meanwhile, Chinese investment in Malaysia has surged in recent months.
In September, the Wenzhou Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Bureau pledged an investment of 900 million Malaysian ringgit ($287 million) to establish an integrated industrial park featuring logistics and warehousing facilities in a special economic zone on Malaysia’s east coast.
In November, Malaysia’s Iskandar Investment Berhad (IIB) and Qingdao-based Zhuoyuan Investment Holdings agreed to cooperate on a mixed development project worth 2.5 billion ringgit ($796 million) in the southern development corridor of Iskandar. It is Zhuoyuan’s first overseas investment.
Last month, the Malaysian investment holding company I-Berhad (I-Bhd) entered into a joint venture with Everbright International China to co-develop 30 acres in Shah Alam, near Kuala Lumpur. The 3.5 billion ringgit ($1.1 billion) project is expected to start this year.
“As China has been our largest trading partner since 2009, we are pleased to see this recent uptick in investment,” Ong said. “But with fierce competition for Chinese investment worldwide, we must work faster to let the Chinese know what they can get and where in Malaysia.”