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Insights in store for Malaysia investors at the Post’s China Conference

Two-day event caters to rising global interest in China’s Southeast Asian footprint with speakers including Malaysia’s economic affairs minister Azmin Ali and former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2018, 6:34pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2018, 11:31pm

International investors and diplomats in Malaysia are expected to carefully parse comments by government officials in a slew of high-profile business forums taking place in Kuala Lumpur this week.

Among them is the South China Morning Post’s flagship China Conference, which is taking place outside the newspaper’s Hong Kong base for the first time ever.

In a private dinner with keynote speakers at the forum, China’s ambassador to Malaysia Bai Tian said the event was occurring at a time of “flourishing” ties between the two countries.

The two-day Post event at the Kuala Lumpur Hilton beginning Wednesday will feature a keynote speech by Malaysia’s economic affairs minister Azmin Ali, a key lieutenant of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is spearheading efforts to attract foreign investors to Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy.

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Others speaking at the forum include youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman; Shahril Ridza Ridzuan, the newly installed managing director of Malaysia’s state investment arm Khazanah Holdings; and Ming Maa, the president of the regional ride-hailing firm Grab.

Norazman Ayob, the top bureaucrat on trade affairs, will deliver an address on Malaysia’s plans to weather current global trade headwinds and its participation in regional trade pacts.

Leung Chun-ying, the former Hong Kong chief executive and current vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, will deliver the opening address on Wednesday.

Gary Liu, the Post’s chief executive, cited rising global interest in China’s footprint in the Southeast Asian region as among the reasons the forum was held in Kuala Lumpur. China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner.

Amid rising fears about contagion from the ongoing US-China trade war, Liu said the forum would offer some answers on whether there was a silver lining to the tensions. “One key question we hope the forum will provide insights into is this: with all eyes on the ongoing trade war between the US and China, is there only downside risk for Southeast Asia, or are there opportunities for the region through a more concerted integration of the respective national economies?”

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The forum is being held as the Post expands its reach across Southeast Asia.

Tammy Tam, its editor-in-chief, said the Kuala Lumpur forum was a firm signal to regional readers that the newspaper was serious about engaging in key regional markets such as Malaysia.

“We want to signal that the South China Morning Post is very much at home in Southeast Asia, and that we can be counted on as the go-to source for robust and open dialogue about China and the region,” Tam said.

Speaking on Tuesday evening to an audience that included Liu, Tam and Leung, Bai Tian, the Chinese envoy in Kuala Lumpur, said the region was at the front and centre of conversations about China because of its proximity to Asia’s biggest economy. “Because of its strategic location, [Southeast Asia] may benefit more or even earlier than other nations in the world from China’s growth. He added: “We are very confident that China and Southeast Asia will have even better growth in the years to come.”

Elsewhere, there are expectations that senior Malaysian officials speaking at the forum will use the event as a platform to outline policy positions ahead of key economic announcements.

Azmin, the economic affairs minister, will next week release the government’s review of a five-year economic plan formulated by former prime minister Najib Razak, who was defeated in the May 9 general election. Finance minister Lim Guan Eng, meanwhile, will announce the government’s 2019 budget on November 2.

Speaking Tuesday at a forum organised by the finance ministry, Mahathir and Lim hinted that fresh tax measures might be on the cards to deal with the country’s large national debt.

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Mahathir’s government has said it has its work cut out for it regarding fiscal consolidation because of profligate borrowing during the era of the scandal-tainted Najib – a charge the former leader refutes.

“To quote our Prime Minister Mahathir, the budget is of sacrifice … Everyone will have to sacrifice and we have to accept that we must sacrifice,” Lim said, adding, however, that the new government would do its best to stay out of the way of free-market enterprise.

“This new government believes in the dictum that the business of the government is not to be in business,” Lim told a standing-room-only audience. “We will reduce the government’s direct participation in the equity ownership of companies so that the private sector can take the lead.”